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Inside the U.S. Army’s Warehouse Full of Nazi Art – The New Yorker

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One of the world’s largest collections of Nazi propaganda is housed at Fort Belvoir, in Virginia; much of it is virulent, and most of it is never seen by the public.Photograph by Robert C. Sanchez

In the final days of the Second World War, a train loaded with relics of the collapsing Third Reich was speeding toward the Czech border when American pilots, flying P-47 fighters, spotted it and opened fire. The train ground to a halt in a forest, where German soldiers spirited the cargo away. They were pursued, not long afterward, by Gordon Gilkey, a young captain from Linn County, Oregon, who had been ordered to gather up all the Nazi propaganda and military art he could find. Gilkey tracked the smugglers to an abandoned woodcutter’s hut, where he pried up the floorboards and found what he was looking for: a collection of drawings and watercolors belonging to the German military’s high command. The cache had survived the strafing, only to be afflicted by mildew and a family of hungry mice. “They had eaten the ends off many pictures, large holes in a few, and gave all the cabin pictures an uneven deckle edge,” Gilkey wrote.

Two years later, after Gilkey completed his mission, he put the art he had recovered—thousands of pieces of it—on a ship bound for the United States. Today, one of the world’s largest collections of Nazi propaganda sits in a climate-controlled warehouse at Fort Belvoir, in northern Virginia. Much of it is virulent; most of it is never seen by the public.

Fort Belvoir is home to the 29th Infantry Division and also to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. It is also home to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, which maintains the Nazi art, along with thousands of other relics of wars past. One afternoon, before the pandemic struck, I drove inside the base to a cavernous warehouse where the collection is stored. It was like prying open a time capsule from a very dark time.

A curator pointing to paintings displayed in a warehouse
The works at Fort Belvoir are so vacant of nuance and irony that they can approach kitsch.Photograph by Robert C. Sanchez
A warehouse
In 1982, Congress decided that it could return any art that did not overtly glorify the Reich.Photograph by Robert C. Sanchez

Much of Nazi propaganda was ephemeral: posters and flyers, designed to be mass-produced and spread quickly. The paintings stored on high metal racks in Fort Belvoir’s warehouse were part of a different project, meant to give the Reich’s predations a patina of high culture. One of the best-known works is “The Flag Bearer,” painted by Hubert Lanzinger a year after Hitler came to power. It depicts the Führer astride a black horse, clad in shining armor and carrying a Nazi flag. “It’s Hitler as a Teutonic knight,” Sarah Forgey, the Army’s chief art curator, told me, standing before the painting. “It’s showing there’s a connection between the Third Reich and Germany’s feudal past.”

When Hitler took control of Germany, in 1933, it was home to some of the most sophisticated modernist painters in the world. The Nazis despised them. “Any aberration in color, in proportion, shape, size—anything like that was anathema,” Michael H. Kater, a historian and the author of “Culture in Nazi Germany,” told me. (The view extended even to music; the Nazis loathed jazz, for its supposed lack of melody and its emphasis on improvisation.) “The Nazis insinuated that modernism was Jewish, that it was the product of a deranged mind,” Kater said.

In Hitler’s vision, art had to be universally accessible, a celebration of rural life, the traditional family, and the Aryan ideal. In 1937, he told an audience at the Great German Art Exhibition that “Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, Impressionism, etc., have nothing to do with our German people.” Hoping to prove the depravity of “degenerate” art, the Nazis staged an enormous exhibition containing works by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, and other giants of the period. In the coming years, Hitler’s men banned or destroyed any art that did not adhere to an exacting realism; they confiscated works by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Wassily Kandinsky. As the Nazis occupied territory and commandeered art, they replaced it with paintings that glorified the Nazi cause. As Gilkey put it, “A systematic looting of all removable cultural objects in German invaded lands was compensated for by the Germans with exhibits propagandizing the mighty Wehrmacht.”

Painting of Hitler sitting on a horse holding a flag
“Der Bannerträger” (“The Flag Bearer”), by Hubert Lanzinger (circa 1935).Art work by Hubert Lanzinger

The Nazis tended to make their argument not by finesse but by scale. “The Flag Bearer,” the picture of Hitler on horseback, is the size of a television at a sports bar. Looking at it, you could imagine how an ordinary German, perhaps cowed by the Nazis and not yet fully aware of their true nature, might find herself inspired. To other viewers, the picture, with its swaggering size and mythic overtones, read as an affront. The canvas has a jagged hole in it, as if Hitler’s left eye had been gouged out; after the war ended, an American soldier in the Third Army came upon the painting in one of Hitler’s retreats and rammed his bayonet through it. The curators decided to leave it as it was.

The works at Fort Belvoir are earnest and at times accomplished, but so vacant of nuance and irony that they can approach kitsch. “In the Beginning Was the Word,” painted in 1937 by Hermann Otto Hoyer, shows Hitler speaking to a roomful of rapt supporters. He wears civilian clothes and looks young; the painting depicts him at the time of the “Beer Hall Putsch,” his failed coup d’état in Munich in 1923, which landed him and many of his supporters in jail. Hitler and his listeners are surrounded by shadows, but, in chiaroscuro style, their faces shine as if struck by a divine light. Hitler liked the painting so much that he bought it. “The artist obviously knew what he was doing,” Forgey said. While the political sympathies of many of the artists employed by the Nazis were unknown, Hoyer’s were clear; he was a member of the Nazi Party.

All propaganda is meant to obscure the truth, but two paintings inadvertently highlight the decline of the Nazi project. The first, “Hitler at the Front,” was painted by Emil Scheibe in 1942, about a year after Hitler launched his titanic, megalomaniacal invasion of the Soviet Union. It shows a buoyant Führer surrounded by a throng of German soldiers—young, well-scrubbed Aryans gazing at him in adoration. The second work—“East Front Fighters,” by Wilhelm Sauter—was painted two years later, when the Nazis were being rolled back by the Soviet Army. The soldiers in this canvas are exhausted and battered, if still unbowed. The message to Germans is clear: The war is tougher than we thought, but our soldiers are indomitable. Not long afterward, Hitler killed himself, and the Nazi regime imploded.

Hitler talking to soldiers
“Hitler at the Front,” by Emil Scheibe (1942).Art work by Emil Scheibe
Hitler talking to a room of people
“In the Beginning Was the Word,” by Hermann Otto Hoyer (1937).Art work by Hermann Otto Hoyer

At the Potsdam Conference, held after the war in Europe ended, Truman, Churchill, and Stalin decided that Nazi art and propaganda should be seized, to prevent it from fuelling a Fascist resurgence. That’s when Gilkey got the call. His job was akin to that of the “Monuments Men,” whose exploits, recovering thousands of pieces of art looted by the Nazis, were memorialized in a book by Robert M. Edsel and a movie directed by George Clooney.

Working relentlessly, Gilkey searched throughout Germany and Austria. In many cases, he said, the Nazis tried to hide the works right up until the day of Germany’s surrender. He discovered paintings hidden in a Bavarian castle, another cache at a black market on the banks of the Danube, and about a thousand works under the protection of a colonel in the Russian zone. In a report, he gave a characteristically blunt description of how the Nazi art was hustled off the train: “The drawings and watercolors were rolled up in bundles and toted over a disused mountain trail to an abandoned woodcutter’s hut on a mountain straddling the border.” In all, Gilkey collected eight thousand seven hundred and twenty-two drawings, paintings, and sketches, produced by some three hundred and sixty-nine German artists.

Once in American hands, the collection passed from government building to government building, carefully maintained but barely noticed. In 1950, some sixteen hundred pieces were deemed harmless and returned to what was then West Germany. In 1982, Congress decided that it could return any art that did not overtly glorify the Reich. That turned out to be everything but three hundred and twenty-seven pieces, which were considered too virulently pro-Nazi to allow into circulation. Another two hundred and fifty-nine items were retained for educational purposes; these included pieces from a genre known as combat art, in which artists accompanied the Wehrmacht to capture the drama of the battlefield. (The American military also sent artists into the field, and still does.)

Among the hundreds of pieces at Fort Belvoir, the most curious are four watercolors by Hitler. During the First World War, when he served as a foot soldier, he carried paper and often spent free moments drawing—the remnants of an early dream of succeeding as an artist. As a young man, Hitler was twice rejected for admission to the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and the works at Fort Belvoir make it easy to see why. The draftsmanship is painstaking but stolid, without personal vision or lightness of touch. Most of the pieces are nostalgic street scenes, like something that might hang in a dentist’s office—except that the streets are eerily devoid of people. “Hitler couldn’t paint the human form,” Forgey said. One of the works—“Railway Embankment,” a brown-toned, faintly Impressionist work from 1917—depicts two human beings, but they are little more than dark blurs. Over the years, the Army has lent pieces from the collection to museums, but curators don’t ask for the Hitler watercolors. “They are only interesting because of who produced them,” Forgey said.

How much longer will the United States hold on to the Nazi works? According to the Potsdam agreement, the U.S.’s role was to seize the works, not to destroy them. The Germans have never asked that they be returned, which suggests that they could remain locked away in a warehouse for many more years. Forgey thinks that this might not be such a bad thing. “The rationale in 1945 was that we take possession of these works to keep them out of dangerous hands,” she said. “The fear was that there would be a revival of Nazism. Look at the world today. That rationale seems more valid in 2020 than it’s been in a long time.”

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Montreal art gallery vandalized by QAnon-inspired graffiti

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Vandals spray-painted QAnon-themed graffiti across the windows of a Montreal art gallery this week, prompting an investigation by the SPVM’s hate crimes unit.

Tuesday evening, just after 9, a man and a woman wearing black clothes and carrying cans of spray paint approached the BBAM! Gallery on Atwater Ave. in St-Henri. Surveillance footage shows the couple tagging the gallery, painting “pedogate” and slinking away when cars passed.

The pair then moved north, toward the downtown core, where similar vandalism appeared on a daycare centre. The Montreal police hate crimes unit is investigating both incidents, a spokesperson said.

“It’s awful,” said Alison E. Rogers, who co-owns and operates BBAM! with her husband, Ralph Alfonso. “It comes from hate and ignorance.”

“We’re still trying to process it,” Alfonso said.

They discovered the graffiti Wednesday morning, cleaned it and called the police, who, upon realizing the significance of the vandalism, became worried.

Source: – Montreal Gazette

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Indie Success: Art to Heart – Publishers Weekly

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In his independently published First Blush: People’s Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art, Dan Hill uses facial coding and eye tracking to observe how viewers look at artworks. Hill is the founder of Sensory Logic, a company that measures emotional responses to outside stimuli for market research purposes. BookLife spoke to Hill about what he has learned about human perception and emotion.

How did your interest in art develop?

When I turned six years old, our family moved to Italy for two years because my father had a posting there for the company 3M. It’s fair to say my interest in art started during those two years. For one thing, my mother ensured we went around to visit many of the great art museums. For another, I didn’t know Italian at first and often had to read my environment visually more so than verbally—and it was a very interesting new environment to take in. Finally, on the way back to America, we stopped in Holland, where I first fell in love with Rembrandt. I minored in art history in college, and, in my work as a market researcher, I continued to apply my interest in visuals to analyzing advertising for over 50% of the world’s top 100 companies marketing to consumers.

How did you conceive of First Blush?

I always wanted to use the two tools I specialized in for business—eye tracking to capture where exactly people look, and facial coding to read expressions and learn how people feel about what they’re seeing—applied to art rather than just helping sell, say, more baked beans. The specific inspiration was an article that mentioned people spending on average about 20 seconds per artwork in viewing them in a museum. That struck me as too long an estimate. So, on my next business trip to New York City, I spent the equivalent of about a day sitting in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Frick, and the Guggenheim observing visitors. My finding: on average, about four seconds to view an artwork, five seconds to read the title plate, and another one-second glance at an artwork before moving on. From that confirmation of my instincts, I became eager to go further and capture the “inside scoop” on how people really experience art.

How did you find participants and choose the works? How did you conduct research?

Eye tracking has been used in studying art, but, as best I could find, nobody went in-depth. My study is easily the largest ever of this kind, with 88 artworks and 96 demographically varied participants ranging from age eight to 80. Each person got 15 seconds to view an artwork, and halfway through that period I would say aloud the last name of the artist and the work’s title to simulate people reading the title plate in an art museum.

Choosing the artworks to include took a lot of investigation online and via art books. I started with the obviously most famous works. Then I wanted to have a strong dose of more contemporary works. Ensuring gender and racial diversity was important. So was my getting in some works from Africa and certainly Asia, for instance. I varied the mediums, integrating photography, sculpture, and ready-made pieces. Finally, I added in artists that would introduce a few interesting variables: figures who made the most money, were the most popular, and/or were the most critically acclaimed. Trying to spread the choices around by era was yet another factor. All in all, a very tricky proposition that left out some personal favorites, like Matisse.

What surprised you most?

I can’t say I was surprised that 80% of people’s visual attention and emotional responses centered on faces when they were a part of the composition. However, there were other strong findings, too. How does one’s gaze move through an artwork? The best bet is the lower middle as the starting point, with the four corners being a little like Outer Mongolia. The study confirmed that the vast majority of participants’ viewing and emotional involvement happened within the first four seconds. Other findings: vertically oriented compositions performed best; red was the most emotionally engaging color, and blue the most appealing, or most associated with positive emotions. Titles that were poetic or meaningful did well; those that were obscure or untitled were panned emotionally by my participants. In terms of titles, the single best performer was Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. The title provided them with greater insight into the visual content. Now, the participants could see the Manhattan grid of streets, the yellow as taxi cabs, and the overall brightness as the lights of Broadway. Suddenly, participants really connected with an abstract piece.

Do you feel that the ability to intuitively see visual art is “learned out” of us as we age?

It might be. It’s striking that more time is spent in a museum on the title plate than the artwork itself. Yes, we’re seeking context, and I support that as an analyst! But, as an art lover, it’s a bit of a disappointment to think that maybe people are looking for more understanding or confirmation that such and such artwork is “important” as opposed to being absorbed by what one sees and responding accordingly.

What were the key takeaways? What do you hope readers gain?

My book is very, very visually oriented. It’s in four-color [printing], and the eye tracking results are shown in color based on what’s known in the trade as colorized “heat maps.” Reds and orange mean more gaze activity, green less, and no color could account for the parts of an artwork that the participants barely observed. So the key takeaway concerns what kind of content and composition elements draw people in. I think this “inside scoop” can be useful to practicing artists, to teachers, to museum curators laying out the next exhibit, and to the general art lover.

Is a purely emotional response to art as valid as a more critical response?

Certainly. The scientific estimate is that about 95% of our mental activity isn’t fully conscious. A lot of that activity goes to monitoring intuitively how our body is doing. But lots more goes to subconscious than conscious processing of the world around us and our experiences of it, including art. I’m as vulnerable as the next person to taking in the title plate and confirming this is such-and-such important artist to pay attention to in an art museum. But, at the same time, I often enter the next room and try to start by asking myself: what piece in this room grabs my eye and heart most?

A version of this article appeared in the 01/25/2021 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: Art to Heart

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Sculpture honouring teachers unveiled at WAG’s new Inuit art centre – Global News

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A new piece of permanent artwork, commissioned by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), has been unveiled at the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new Inuit art centre.

The marble sculpture, by Inuit artist Goota Ashoona, will welcome visitors to the new Qaumajuq centre, set to open later this year at St. Mary Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.

Tuniigusiia/The Gift was commissioned by the MTS to honour “teachers all around us — in the land and in our lives — who reveal the truth, wisdom and beauty that connect us all.”

“A beacon that both emanates and attracts light, Qaumajuq will celebrate the artistry and acknowledge the history of Inuit and First Peoples,” said MTS president James Bedford.

“And it will teach us, as all good teachers do, to challenge conventional wisdom and privileged perceptions to find truth, connection, and value in our shared humanity.”

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Inuit culture on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

WAG director and CEO Stephen Borys said education plays a critical role in changing lives through art, and Ashoona’s sculpture pays tribute to that.

“The WAG and our dedicated learning and programs team have had the honour of building relationships with teachers across Manitoba to benefit youth in our province and in the North,” Borys said.

“Teachers have always played an incredible role in our communities, and this has been brought into further focus in this difficult time.

“This beautiful sculpture by Goota Ashoona captures and pays tribute to teachers’ contributions.”

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Click to play video 'Checking in with the Winnipeg Art Gallery'



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Checking in with the Winnipeg Art Gallery


Checking in with the Winnipeg Art Gallery – Jan 8, 2021

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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