Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cologne Cardinal agrees with Nazis on "degenerate" art

He proclaims art without a religious basis to be "entartete Kunst", the term the Nazis used to designate art it suppressed. (Background on "entartete Kunst" here and here.) He also thinks that it would be better suited to a mosque or "other house of worship". (Read about that here).

BBC NEWS: "Cardinal in 'Nazi art term' row"

A German archbishop has sparked controversy by calling some modern art "degenerate" - a term used by the Nazi regime in its persecution of artists.

Cardinal Joachim Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, was speaking as the Church inaugurated its Kolumba art museum.

Cardinal Meisner warned that when art became estranged from worship, culture became degenerate.

The cardinal had not intended to pay tribute to "old ideologies", a spokesman said.

The BBC's Marianne Landzettel says this was no off-the-cuff remark by the cardinal, delivered in a sermon in Cologne Cathedral, but was precisely scripted.

She says the phrase degenerate art - "entartete Kunst" - in German has only one connotation: that of Nazi Germany and the persecution of artists, the banning of paintings and the burning of books.

Entartete Kunst" was the name of an exhibition of works organised by the Nazis in 1937 in Munich as a warning to the German people.

In a newspaper interview, the North Rhine-Westphalia culture secretary, Hans-Dietrich Grosse-Brockhoff, said it was appalling that Cardinal Meisner had used such a word.

Former minister Michael Vesper also said he was shocked.

"I thought all this was history, and then it is a high-ranking member of the Catholic clergy who uses it," he said.

After Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazi government started to bring art under its control.

All modern art, and Expressionism in particular, was labelled degenerate and was not to be shown in public.

More than 15,000 paintings were removed from German museums.

Recently Cardinal Meisner expressed opposition to a new stained-glass window in Cologne Cathedral.

The abstract work by renowned artist Gerhard Richter contains thousands of squares.

and from the Associated Press: "German Cleric Criticized for Nazi Phrase"

A Roman Catholic cardinal used the term "degenerate" at the opening of an art museum on the ruins of a church, drawing criticism Saturday for employing a phrase strongly linked to the Nazi persecution of artists.

Joachim Meisner, the influential Cardinal of Cologne, warned in a sermon at the opening of a museum built on the ruins of Cologne's St. Kolumba church that it was dangerous to allow art to break away from religion.

"Let us not forget that there is an indisputable connection between culture and religion. Where culture is uncoupled from ... the worship of God, religion becomes moribund in rituals and culture degenerates," Meisner said Friday.

In German the phrase "degenerate art," or "Entartete Kunst," carries deep associations with the Nazis' attempts to ban artworks they deemed did not uphold their ideals. In 1937, they staged an exhibit in Munich called "Entartete Kunst," which included 650 artworks confiscated from museums and considered unacceptable, including many by Expressionist artists.

Germany's main Jewish group said the cardinal's remarks went too far.

"Meisner ... is a notorious spiritual firebrand who tries not just to test the boundaries of what is allowed, but to deliberately overstep them," said Stephan Kramer, a leader in Germany's Central Council of Jews said in a statement.

Meisner was one of three German bishops who made controversial comments comparing the separation barrier in the West Bank to the Berlin Wall. He also recently criticized the taste of a leading artist who designed stained glass windows for Cologne Cathedral.

Theodor Lemper, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and responsible for culture in Cologne, said use of the word "entartete" should be taboo.

"In addition, culture does not grow only out of the worship of God," Lemper was quoted as saying by the Cologne daily Express. "The absolutism preached by Cardinal Meisner is false and inappropriate."

Some background on Cardinal Meisner: first, he's no friend of Israel. In March of 2007, a group of German Cardinals and Bishops which he led on a tour of the West Bank raised some eyebrows by comparing the West Bank to the Warsaw ghetto. Meisner went on to add that the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank reminded him of the Berlin Wall, thus comparing Israel both to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. (Read about it here: "German Bishops, B'Tselem Criticize Passive Counter-Terrorism".)

Der Spiegel religion reporter Peter Wensierski has described Meisner as the most feared man in the German church -- "the spokesperson of Germany's fundamentalists." In the Cologne diocese "extreme-right obscure groups are at the lead--from Opus Dei, whose German headquarters are in Cologne, to dubious missionary and pietistic circles." (Read it here.)

He has compared abortions to the Holocaust, women who have abortions to Hitler, and RU 486 (the "morning-after pill") to Zyklon B.

He has been a strong opponent of equal rights for gays, and has been the subject of a number of lawsuits for discrimination on that basis. (More here in German.)

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