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In landscapes, portraits and still lifes, German and Austrian artists in the 1930s through the outbreak of World War II risked their lives camouflaging heavy political symbols into conventional art forms. Now, "Before the Fall," an exhibit at New York City’s Neue Galerie, unmasks messages of anxiety, resistance or support that the artists disguised. NewsHour Weekend’s Ivette Feliciano reports.
We turn now to an art exhibit here in New York City that examines the relationship between the rise of nationalism and censorship of the arts. NewsHour Weekend Ivette Feliciano reports.
Countries from Poland, to Hungary, to Turkey are experiencing a rise in nationalism and the effects it can have on free speech.
While this turmoil goes on, a new exhibit at New York's Neue Galerie—"Before the Fall"—examines art produced in Germany and Austria under the Third Reich–and what can happen to a culture when free speech is curtailed in the extreme.
The idea behind the exhibition is to—to think about how artists reacted to political historical circumstances and how they work, evolve during the 1930s. So it was really like thinking about– is there potential in art to reflect on historical circumstances?
Dr. Olaf Peters is an art historian at Germany's Martin Luther University, and the exhibit's curator. The show is a continuation of two previous Neue shows. "Degenerate Art" examined works that the Nazi Party publicly denigrated, while "Berlin Metropolis" looked at the rich artistic culture of Germany's capital in the 1920s.
Adolf Hitler's Third Reich purged the modern art world after coming to power in 1933. It raided the influential Bauhaus art school and shut it down. It did the same to the modern art wing of the German National Gallery. Hitler banned many artists from creating art altogether.
You had an extremely strong and rich art scene during the 1920s in Germany. For me, the question was always, what happened to this art scene?
Peters says that many artists camouflaged their beliefs using conventional art forms. Still-lifes and portraits became heavy with symbolism. Landscapes–like the 1936 painting "Expectation" by the German artist Richard Oelze—depicted dark and foreboding scenes.
It's a little bit apocalyptic landscape on the one side. If you have—on the other side a group of people standing there and looking maybe into a dark or unknown future.
Those artists who did not conform could not find a safe venue for their work. How was their work received at the time by the public?
Some are so overt when it comes to critique of those circumstances—the living conditions of the Third Reich, that is—impossible to—to show them.
One artist who chose self-exile was the German painter, Max Beckmann, who left Germany for the Netherlands in 1937. There he painted a work called "Birds' Hell", which contains political references to the Nazi Party.
It was painted one year after Max Beckmann has left—had left—Germany. And in Amsterdam he made the decision to create this allegory of his country where you can see the birds– torturing, for example, saluting.
Some artists paid the ultimate price for their work. One was a Jewish-Austrian artist named Friedl Dicker-Brandeis.
She was highly political. She studied at the Bauhaus in Weimar in Germany. Went back to Austria and– developed some, say, political montages or collages in the early 1930s. But she was captured. She depicted some interrogations which are really touching, because you can see what torture meant. And she was finally brought– into an extermination camp and was killed.
Dr. Peters says that visitors to the exhibit may view these older works in a new light, following a recent nationalist surge in Europe.
The situations are different and—history is not repeating itself. But, of course, you have to learn from history. Maybe think about how to—to avoid developments which are not—now a little bit similar not identical—and—yeah, and being—be aware of your responsibility.
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Ivette Feliciano shoots, produces and reports on camera for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Before starting with NewsHour in 2013, she worked as a one-person-band correspondent for the News 12 Networks, where she won a New York Press Club Award for her coverage of Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in 2012. Prior to that, Ivette was the Associate Producer of Latin American news for Worldfocus, a nationally televised, daily international news show seen on Public Television. While at Worldfocus, Ivette served as the show’s Field Producer and Reporter for Latin America, covering special reports on the Mexican drug war as well as a 5-part series out of Bolivia, which included an interview with President Evo Morales. In 2010, she co-produced a documentary series on New York’s baseball history that aired on Channel Thirteen. Ivette holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in broadcast journalism.
Zachary Green began working in online and broadcast news in 2009. Since then he has produced stories all over the U.S. and overseas in Ireland and Haiti. In his time at NewsHour, he has reported on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, immigration, voting rights, and the arts. He also produced a series on guaranteed income programs in the U.S. and won a 2015 National Headliner Award in business and consumer reporting for his report on digital estate planning. Prior to joining Newshour, Zachary was an Associate Producer for Need to Know on PBS, during which he assisted in producing stories on gun violence and healthcare, among others. He also provided narration for the award-winning online documentary series, “Retro Report”.
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