Emil Nolde was a Nazi - and so what, asks contemporary German artist Daniel Richter. "It's a moralistic debate. A debate, that mirrors the moralism and bigottery of a generation that seems to think, that the world is a moral playground."
Emil Nolde's relationship to the Nazi-regime in the Third Reich has given rise to immense discussions within the last months. For decades the broader public had a picture of Nolde being one of the "entartete" artists as well as being prohibited painting by the Nazi-regime. Though this on the surface is true, it was the result of a great disappointment to Nolde. For years, he had strived to become "the" artist of the Thrid Reich, praising his own art as true, German, anti-French and anti-Jewish. Possible competitors within the German art world like Max Pechstein he actively denounced to the Nazi authorities.
For Daniel Richter, who growing up in the Northern part of Germany was surrounded by Noldes paintings since early childhood, not much new has happened though. "Already the frist president of the Berlin art academy after the Second World War called Nolde for Nazi-Emil. He despised him." In other words: Everybody, who wanted to know that Nolde was a Nazi, could have known it for many decades. It was a public secret, so to speak.
In this interview Daniel Richter reflects upon the reasons for the actual debate. "Nolde became a symbol for the Germans in general. Like them he went along, he was opportunistic, he aimed high and fell deep. Like the man on the street, he felt betrayed - by Hitler and the Nazi-ideology. In many ways, Nolde is the blueprint of the collective German mind after the war."
But does Nolde's betrayal have to influence our perspective on his art? Richter argues: "Is it necessary for us to know, who the artist was? Today everybody is judged by his private dealings - politicians, public persons, artists. I think that's wrong. Knowing the biography or the moral, social or political behaviour of a person may sharpen one's look on a work. But in my eyes, it should never deminish the work. The work should be judged on it's own and only in relation to other paintings."
And therefore Noldes work is still relevant today, Richter says. "Like most artists, Nolde had a contradictory personality. It was like a red line through his life. Many artists have wrong ideas, but come to interesting results.
Art does not have an expiry date - that's a wrong understanding of art. If the paintings confuse me or irritate me or offer something, that I have not seen before, they are contemporary paintings. And that answers the question. Everything we consume today, everything we can use for something, is contemporary art."
Daniel Richter (b.1962) is one of the leading painters on the German contemporary art-scene. Between 1991 and 1995 he attended the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg. From 2004-2006 he served as Professor for Painting at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. Since 2006, he has been teaching at Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna. His works are besides others represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Boros Collection in Berlin.
Daniel Richter was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Edit: Kamilla Bruus
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2014
Supported by: Nordea Fonden