Confronting the Nazi Past in Art

On November 16, Pamela Potter, Professor of German and Music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Director of the DAAD Center for German and European Studies, gave a lecture to an audience of sixteen centered on the contents of her recent book, Art of Suppression: Confronting the Nazi Past in the Visual and Performing Arts. Potter engaged with the history of various art forms, offering evidence for how the post-war period marked a time of vibrant artistic expression that served as key in rebuilding the nation. On the one hand, art proved useful in the Allies’ denazification efforts, allowing them to convince people to accept food rations and, with them, denazification processes. Potter also, however, delved into the complex process of judging the quality of art and the ideology of artists who may have benefited from a career led under the Nazi regime. Along these lines, she pointed to the difficulties in pinpointing whether or not some artists were Nazis and whether or not specific artistic works reflected Nazi ideology. She then cited three different examples of artists affected by these difficulties: Gustav Grundgens, Wilhelm Furtwaengler and Paul Hindemith. Ultimately, Potter offered a fascinating perspective on the complicated relationship between artistic expression and Germany’s recovery as a nation following the horrors of the Second World War.