There’s no escape from context

“Artworks are never simply artworks. There are always implications and meanings attached to them, whether artists admit to this or not – and there are most certainly ramifications associated with better known works. The paintings I’m discussing here make for an excellent example. Both were created by German artist, Erich Mercker, and both were commissioned by Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party in order to celebrate the building of infrastructure in fascist Germany. The tranquil looking shipyard is a depiction of the harbor where the Nazi U-Boat fleet was built, the same wartime armada of deadly submarines that menaced Atlantic shipping and blockaded Britain. The painting of the quarry shows workers cutting stone to be used in the construction of the Nazi seat of power in Berlin. Moreover, since Germany’s able-bodied men were at the time in uniform and occupying eight European countries from Austria to France, and the Nazi war machine was preparing its 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union – the workers in the painting are more than likely slave laborers conscripted from concentration camps.

“While my assessment of Mercker’s paintings can serve as a lesson in peeling back the hidden layers of meaning in an artwork, that is by no means the point of my article. Nor do I mean to scrutinize the role and responsibilities that I believe an artist has – which is always a topic of discussion on this web log. However, I do wish to point out that Mercker’s paintings – and works of art by other German artists commissioned by the Nazis, are now on view at an American museum that has failed to identify the paintings as Nazi propaganda.”
How do you know you’re not a Fascist?, by Mark Vallen, November 8, 2007

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