German court rules convent must display Nazi-themed artwork

German court rules convent must display Nazi-themed artwork

A regional authority had canceled a contract with the artist’s heirs after learning of the painter’s Nazi affiliation

A painting by Erich Klahn (Screen capture: YouTube)
A painting by Erich Klahn (Screen capture: YouTube)

A court has ruled that a convent in northern Germany must allow Nazi-sympathetic artwork to remain on display, the Art Newspaper reported.

The heirs of the artist Erich Klahn won a court battle against the German regional public authority, Klosterkammer Hannover, which tried to back out of a contract requiring them to exhibit Klahn’s art, which frequently portrays anti-Semitic and racist imagery, including swastikas.

Klosterkammer Hannover learned of Klahn’s Nazi affiliation in 2014 and proceeded to try to cancel the contract with the artist’s heirs, but a court ruled the revocation to be invalid. The local authority then appealed the decision in the Federal Court of Justice, but its request was rejected on December 22, 2016, the report said.

The artist joined the Nazi party in 1921 and “was influenced by the political right, [allowing] himself to be instrumentalized by Nazi cultural policy,” Klosterkammer Hannover said in its appeal.

Although Klahn eventually left the Nazi party, his work frequently displays nationalistic symbolism. A Good Friday altarpiece he contrived for the Mariensee convent in 1939 featured swastikas on each of the hinges and is among the pieces that will remain on display.

"Ulenspiegel," one of controversial German artist Erich Klahn's paintings. (Screen capture/YouTube)
‘Ulenspiegel,’ one of the paintings by controversial German artist Erich Klahn (Screen capture: YouTube)

The Klosterkammer has managed the Erich Klahn Foundation’s some 1,130 works, many of which are displayed in churches, according to the Art Newspaper.

In a January 4 statement in response to the ruling, Klosterkammer director Andreas Hesse said, “We are looking at what further steps we can take. For now, we are obliged to keep Klahn’s work safe and to show it in the exhibition as previously agreed.”

Hesse added that Klosterkammer will be forced to reopen a museum featuring Klahn’s work.

Peter Raue, the Klahn heirs’ attorney, welcomed the court’s ruling and pushed back on the claim that the artist was once a Nazi. He argued that Klahn had never paid membership to the party and that the accusation was nothing more than an attempt to smear his reputation.

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