German cardinal sparks fury with 'Nazi art term'
17 September 2007, Berlin (AFP) - Politicians and artists have condemned a German archbishop who described modern art as "degenerate", the term used by the Nazis in their persecution of artists.
17 September 2007
Berlin (AFP) - Politicians and artists have condemned a German archbishop who described modern art as "degenerate", the term used by the Nazis in their persecution of artists.
Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, said art which had no link to religion was "entartete Kunst", a term that in German has strong connotations linked to the Third Reich and its ban on paintings and other culture.
"When culture becomes disconnected from religion, from the worship of God, religion becomes ritualism and the culture becomes degenerate," Cardinal Meisner said in a sermon in Cologne Cathedral on Friday.
Meisner, 73, was commenting on the opening of an exhibition of medieval and medieval and modern art from the diocese's art collection.
The cardinal defended his choice of words on a Catholic radio station on Saturday, saying he had wanted to illustrate "that when art and religion are separated, both are damaged."
A spokesman for the cardinal said he had not intended to pay tribute to "old ideologies", but critics said Meisner had been foolish and showed no understanding of art.
"I thought this sort of thing was history in Germany. And yet here is a high-ranking member of the Catholic clergy using this term," said Michael Vesper, a former culture minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia where Cologne is situated.
Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP), said Meisner's comments were "intolerant, ignorant and unworthy of such a prominent clergyman."
The Central Council of Jews in Germany was outraged. Its secretary-general Stephan Kramer said Meisner was a "notoriously incendiary" figure.
In 1999, the cardinal compared over-the-counter abortion pills with the Zyklon B gas used by the Nazis in the Auschwitz death camp.
Cologne-based painter Gerhard Richter, one of Germany's best-known artists, said the cardinal had made a serious error of judgement.
"To use the word 'degenerate' in relation to art, as Cardinal Meisner did, is a serious faux pas," Richter told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Other politicians in North Rhine-Westphalia were appalled by the cardinal's words.
"It is frightening that Cardinal Meisner allows himself to use such terms. It shows that he understands nothing about art and culture," Hans-Heinrich Grosse-Brockhoff, the state's current minister for culture, told the Koelner-Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper.
The Nazis removed or banned an estimated 20,000 works of art, especially Expressionist art, from German museums after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.
Painters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Edvard Munch were persecuted and stigmatised.
Praise of Germany's Nazi past is highly taboo.
A top German TV presenter, Eva Herman, was sacked this month after saying there was much to admire in the Nazis' approach to motherhood and families.
Subject: German news