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The art of Hitler salute: German court acquits painter over Nazi gesture

Published time: August 14, 2013 21:57
Edited time: August 15, 2013 09:42
German artist Jonathan Meese (AFP Photo / DPA / Uli Deck / Germany Out)

German artist Jonathan Meese (AFP Photo / DPA / Uli Deck / Germany Out)

A German court acquitted controversial artist Jonathan Meese for performing the outlawed Hitler salute during a performance ruling that it was a form of artistic expression.

The two Nazi salutes, which outraged the German public, were made at the “Megalomania in the Art World” event, which was organized by German Der Spiegel magazine in Kassel University last June.

Meese had been invited there as an expert on both art and megalomania. He was advocating the “dictatorship of art” during the public discussion and used a Nazi greeting to make his point more clear.

The 48-year-old has argued that his use of Nazi symbols and gestures is satirical and aimed to lessen, not to promote their potency.

The judge decided on Wednesday that Meese isn’t guilty as the Nazi gesture isn’t a violation if it’s done “in order to promote art.” 

"It is clear that the defendant doesn’t share sympathies towards the symbols of National Socialism or towards Adolf Hitler. Irony can be rather traced in his actions,” the judge explained his ruling. 

Meese has thanked the court for protecting his freedom of expression, saying: "Art has triumphed. Now I am free."

German artist Jonathan Meese (AFP Photo / DPA / Uli Deck / Germany Out)

"I can paint an apple without ever having eaten an apple. I can do the Hitler salute without having anything to do with it," he added, DPA news agency reports.  

Previously, the artist told Der Spiegel that he’s “innocent” because what he does on stage “is protected by the artistic freedom clause in the German constitution.”

Section 86a of the German Criminal Code prohibits “the use of symbols of unconstitutional organizations,” which includes demonstration of flags and coats of arms of the Third Reich as well use of Nazi greetings. But the scope of the law is restricted with a paragraph, saying that such behavior is not punishable if it involves art.

The prosecutors, who demanded the painter, sculptor and artist to be punished with a 12,000 euro fine, are yet to decide whether they’ll appeal against the court ruling. 

Meese now faces another trail in Mannheim as he displayed Nazi salutes and mannequins, decorated with swastikas, during a show, which took place in the city last year. 

The Hitler salute is nothing new in the German art. In 2009, Ottmar Hörl caused an uproar with his sculpture of garden gnomes, with their arms raised in a Nazi greeting.  

Back then, the public prosecutors decided not to take the artist to court, saying that his exhibition clearly expressed opposition to Nazi ideology.


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