The Last Taboo: The Postwar Rehabilitation of Nazi Artists (summary)

Gregory Maertz (PDF)

The aim of this article is to assess how artists under the patronage of Hitler became influential in the West German art community after the restoration of the country’s sovereignty and its membership in NATO. The assimilation of civilian and military artists active in Nazi Germany had a profound effect on the cultural life of the young Federal Republic, reviving the standards of taste and aesthetic criteria established by the hobby of Hitler.

Practically the entire Nazi cultural bureaucracy remained intact and was integrated into the administration of West German museums, art schools and artist organisations. The personal composition of the main postwar artist’s organisations (Neue Münchener Künstlergenossenschaft, Münchener Secession and Neue Gruppe) was almost identical to the personal lists of Reichskammer der Bildenden Künste and Wehrmacht Staffel der bildenden Künstlern.

‘The Last Taboo’ helps reveal how Große Kunstausstellungen in post-war Munich facilitated the reintegration of the persecuted ‘degenerate art’ creators into the postwar German and international art scene. In the context of the Great German Art Exhibition at the House of German Art in Munich, the reputation of the most prominent postwar artists of German and Austrian origin, such as Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Richter, was established, which allowed the generation of postwar artists of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to coexist in the public sphere with the ‘degenerate’ artists who had survived the regime and the war and with the artists who were under the protection of the Nazis. Since the postwar incarnation of Haus der Kunst did not change the Nazi policy of representing contemporary German artists instead of foreigners, a paradoxical situation emerged. Participants in the Nazi-era Great German Art Exhibition, Wehrmacht and SS artists and creators of ‘degenerate art’ exhibited their works together, sat together on juries and led artist organisations together. It restored the status quo of German art that existed between 1933 and 1937.

Keywords: collaboration, denazification, Hitler, Nazi, occupation