Art Around the World

Artist Unrest in Haider’s Austria

By Tom Gross, February 29, 2000

Austria’s artists are calling on the international art world to boycott Austria while Jorg Haider’s extreme right-wing Freedom Party remains in government. “Would you have exhibited in Nazi Germany?” asks Robert Fleck, an Austrian art exhibitor, echoing a view shared by many of his colleagues.

Several artists, as well as musicians, poets and playwrights, have already said they do not intend to exhibit or perform in Haider’s Austria. Some art dealers are also joining the boycott. Thaddaeus Ropac of Salzburg, for example, has announced that he is shifting his main gallery to Paris because he “refuses to pay taxes to Austria as it is at present.”

“We should play it cool for the moment,” one artist told PaintingsDirect. “Haider is an extremely shrewd operator. He is calculating that every boycott will win him extra votes.”

Meanwhile, another group of artists is organizing an “Artists Against Racism” exhibition for the spring. “It is time we Austrians dropped our mass historical amnesia and faced up to the fact that we were Hitler’s willing henchmen,” said one of the organizers.

Haider has become the pariah of Europe following remarks he made in praise of Hitler and the SS, and other racist comments, although he denies being an anti-Semite.

In fact, the question of boycotts never arose under Hitler. The Nazis’ attitude towards art was summed up by the notorious exhibition of “Degenerate Art” in 1937, in which virtually every modern artist of note, including Picasso, Matisse and the Surrealists, was held up to hatred and ridicule.

In the past the Freedom Party have often attacked the work of some artists particularly modern ones and have demanded that their state subsidies be cut. So far, however, there is no suggestion at all of a Nazi-style cultural clampdown.

Article copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.