Internationally famous German artist Georg Baselitz has written a letter to the Pinakothek der Moderne museum in Munich calling for them to remove a painting by Adolf Ziegler from a current exhibition they have of works in their permanent collection.
Adolf Ziegler was the President of the Reich Chamber of Art, a Nazi government agency which was tasked with controlling cultural life in Germany and promoting Aryan art which adhered to Nazi ideals. In particular, it targeted what it deemed to be “Degenerate Art”, a term used by the Nazi party to describe modern art. The painting by Ziegler under question is titled Four Elements, and is a triptych, with two female figures on the central piece and an additional female on either side.
Ziegler’s painting first appeared in an exhibition in Munich in 1937 called “The Great German Art Exhibition”, which was organised to promote the social realist style the Nazis approved of and counter Degenerate Art. The painting was even once displayed in Adolf Hitler’s residence.
Baselitz addressed his letter to Bernhard Maaz, the director of Munich state painting collections and to Markus Blume, Germany’s State Minister for Science and Art. He described the work as “Nazi propaganda”, commented that the museum’s display of it was “shocking” and further said that “the triptych is insulting to its surroundings!”. The painting has been included in an exhibition at the museum titled “Mix & Match”, which features works by a range of artists, including Wassily Kandinksy, Max Ernst and Käthe Kollwitz. The art of these three artists was deemed by the Nazis to be degenerate, which makes the inclusion of Ziegler even more unacceptable to Baselitz. Baselitz wrote in his letter: “Ziegler destroyed art and artists. He does not belong in the room of his victims.”
Bernhard Maaz and the curator of the exhibition, Oliver Kase, have rejected Baselitz’s accusation that Ziegler’s painting is propagandistic in its display. In a statement, they said there should be a “historically objective engagement with Nazi art beyond moralizing accusations.” On the other hand, one art expert, Jürgen Kaumkötter, has agreed with Baselitz, saying in an interview with a German newspaper: “I think this is highly problematic. You can’t make such art acceptable”.