Commentary meese ruling: a verdict for artistic freedom

As an artist, Jonathan Meese insists on his right to be tasteless. It’s good that the court sees it that way, too.

"I am tasteless and I have the right to be." – Jonathan Meese. Image: dpa

The dictatorship of art has triumphed. At least the one that the artist Jonathan Meese has been proclaiming as art in progress for years, and in which he shows the Hitler salute, talks about the professor Doktor Erzchefarzt and smears alien dolls with swastikas.

Why he arranges his appearances in such a way and always brings the chief arch villain of the 20th century into play is not to be said without further ado. For the sheer pleasure of provocation? Or more didactically: for the purpose of irritating and unsettling the art public? As a small reality check on our memory? And our corresponding reflexes? The only thing that is clear is that it is not his intention "to make the Hitler salute acceptable again," as the Kassel public prosecutor’s office accused the 43-year-old of doing.

The presiding judge at Kassel District Court could not agree with this accusation either. She was even sure to know "that the defendant does not identify with National Socialist symbols or Hitler, but rather mocks the whole thing." Thus the judge followed the plea of the defense and acquitted Jonathan Meese yesterday, Wednesday, of the charge of having used a sign of unconstitutional organizations.

Completely free of ideology

As the defendant, Meese had the closing words, in which he declared himself to be completely free of ideology. Art is also not an "ideology confirmation system," Meese said, adding that artists must rather "take aim" at the times in which they live. "I am tasteless and I have the right to be."

It’s good that he said it again. Because what was frighteningly revealing about the Kassel trial was how many commentators wanted to dispute precisely this right to be tasteless – and thus put an end to the fundamental right of artistic freedom. Why are artists actually allowed to do what so-called normal people are forbidden to do was the stroppy question that was used to create a mood against the legitimized violation of the rules. Fortunately, the district court in Kassel did not give in to this with its vote for Meese.

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