How to handle Hitler, the black sheep of the German family, has always proved a delicate subject. In July we published an article about Hagen Vogel whose portrait of Hitler was confiscated by police. Now it seems Hitler wasn’t satisfied with capturing most of Europe and has now invaded Berlin Art Week. How did he start to creep back into popular culture and why is he now being tolerated in the art world? Is it ironic or merely iconic and disrespectful? This year his swastika can be found in place of a deer’s genitalia at Berliner Liste, and with the opening of Preview today two more Hitler’s have made an appearance (and we thought one was bad enough!).
The subject is still a taboo in and outside of Germany and it is almost impossible to represent Hitler without controversy, as demonstrated in the case of Hagen Vogel. The face of evil has appeared in films and literature and some have criticized these as portraying Hitler as harmless. So, is this a dangerous trend? An important aspect of art is freedom and experimentation and to restrict its representation is to restrict exactly that what keeps art fresh. Recreating someone’s likeness can be a sign of respect and reverence, however with many of the representations this is clearly not the case.
The image should never be distanced from the evil, but it is important to challenge the existing norm and to address taboos, something various young artists are realizing during Berlin Art Week. Maybe art is the one place in which his image can be received with the appropriate level of criticism so that new meaning can be bought to it, relevant to today’s society in which his face still causes such a stir.
Article by Frances Cragg