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Art and Politics: Beware What You Collect

Farmstead, by Adolf Hitler. AFP/Getty Images

Farmstead, by Adolf Hitler. AFP/Getty Images

Dallas real estate developer and conservative philanthropist Harlan Crow is also a serious collector of historic memorabilia and a small part of his collection has put him in international headlines this week.

It’s two paintings by Adolf Hitler and an autographed copy of Mein Kampf that drove Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, to call for presidential hopeful Marco Rubio to cancel his fundraiser at the Crow home. “Holding an event in a house featuring the artwork and signed autobiography of a man who dedicated his life to extinguishing the Jewish people is the height of insensitivity and indifference,” she said. Wasserman Schultz, who is Jewish, added to the statement that the presence of the items is “appalling at any time of the year,” but especially “on the eve of the holiest day of the Jewish calendar.”

After she released her statement, some of the news media took the bait and referred to Crow as a “Nazi art collector.” Which, technically, he is, but Crow told the Dallas Morning News that the collection is not intended as a celebration of repressive regimes but to preserve a part of world history. His Dallas residence also includes a backyard statuary featuring replicas of dictators Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, Fidel Castro, and Joseph Stalin.

The other side, of course, immediately went ballistic. The headline of the Washington Examiner was “Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s vile cheap shot.” New York magazine called the concern unfounded. “Unless Wasserman Schultz believes the items are Horcruxes that Crow is protecting and may somehow transfer Hitlerian evil powers onto Rubio.” The conservative website RedState.com blasted “Debbie Wasserman Schultz goes full-metal crazy pants.”

All this over a couple of paintings.

The bigger story is that Hitler really wanted to be a painter but was rejected from two art schools (and the rest is history). So, artists: keep making art!

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