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Degenerate Art and the New Corporate Style

Michael Kaplan
Associate Professor of Architecture
University of Tennessee / Knoxville

"If only our totally superficial culture of today, which loves rapid change, could visualize the future by learning to look more closely at the past! This rage for innovation that collapses foundations, this foolish negligence of the deep spiritual content in life and art, this modern concept of life as a rapid sequence of instant pleasures, ... so many signs of decadence, a sad denial of health and of the transcendent character of life." Martin Heidegger

The epigraph from Heidegger's Abraham a Sancta Clara, written in 1910 and excerpted by Victor Farias in Heidegger and Nazism, reveals a virulent anti-modernist stance that later became the ideological substrate of Nazi cultural revisionism. Appropriated by Hitler in his writings on the degeneracy of modern art, this position formed the basis for the attack on progressive German culture leading to a ban on art criticism in 1936 and the slanderous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibit of Germany's great modern artists mounted in Munich in 1937.

Hitler sketch (5 kb)The relation of trends in the theoretical and practical architectural agenda to the conservative political climate of the last two decades has become a subject of speculation and debate. Bruno Zevi, advocate of modernism, argues that certain formal aspects of historicism interface with ideological intents of fascism. Leon Krier, while acknowledging the appropriation of the classical style by totalitarian forces, believes the convergence incidental and not an indictment of the style. David Harvey, in The Condition of Post-Modernity, frames the debate in terms of "a search for an appropriate myth" where modernist art served a capitalist version of the Enlightenment, and classicism a reaction to the universalist implications of technology.

In the context of the current debate, and within the framework of Harvey's 'appropriate myth' theory, this paper examines two examples of contemporary architecture -- one historicist and the other modernist -- by relating their stylistic language to the agenda of their patrons.

Whittle Headquarters: An Architecture of Decency and Deceit · Degenerate Art: An architecture of respect and retreat · Lessons of fascism · Epilogue · Fax from Leon Krier to Professor Kaplan
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