Iron Fists by Steven Heller
You can appreciate the Sistine Chapel without being a Catholic, and respect the Parthenon without believing in Athena. You are even free to praise the aesthetic productions of certain murderous modern regimes. The crimes of the Soviet Union notwithstanding, Vladimir Tatlin’s design for a Monument to the Third International remains a landmark of modern art. In schools of architecture, it has long been chic to affect a liking for Giuseppe Terragni, the gifted architect of Benito Mussolini.
But whatever you believe, you may not admire anything about the art of the Third Reich. Albert Speer, Leni Riefenstahl, the sculptor Arno Breker—all exceptional talents, who would have made their mark under any system—remain beyond the pale. Or so common decency dictates. For Nazi art, it is said, was not merely incidentally the official accoutrement of a criminal regime but was intimately complicit in the worst of its crimes. Even the apolitical Breker, whose long-limbed, angular statues would not look out of place in Rockefeller Center, contributed his mite to the incitement to violence, his idealized forms serving as the necessary counterpoint to the savage caricatures that appeared in Julius Streicher’s newspaper, Der Stuermer.
About the Author
Michael J. Lewis, a frequent contributor, teaches at Williams College. He is the author most recently of American Art and Architecture (Thames & Hudson)