Storm over Catholic archbishop's art critique
By Jean-Baptiste Piggin Sep 16, 2007, 2:21 GMT
Berlin - A Catholic archbishop who used a Nazi-era word while inaugurating an art museum has triggered a storm of outrage in Germany.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner said culture and faith had to remained linked, otherwise culture became 'degenerate.'
The German word he used for this, 'entartet,' is taboo in Germany after the Nazis held a 'Degenerate Art' exhibition of 650 works in Munich in 1937 to 'educate' the German public about what modern art they should hate.
Meisner is archbishop of Cologne, one of Germany's most art-loving city with brash artists, millionaire collectors and rich modern-art museums. He was inaugurating the diocese's own modern, purpose-built art museum, the Kolumba, on Friday.
The outspoken archbishop, who often provokes controversy with his remarks, said that by mounting the Holocaust, the Nazis had basically sought to kill God.
'Wherever culture separates from the worship of God, the cult atrophies in ritualism and the art becomes degenerate,' he told a mass of blessing for the Kolumba.
It did not take long for a storm to develop in Germany, where all artists and authors enjoy high respect, and no official would dare dismiss an exhibition as 'bullshit', as arts minister Kim Howell did in Britain in 2002.
Rebuking godless art and at the same time using a Nazi-era word breached German propriety twice over.
From 1933 on, the Nazis dismissed expressionist and other modern artists from jobs, threw their 'degenerate' work out of museums and sold it abroad to raise war funds.
The German Culture Council said it was 'an astonishingly inept choice of word for a high churchman.'
Gerhard Richter, Germany's top earning artist and a Cologne resident, said Meisner had made a 'ghastly gaffe.'
Richter designed a huge stained-glass window which was unveiled in Meisner's cathedral two weeks ago.
The artist told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag he did not however mind that Meisner had called the window 'too abstract.' He said, 'There's always someone who criticises a work of art.'
Guido Westerwelle, head of the opposition Free Democrat Party, called the cardinal 'intolerant and tactless.'
Hans-Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, the North Rhine-Westphalia government's secretary of culture, said, 'He knows nothing about art and culture.'
On Saturday, the archdiocese published Meisner's sermon on its website along with a statement that Meisner regretted that one word had been 'taken out of context.'
'The cardinal did not criticize any specific type of art, piece of art or artist, and he has no intention of deprecating let alone insulting anybody,' the statement said.
'He was using the word 'entartet,' which the Nazi ideology misused, to attack totalitarianism.'
The cardinal's top aide, vicar-general Dominik Schwaderlapp, said on Cologne Catholic radio that the critics lacked generosity and Meisner felt hurt: he was being accused of the exact opposite of what he really said.
The cardinal, who was formerly archbishop of Berlin, was a friend of the late Pope John Paul II and is more conservative on doctrinal and political issues than many other German bishops.
The controversy comes in the same month as the sacking of a telegenic German television host, Eva Herman, after she told a launch for her anti-feminist book that 'even the Nazis' supported family values.
The Kolumba Museum exhibits both medieval and modern art from the diocese's rich art collection, including work by US pop artist Andy Warhol.
The 4,500-square-metre museum was built on the foundations of a Cologne church, St Columba, which was flattened by Second World War bombing and never rebuilt.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur