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Throwing light into dark corners

In her Master‘s thesis LMU student Sofie wanted to discover something new, and ended up analyzing a cache of documents that hardly anyone had previously bothered to examine.

Sofie Eikenkötter

“A miniature version of the Haus der Kunst”: In Munich the work of the Nazi regime’s loyal artists favored disappeare into the museum’s vaults after the war, while it remained popular and on public view in Rosenheim.

Where should one look for a research topic that has not already been tackled in the countless M.A., MSc and PhD theses that have already been written? Sofie Eikenkötter studies Art History and, motivated principally by the fact that she would have to do all the research herself, she decided to take a closer look at a field that has been largely ignored – Nazi art. “I knew I would have to dig the necessary information out of the archives, and could inspect documents that virtually nobody had ever subjected to close scrutiny,” she says.

The topic she chose was “Nazi artists in the Municipal Gallery in Rosenheim”. During the 12 years for which the Third Reich lasted, many of the regime’s favored artists had exhibited their work in the Rosenheim gallery. “Some of these artists actually moved to the area around Rosenheim after the Second World War, and after 1945 works that had been well-received in the Nazi period remained on exhibition in the local gallery,” Sofie explains.

In the course of her research, Sofie discovered unexpected connections between galleries: The artists whose work was exhibited in the Municipal Gallery in Rosenheim had also been represented in the exhibitions of German contemporary art held annually in Munich’s Haus der Kunst in the years 1937-1944. Sophie’s supervisor, PD Dr. Christian Fuhrmeister of the Institute of Art History at LMU, found these parallels so striking that he refers to the Rosenheim Gallery – whose patron was Hermann Göring – as “a miniature version of the Haus der Kunst”.

In Munich, however, the work of the Nazi regime’s loyal artists favored disappeare into the museum’s vaults after the war, while it remained popular and on public view in Rosenheim. “Many of its creators were careful not to draw attention to their success in the Third Reich, while others falsified their biographies and went so far as to portray themselves as harassed protagonists of so-called decadent art during the Nazi period,” Sofie explains.

The afterlife of Nazi art
For Sofie, working in Rosenheim’s archives had a number of advantages. Above all, it turned out to be surprisingly uncomplicated. “Unlike the case in many other archives, it wasn’t necessary to carry on a long e-mail correspondence in order to gain access to important documents.” At the outset, she just rummaged through the material in search of interesting leads, before deciding to focus on the minutes of the Rosenheim Art Association (Kunstverein) – prompted by the unpretentious tone of the letters written by the members of the Association, and the fact that the material provided detailed insight into the work of the Gallery. “These were informal, everyday letters that made no attempt to impress. I like it when things are put in a simple manner, and this preference has probably left its mark on my Master’s thesis.”

One question that her thesis could not answer is how representative the Rosenheim example is with respect to the post-war fate and fame of artists who played a prominent role in the german art world during the years 1933-1945. So Sofie plans to devote her PhD thesis to how galleries and museums dealt with Nazi art in the postwar era. Many basic questions relating to this whole issue remain understudied: “How do we now approach Nazi art? And what defines Nazi art in the first place?

Sofie Eikenkötter‘s 2016 Master’s thesis gave rise to “vermacht.verfallen.verdrängt. Art and National Socialism”, an exhibition planned and assembled by students under her direction. Over the course of three semesters, she coordinated the project, in which students organized not only the exhibition itself and the accompanying catalog, but also a Colloquium on the subject at the Central Institute for Art History. The exhibition opens at the Municipal Art Gallery in Rosenheim on September 24th and ends on the November 19th 2017.

Online publication:
Eikenkötter, Sofie: Die Städtische Galerie in Rosenheim. Zwischen Tradition und Propaganda von 1935 bis in die frühen Nachkriegsjahre.