JOYCE MCMILLAN on ENTARTET at the CCA, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 16.3.12
4 stars ****
IN EVERY FREE society, it’s vital to have a continuing, vigorous debate about what constitutes good art; in Britain, over the last two decades, the debate has tended to focus on conceptual art, and on the creative validity of found objects. The achievement of Kai Fischer’s small but potent installation and performance at the CCA, though, is to remind us of the horror that can follow when one side comprehensively wins the argument about art, and begins to throw all the weight of the state into the project of crushing one kind of work, and promoting another.
So in what at first seems a completely dark room, Fischer’s installation invites us to approach a series of stands, each one topped with a small, empty lit space. As we approach, a recording is activated; the words are powerful, vivid, fllled with hatred and contempt, and they come from the introductory catalogue of the original exhibition of “Degenerate Art” staged by the Nazis in Munich in 1937, as a terrible warning to the German people about the wrong turning they believed modern art had taken.
What is chilling about this is the familiarity of some of the language; many of the same thoughts recur in public and private conversations about art, across our society, every week. And the impression is reinforced when, as we finish our tour, we are buttonholed by a perfectly reasonable-looking young woman – brilliantly played by Rosalind Sydney or Pauline Goldsmith – who repeats the same fiercely authoritarian and controlling thoughts, in a tone which suggests that no sensible person could really disagree. Mercifully, we still live in a society where varying views about artistc excellence can flourish. Yet Fischer’s important and disturbing installation reminds us of how fragile that freedom can be; and how the top of that short slide towards horror and repression is always much closer to us than we think.