A controversial art exhibit in the town of Schwerin has many Germans up in arms. The exhibit features the work of Arno Breker (1900 – 1991), a prominent 20th-century German sculptor whose neo-classical works featuring muscular youths in heroic poses were prized by Hitler and other Nazi leaders.
Many consider Breker to have been a Nazi propagandist. They point to the fact that he produced busts of high-ranking Nazi leaders (including Hitler) and accepted commissions to produce monumental works as part of Nazi-funded public art projects, such as the sculptures of athletes that decorated the Berlin stadium built for the 1936 Olympic games.
Although Breker accepted Nazi patronage, he never joined the Nazi party. After the war, moreover, he continued to be respected and commissioned by world leaders. His post-war busts included West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, who restored relations with France, and Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat. An Arno Breker Museum opened in 1985.
Still, many Germans feel that his works should not be on display as part of a publicly-funded exhibit. I myself (not being German) cannot help but admire the beauty of his sculpted forms. Were I to have stumbled across one of his heroic youths without knowing anything about the artist, I surely would have admired the figure’s beauty and perhaps been aroused by the homoeroticism lingering under the surface. Breker’s talent as an artist was widely recognized, and his ability to bring stone and metal to life once got him labeled “Germany’s Michelangelo.”
Looking at his works online, I find that my reaction is much the same, even though I now know about his more questionable commissions. It would be dishonest of me to say that his work repulses me now that I know about how some of it originated.
Pictured above is Breker’s Wounded Warrior (1940).