Nostalgia for the Future

Modernism and Heterogeneity in the Visual Arts of Nazi Germany

Gregory Maertz

ibidem Press

Nostalgia for the Future

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Pub Date: April 2019

ISBN: 9783838212814

230 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $35.00

Pub Date: April 2019

ISBN: 9783838272818

230 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $22.99

Nostalgia for the Future

Modernism and Heterogeneity in the Visual Arts of Nazi Germany

Gregory Maertz

ibidem Press

From the early years of the Weimar Republic until the collapse of Hitler’s regime, demonizing modernist art as a symptom of the corruption of German culture was a standard trope in National Socialist propaganda. But how consistent and thorough was Nazi censorship of modernist artists? Maertz’s pioneering research unearths the persistence of recognizable modernist styles in painting and sculpture produced under the patronage of the Nazi Party and German government institutions, even after the infamous 1937 purge of “degenerate art” from state-funded museums.

In the first chapter on Hitler’s advocacy for “eugenic” figurative representation embodying Nazi nostalgia for lost Aryan racial perfection and the aspiration for the future perfection of the German Volk, and in the second chapter on the appropriation of Christian iconography in constructing symbols of a Nazi racial utopia, Maertz conclusively proves that the Nazi attack on modernism was inconsistent. In further chapters, demonstrating Baldur von Schirach’s heretical patronage of modernist art as the supreme Nazi Party authority in Vienna and the German military’s unlikely function as an incubator of modernist art, Maertz reveals that the sponsorship of modernist artists continued until the collapse of the regime. Also based on previously unexamined evidence, including 10,000 works of art confiscated by the U.S. Army, Maertz’s final chapter reconstructs the anarchic denazification and rehabilitation of German artists during the Allied occupation, which had unforeseen consequences for the postwar art world.
Gregory Maertz’s archival research changes everything we thought we knew about the visual arts in Nazi Germany. Maertz’s discoveries here will affect the whole field of modernism studies. His chapter on postwar art confiscations and the partial rehabilitation of Nazi artists poses vital questions about how art history gets transacted and produced. This is a superb and indispensable study. Erik Tonning, Department of Foreign Languages, University of Bergen, and director, Norwegian Study Centre, University of York
Nostalgia for the Future demonstrates that, beyond any doubt, a variety of artistic styles persisted under the National Socialist regime, with greater plurality in painting and culture than possibly any other socioeconomic sphere. Maertz’s findings challenge not only staid views of top-down ‘totalitarianism’ but the very core of decision-making by rival power centers in Nazi Germany; above all, the Wehrmacht. Additionally, in taking stock of nearly 10,000 previously unseen paintings, hidden from view since the end of World War Two, this paradigm-shifting book reveals the striking diversity of artistic styles—including forms of high modernism—that persisted across the Third Reich’s years of terror. By exploding myths through careful, remarkable cultural-artistic and historical scholarship, Nostalgia for the Future deserves a massive readership by all specialists in the field, as well as by interested nonspecialists. Maertz’s monograph is for any reader wishing to trade comforting shibboleths for archival reconstruction and recovered history. I cannot recommend this book, or endorse these astonishing findings, in strong enough terms—you really need to read this study for yourself. Prepare to be shocked. Matthew Feldman, Emeritus Professor of History and Director, Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right

About the Author

Gregory Maertz is professor in the Department of English at St. John’s University in New York City. Author of Literature and the Cult of Personality (ibidem, 2017) and co-curator of Kunst i Kamp [Art in Battle] at Norway’s KODE museum, he has published extensively on the art of the Third Reich. The research for this book was funded by the ACLS, CASVA, the DAAD, the Gerda Henkel Stiftung, the Gilder-Lehrman Institute, the IAS in Princeton, the NEH, the NHC, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Wolfsonian-FIU.