- Adrian Ghenie
- The Sunflowers in 1937
- signed and dated 2014 on the reverse
- oil on canvas
- 280 by 280cm.; 110 1/4 by 110 1/4 in.
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Malaga, Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga, Adrian Ghenie, 2014-15, p. 85, illustrated in colour
1937 was the year in which the Nazi regime held the infamous exhibition of ‘Degenerate Art’ at the Institute of Archaeology in the Hofgarten in Munich. Masterminded by Joseph Goebbels as a counterpart to the concurrent ‘Great German Art’ exhibition held only a stones throw away at the Haus der Deutschen Kunst, the ‘Degenerate Art’ exhibition comprised some 650 works deemed an ‘insult to German feeling’. With the aim to educate the German public against the evils of modern art, prohibited works by avant-garde artists such as Nolde, Kirchner, Dix, Beckmann, and even works by non-German artists such as Mondrian, Chagall, and Kandinsky, were exhibited in narrow rooms emblazoned with derisive slogans and accompanied by propagandist wall captions intended to inflame public opinion. Forming part of Hitler’s campaign to cleanse Germany from a culture of ‘degeneracy’ – a term used to refer to avant-garde movements considered elitist, intellectual, foreign, and socialist influenced – thousands of artworks were seized from public institutions across Germany during 1937-38 and were either traded or sold, while works that failed to sell on the international market were burned in the yard of the fire station in Lindenstrasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg on 20th March 1939. In addition to the 1937 exhibition, Hitler’s final list of ‘Entartete Kunst’ comprised an inventory of more than 16,000 pieces encompassing even those by nineteenth-century artists such as Vincent van Gogh. Indeed, the inventory lists a self-portrait seized from the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungenin in Munich that was sold for 175,000 Swiss Francs. This project of 'cultural cleansing' caused many countries to remove works by van Gogh and other blacklisted artists from display during the Nazi occupation; for example, in an effort to save their valuable collection, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam hid such works in an underground bunker during the war.
For Adrian Ghenie, van Gogh holds a place of central importance; as a six year old he kept a Sunflowers painting printed on the cover of a Romanian art magazine under the his pillow for a number of months, and as an adult, Ghenie has even painted his own likeness in the guise of van Gogh’s famed self-images, in works from 2012 and 2014.
Ghenie’s Berlin Noir show took its name from Philip Kerr’s popular trilogy of crime novels in which the reader follows the protagonist, a police officer turned private investigator named Bernie Gunther, through the corruption and oppression of 1930s Berlin – Ghenie’s adopted home city. As though assuming the first hand perspective of this character, many of Ghenie’s paintings created for this exhibition invoke the notorious Nazi book burning ceremonies such as the one held in Opernplatz, Berlin on 10th May 1933 – an event well documented in black and white photographs from the time. That van Gogh had already garnered an international market saved his works from destruction (bar one version in the series that was destroyed in a fire in Japan during the war); however in Ghenie’s painting, the Dutch master’s Sunflowers is imagined as subject to the same fate as the many so-called ‘degenerate’ artworks and books that perished at the hands of the Nazis.