Exhibition on Hitler’s favorite artists in the German Historical Museum

Shen 1957, a bronze statue of the goddess Pallas Athene has stood in front of the Wilhelm-Dörpfeld-Gymnasium in Wuppertal. It comes from Arno Breker, the leading sculptor of the “Third Reich”. The goddess, however, is not a set of muscles like the swelling youths with whom Breker won Hitler’s favor, she stretches her spear arm in the air in Giacometti-like slimness with a girlish chest and archaic facial features. In 2003 she lost her shield and sword when she was thrown from her pedestal by strangers; only the brass spear and the warrior helmet are left to her. The Dörpfeld-Gymnasium distances itself from Breker’s work by means of a plaque attached to the base. Nevertheless, the school conference decided three years ago to have the statue removed. The local monument protection was transverse. At a mediation round in January 2020, the parties to the dispute agreed to supplement Breker’s bronze with a contemporary work of art. The tender is still pending.

Since last week, the Wuppertal Pallas has been temporarily housed in the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Opposite her lies a Marx head in a showcase that Breker’s younger brother Hans designed for the University of Jena in the early 1950s. Hans Breker taught under the pseudonym van Breek at the Weimar Art Academy of the GDR since 1949. After his resettlement in the Federal Republic of Germany he received numerous public commissions, including memorials for the victims of the Second World War in Wesel and Leverkusen as well as portrait busts of Käthe Kollwitz and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In 1958 he designed the memorial for the fallen soldiers of the German assault artillery in Karlstadt, Franconia.

There can be no talk of stylistic continuity

Both Arno and Hans Breker are among the more than a thousand names on the “Gottbegnadeten List”, on which the National Socialist regime put together the most important writers, actors, directors, architects and visual artists of the “Third Reich” in December 1944. They were all released from military service.

The spatial constellation in the DHM reveals the conceptual difficulties of an exhibition that aims to trace the lines of development of Nazi art after the zero hour. During the Cold War, both Breker brothers adapted to the expectations of their respective clients, from the ascetic classicism of the Pallas statue to the raw monumentality of the Marx portraits and sacrificial memorials. The business of the elder, the actual brown state artist, flourished until his death, leading artists and intellectuals, but also the Federal Chancellors Adenauer and Erhard let him cast them in bronze. So, apart from the hostility to abstraction, there can hardly be any talk of stylistic continuity, even with Richard Scheibe, who in 1953 designed the memorial for the victims of July 20 in the Berlin Bendler Block as a Germanic hero, but with his renewed Ebert- Monument on the facade of the Paulskirche in Frankfurt returned to the formal language of the twenties. But how do you show that: a continuum made up of breaks?

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