Atlantic Cities

A Celebration of Yiddish, Emblazoned on a Former Symbol of Nazi Power

A Celebration of Yiddish, Emblazoned on a Former Symbol of Nazi Power
Haus der Kunst

The building in Munich that now houses the contemporary art museum Haus der Kunst, or House of Art, was originally conceived as a grand expression of Nazi values. Designed by architect Paul Troost, one of Hitler’s favorites, the austere neoclassical structure was intended as a vessel for the "true, eternal art of the German people."

When it opened, under the name Haus der Deutschen Kunst, in 1937, Hitler used the occasion to proclaim a "relentless, cleansing war" against the forces of modernism in art. It was a defining moment in the Nazis' crusade against all culture that they proclaimed to be "degenerate."

And so the current installation on the museum’s façade of “The Joys of Yiddish,” a monumental work by American conceptual artist Mel Bochner, represents a particularly sweet triumph of art. Bochner adapted the work, which he originally displayed in Chicago in 2006, specifically for this location. A series of Yiddish words -- now also part of American slang – are rendered in bright yellow and black above the Haus der Kunst’s columns. These are, quite intentionally, the colors of the stigmatizing patches and armbands the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

KIBBITZER, KVETCHER, NUDNICK, NEBBISH: the expressive vocabulary of a language once spoken by as many as 13 million people, then nearly wiped out, now graces the building that Hitler saw as an apotheosis of his twisted Aryan supremacist aesthetic. We should all be kvelling.

Top image: Mel Bochner, The Joys of Yiddish, installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2013, photo Wilfried Petzi. (Haus der Kunst)

Sarah Goodyear has written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog. She lives in Brooklyn. All posts »

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