Sometimes art can be incredibly controversial, and not just because people disagree on its aesthetic or meaning. The Design Museum in Den Bosch, in the Netherlands, is drawing outrage for featuring an exhibit on Nazi design, which explores how art fueled the “development of the evil Nazi ideology.”
There are swastikas hanging from the walls, photos of Hitler’s rallies, and Nazi propaganda films playing throughout the gallery, yet instead of having the desired, thought-provoking effect, it has instead sparked protests and claims that the exhibition is “provocative” by the Association of Dutch Anti-fascists and the Dutch Communist Youth Movement.
In addition to propaganda films and photos, the “Design of the Third Reich” exhibit includes a period Volkswagen Beetle, images of the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, and artwork by Hitler’s favorite sculptor, Arno Breker.
To prevent ill-intentioned visitors to use the exhibit as a way of glorifying the ideas of the Third Reich on social media, photography has been prohibited and security within the space has been heightened.
According to the museum, presenting Nazi imagery in a thoughtful context is integral to getting a full picture of the Nazi regime. “The Nazis were masters in using design to achieve their goal,” said the museum, “to both convince and destroy huge numbers of people. Design Museum Den Bosch is a design museum with a critical attitude. If you wholeheartedly want to be able to say ‘this never again,’ you must take time to analyse how the influencing processes worked at the time.”
The issue speaks to a broader debate over whether uncomfortable, emotionally charged periods of history should be spotlighted in museum settings. “Never forget” is a common utterance associated with Nazi atrocities, but part of that is taking the effort to actively remember, educate, and understand. Museums are an important factor in that.
The exhibition opened on September 8 and will run until January 19, 2020.