Dhe museum is an instance of canonization. But you don’t just want to see what the director thinks is beautiful or important, or what you like. The museum should do something for our education. It also teaches about what used to be considered beautiful or considered important. We wander through art history in the museum and see with our own eyes how relative each canon is. A special inventory of the Bavarian State Painting Collections owes its existence to an unusually abrupt change in taste. In 1945, the Allies confiscated the art belonging to National Socialist officials and organizations. What was not identified as looted and restituted later fell to the Bavarian state. On the one hand, these “transfers from state property” show that the taste in art of a Hermann Göring, for example, often overlapped with the preferences of the collector market in the older eras; therefore, one can still discover looted art in this collection. On the other hand, the denazified state also inherited a heap of works of art that had just been contemporary and had been produced in accordance with the aesthetic ideals of the National Socialists.
Such a work was included in the permanent exhibition of the Pinakothek der Moderne in 2016, which was recently rehung. The triptych “The Four Elements” by Adolf Ziegler is an iconic work – at least in the documentary sense: one of the best-known, instantly recognizable images of twentieth-century art. It was very often depicted during the Hitler era, including in anti-Nazi art criticism from abroad. As the main work of the first “Great German Art Exhibition” of 1937, it is perfectly suited to illustrating what Nazi art policy wanted to replace the classical modernism that was persecuted as “degenerate”: academic superclassicism. A museum dedicated to the art history of the twentieth century would be incomplete without at least one work of Nazi art – and if it owns Ziegler, who is representative in several respects, it should show him, although the permanent exhibition is not intended as a permanent selection and “The four Elements” can go back to the depot in a few years, if only because Ziegler’s female nude parade does not cover all of Nazi art.
Ziegler hangs in a room with Picasso
The new presentation of Munich’s modern collection departs from the principle of chronological grouping that has been customary for two hundred years, but continues to pursue the original museum goal of information through contextualisation under the motto “Mix & Match” by not only emphasizing temporal proximity. In a room called “Panoptikum”, Ziegler hangs next to or opposite an extremely abstract portrait of a woman by Picasso, a “Worn” by Josef Scharl, the wall-filling work “After Magnus Hirschfeld” by Henrik Olesen, and two sculptures by Otto Freundlich and Thomas Helbig.
As the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” reports, in a letter to the Bavarian Minister of Art Markus Blume, the painter Georg Baselitz demanded that Adolf Ziegler’s work “finally be taken down” with the apodictic justification “because the picture is bad”. He refers to Ziegler’s role as an art functionary who “destroyed art and artists”. On December 1, 1936, Ziegler was appointed President of the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts. He led the purge of German museums, the loot of which was presented in the Degenerate Art exhibition.
In the eyes of Baselitz, the mixture in the “Panoptikum” room gives the impression that “Ziegler is the prominent and essential work, and the other works are related to it”. This “effect” is “Nazi propaganda”. Baselitz, who withdrew his pictures from the sixth Documenta 45 years ago because works by official representatives of East German art were also exhibited in Kassel, is “shocked that Nazi propaganda is possible in this dingy way in a Munich museum”. Oliver Kase, the collection director of the Pinakothek der Moderne, explained to the FAZ that it was important for the curators “that Ziegler does not hang on the main wall of the room, but rather from the two viewing axes of the room (on the north and west walls). the position on the shorter east wall is not visible at first glance – in contrast to the larger and powerful works by Freundlich and Olesen”. In the internal overview of the room, the hall is listed under the heading “Norm and Criticism”. According to Kase, “it was about countering Ziegler’s ideological and manipulative standardization of body ideals with artistic positions of tolerance, departure and openness”.