Why Merkel’s art choices matter
Chancellor Angela Merkel has come in for flak for removing from her office two oil paintings by the superstar German expressionist Emil Nolde, said Kia Vahland. A new exhibition in Berlin details how Nolde, who after World War II claimed to have been persecuted by the Nazi regime because some of his works were labeled degenerate and “un-German,” in fact had been a Nazi Party member, a cheerleader for Hitler, and a rabid anti-Semite. Conservative pundits are now portraying Merkel as an “art-hating hysteric” who has outrageously overreacted. Karin Prien, an official with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in Kiel, even went so far as to “pointedly order a Nolde for her own office.” But Merkel is not engaging in censorship. No museum is ridding its walls of Noldes. Instead, a head of government is simply deciding which symbols should surround her. It’s true that Nolde’s past isn’t exactly news—an exhibition in Frankfurt five years ago highlighted the artist’s loathing of Jews. But that was before Donald Trump was elected U.S. president and before the resurgence of nationalism in Europe, back when “art and politics, images and worldviews” were seen as separate. Given that “the hatred of Jews has become so threatening” all over Europe, including in Germany, Merkel is right to deem the works of an anti-Semite inappropriate.