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Label: east germany

Friday 25th November 2016Stasi Stained Glass

When one thinks of secret police, art is rarely the next subject to come to mind - unless it's in conjunction with the quality of censorship. Yet apparently, for the East German secret police post-World War II, it was quite a common thing to commission huge stained glass pieces commemorating particularly significant iconography - Lenin, naturally, as well as doves to symbolize the peace they believed they were protecting.

One particularly large piece commissioned in 1979 by Erich Mielke, the head of the Ministry of State Security, will be going on sale in conjunction with the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair that everyone is so particularly enamoured of. The price tag is a whopping $21.4 million dollars, although many appraisers scoff at such a ridiculously high price tag.

Sjeng Scheijen, an associate researcher at Leiden University who curated a recent exhibition at the Drents Museum “The quality of this piece is certainly not exceptional from an artistic point of view..If they will sell it for this price, you will see a storm of the same kind of art coming on the market, because many of these kinds of stained glass windows are very often in buildings from the ’70s and ’80s that aren’t used any more.”

The artist, Richard Otfried Wilhelm, is still alive today, but even he is not particularly convinced it's worth such a huge sum of money. There is a long and convoluted story about the provenance of the piece in an article by the New York Times

“It’s very colorful and beautiful, but what’s most important is that it shows that the artists in the G.D.R. were not free,” said Susanna Lillienthal, a conservator who helped track down the provenance of the piece. “They did what the dictators wanted. I grew up in the G.D.R. and I still have a hard time with it. But we need to save the dark parts of our history, too.”

An admirable sentiment, especially as it seems like the specter of facism is rising again in the modern world with the election of Donald Trump and the continued reign of Vladimir Putin. Remember: facism almost never makes worthwhile art, because, as Lillienthal said, you have to do what the dictators want - not what your artistic soul desires.  
 

Posted on November 25th 2016 on 02:16am
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