19 April 2007
Bryan Ferry has recently got himself into hot water by praising the style of Nazi architect Albert Speer (whose brilliant biography by Gitta Sereny, I heartily recommend) and film maker Leni Riefenstahl. He apologised or clarified his remarks by saying: "I apologize unreservedly for any offence caused by my comments on Nazi iconography, which were solely made from an art history perspective. I, like every right-minded individual, find the Nazi regime, and all it stood for, evil and abhorrent" (from Wired News).
As far as I am concerned, these comments just compound his crime. The Nazi machine systematically crushed modern art. The book burning is well known, but more obscure now is the exhibition launched in Munich in 1937 entitled "Entartete Kunst" or "Degenerate Art", which was held to lambast the art of the Weimar years and included works by Chagall, Max Ernst, Paul Klee and Kandinsky to name but a few. This was contrasted with an exhibition of approved Nazi art which mainly contained sterile neo-classical works of muscular figures doing heroic things. Amusingly, the crowds flocked to the degenerate exhibition whereas the approved one was empty.
Entartete Kunst was mirrored by a ban on left wing and Jewish playwrites, such as Brecht and a complete ban on jazz on account of its "unpure" black roots.
Of the few things I am quite proud of, for my history A-level project, I wrote an essay on why the Nazis reacted the way they did to Weimar culture. I managed to find one of the few surviving artists from the 1937 exhibition, Hans Feibusch, who was in his 90s but was still working and living in St John's Wood. He gave a couple of hours of his time to a pretentious 17 year old to talk about his experiences in the 1930s and how he had got the hell out of Germany once Hitler came to power. He also reflected on modern art and on how even he had his limits - I don't think he was a Tracy Emin fan.
I guess there will always be people who say "at least he made the trains run on time" or think black leather has a certain something, but to praise the Nazis for style when they did so much to destroy the defining art and style of the 20th century is sadly ignorant. No, M&S should not fire Ferry for his crass remarks but M&S should fire him for his lack of artistic knowledge revealed by those remarks.