Much Ado About Something

The FPÖ has named an openly Teutonic-nationalist for a cultural advisory board. Critics protested – and the language in both directions was inflammatory, leading Wiesinger to ultimately turn down the role.

The appointment of right-wing artist Odin Wiesinger – a specialist in the icons of Teutonic myth and nationalist militarism – for the FPÖ seat on Upper Austria’s cultural advisory board set off heated exchange along party lines, reviving a particularly Austrian debate about the role of the arts in public life. In the fact of criticism, Wiesinger ultimately declined the role.

Artists have served political power for centuries – the mighty statues of the Pharaohs, the grim portraits of powerful princes and the obsequious likenesses of Stalin and Hitler. In Austria (and Germany) the iconography of the Nazi era is not only broadly condemned, but in certain well-defined forms illegal.  

A quick review of Wiesinger’s work illustrates the problem: Ominous ravens, armor-clad knights, dueling students and soldiers in the unmistakable helmets of Hitler’s Wehrmacht dominate.  But what has really riled the critics is the artist’s constructed persona: Born Manfred Wiesinger, he has re-named himself Odin (Wagner’s Wotan). His studio signature is a pictogram clearly based on the Odalruhne, an ancient Germanic rune proudly displayed by Nazi organizations – and today a criminal offence. (In a critical feature for Vice online, Wiesinger protested that his symbol represents an O, a W, and two lower-case i’s.)

Defenders and protesters line up predictably.  Norbert Hofer (FPÖ), presently Transport and Technology Minister, has rallied stoutly: “Wiesinger is my favorite artist,” he proclaimed. On the other side, respected author and university art lecturer Thomas Baum reacted with immediate resignation from the advisory board and Sabine Schatz (SPÖ) described the nomination as “an absolute affront.”

From this point, the war of words escalated rapidly. The Wienerin, Der Standard and others reported that Wiesinger had called Eva Blimlinger, Director of Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, “an ugly and stupid lump of meat.” That it was in 2014 was not mentioned. On Facebook Wiesinger then switched to the victim role: “A red-green manhunt… you are the real fascists.” And anyway, he added, it’s all much ado about nothing.

What happens next is unclear.  The Board’s Speaker Thomas Stelzer simply announced that the statute allowed each political party to nominate whoever they wished. Not his problem.

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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