In 2006, a tumult erupted in Germany over the art of Arno Breker. Two of his statues remain near the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, where the World Cup final were held. Critics argued they should have been removed or covered up to avoid offense. Then a publicly financed exhibit devoted to his works was held in Schwerin, Germany. Critics contended it was wrong to acknowledge an artist who created the physical images of Nazi ideology.
Counter arguments maintained that Germans were ready for a discussion on how an artist accommodated the Nazi government. Breker’s moral corruption is what makes him worth studying and could invite dialogue on the question of how talented artists and thinkers could accept such a government.
Arno Breker was born in 1900. He studied architecture, along with stone-carving and anatomy, and concentrated on sculpture at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts, beginning in 1920. He visited Paris in 1924, shortly before finishing his studies, and moved there in 1927. In 1932, he was awarded a Prussian Ministry of Culture prize, allowing him to stay in Rome for a year.
In 1934, he returned to Germany, where the editor of the Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter actually denounced some of his work as degenerate art. However, he had Hitler’s support. For Hitler, Arno Breker’s sculptures showed the perfect muscular Aryan man.
Breker contributed two victorious figures: one male The Decathlete, and one female, The Victress, to the Olympic compound.
Breker took commissions from the Nazis from 1933 through 1942. He won the commission for two sculptures representing athletic prowess, for the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. Breker joined the Nazi Party in 1937, and Hitler made him the official state sculptor, complete with a large property and a studio with forty-three assistants, and exempted him from military service.
Until the fall of the Third Reich, Breker was a professor of visual arts in Berlin. While nearly all of his sculptures survived World War II, more than 90% of his public work was destroyed by the allies after the war. He worked steadily, and created busts of Anwar el-Sadat and Konrad Adenauer, West Germany’s first postwar chancellor.
Only in 1981, did he publicly distance himself from National Socialism. He claimed he had been unaware of the Nazi atrocities. Good art, he said, is above politics. His supporters insist he was never a supporter of Nazi ideology, but had simply accepted their patronage. He died in 1991 at the age of 90.
What do you think? Should his art be banned because of his association with the Nazis? Or should it be viewed as representative of its era?