Most adamant were those condemning the show as a glorification of Nazism. But they would say that about any exhibition daring to touch the subject, that according to them is best left in the vault of collective silence. This Pavlovian reaction is not only shortsighted but also selective. Where were these critics when the Drents Museum in 2012 organized The Sovjet Myth, about social realism under Stalin? Or at the several shows dedicated to North Korean propaganda posters?
Design of the Third Reich diligently unravels the ingredients of Nazi design: Romantic folklore, the communicative strategies of modernism and the classicism lending it a veneer of historic credibility. The exhibition shows how Nazi design was injected into all aspects of daily life, the tightly controlled use of party symbols in advertisements being a most telling example. But the show stops short of explaining why this design was so effective, what made it so conducive for a racist ideology.
For such a trans-historical approach De Rijk could have taken his cue from Bozar in Brussels. The city, where the Africa Museum only last year did away with its ridiculously colonial set-up and the statues of mass murderer Leopold II that went with it, now hosts InCarNations. The show mixes old African statues and other objects with contemporary art. Next to works by Yinka Shonibare, William Kentridge, Zanele Muholi and many others the historic works are washed clean of the ethnographic cake that has built up over the centuries. Even though this method could be criticized for completely decontextualizing the objects it does allow visitors to look at them anew, discover the power within and maybe infuse them with new meaning.