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167 entries
REQUIEM FOR AUSTRIART
01 February 2000


By Adrian Darmon

Covering art may seem an easy task since there is apparently no necessity to get mingled with politics.

However being neutral in covering all aspects of art would be tantamount to being blind. On the contrary art calls for feelings and somewhere for reactions.
In addition, the interference of politics in art is an obvious fact and one should remember that art was the tool of many ideologies and doctrines throughout many centuries.

We can even go back to Egyptian, Greek and Roman times to prove such assertion and one should not forget that the Catholic Church controlled art from the early stages of the Middle Ages until the end of the 16th century. Then princes and kings used art as a propaganda tool to serve their glory. During the 19th century art mainly reflected the prerequisites of the bourgeois society until some artists started to free themselves from the rule of their academic masters. They did so at a time when people began to fight for their emancipation. At the turn of the 20th century art followed the path of social and technological revolutions until it became annexed by totalitarian regimes.

A majority of people knows how the Communists, the Fascists and the Nazis tightly controlled art and went on to persecute artists whom they considered as dangerous or degenerate.

Many artists who went against tight rules however eventually became the legendary idols of human history. Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Goya, Fussli, J.L David, Renoir, Manet, Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Dali and many others were among the standard-bearers of creative freedom and often of freedom alone.

BEING OSTRICHES VIS A VIS AUSTRIA WOULD BE FOOLISH

Now, Austria, a country with a rich historical and artistic past, which notably played a major role in the development of avant-garde art at the turn of the 20th century before it fell under the domination of the Nazis in March 1938, is about to be ruled by a political group led by an admirer of Adolf Hitler who has more than once expressed his xenophobic ideas.

The European Community has shown deep concern about a possible take over of power by an extreme rightist party in Austria and many EEC leaders, as well as the United States, have been envisaging certain retaliatory measures against this country that now faces the prospect of being isolated on the international scene.

Jörg Haider, the man who praised Hitler and the Waffen SS troops, might drive Austria to be banned throughout the world and become himself the Saddam Hussein of Europe. It is true that in the face of being branded as Fascists and considered as outcasts most Austrians might be tempted to stand by Haider and there seems to be no real effective measure to force them to have second thoughts regarding their decision to accept an extreme-right wing government.

The main problem concerning Austria is that this country managed to be considered as a victim of Nazism despite the fact that many 3rd Reich leaders, Hitler to start with, were in fact Austrians. As a result there was no deep introspection among Austrians after 1945 about their questionable behaviour during the war. Now we should not forget that Communism, Fascism or Nazism were ideologies not imposed by force on nations at the start. Hitler and Mussolini came to power after democratic elections and it was only after a few years in office that they went on to fully apply their totalitarian programs.

Totalitarianism often comes paradoxically as a result of the failures of democracy. During the 1930's millions of people in Europe were at a loss regarding their future following a dire economic crisis that swept the continent. They thus had an urge for strict order not knowing that such will was eventually affecting their freedom.

Today Austria is however in quite a different situation though as Jörg Haider's success simply rests on the weakening of the ruling coalition in Vienna and on a general anxiety regarding immigration from the East that might have some effects on Austrian national identity.

The country of Mozart, Freud, Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, Hundertwasser and of so many great intellectuals and artists should however beware about the dangers of extreme policies. If Haider comes to power he will surely impose his views in many fields and inevitably in that of art. Knowing his tastes for old folkloric traditions and his admiration for some of the 3rd Reich's achievements one can fear that many artists will no longer feel free in Austria.

Controlling art amounts to controlling men. Destroying art is also a step leading to persecuting and killing human beings. That is why art cannot simply be viewed through the beauties it carries and the sensations it gives when the political leaders of a country come to turn their backs on democracy.

One thus surely does not have to behave like an ostrich vis-à-vis what is happening in Austria, a country that should in fact try to choose movie star actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as an alternative to Jörg Haider. He is a clean and handsome guy, married to a member of the Kennedy family and appears to have some liking for art…

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