Duke University’s lecture series “Art, Conflict, and the Politics of Memory” featured Wagner art history professor Laura Morowitz this November. Her subject: an exhibition of Gustav Klimt’s works staged by Vienna’s Nazi governor, Baldur von Schirach, in 1943.
Blogging about the Neue Galerie’s “Degenerate Art” exhibition earlier this year, Morowitz explained how Klimt, a product of fin de siècle Vienna, escaped the Nazis’ “degenerate” label, despite his provocative style and his prominent Jewish patrons.
One example of why Nazi cultural officials accepted Klimt’s work is his Beethoven Frieze (a detail from which is seen above).
“Klimt’s frieze hails the triumph of idealism over materialism, an idea often found in Nazi aesthetics,” she explained. “The rescuing knight around whom the frieze revolves can easily be read as a proto-Fuhrer figure, leading his people to a higher realm.”
On the other hand, Klimt’s sensual subject matter made his work suspect to many. Von Schirach took a risk, promoting the Klimt retrospective as an example of the glories of Germanic art, Morowitz said, and erasing their connections to the Jewish community.
Morowitz is teaching an honors course, Art and Aesthetics in Nazi Germany, next semester. She is also at work on a novel about Klimt’s art and cultural legacy.