The humble garden gnome is usually associated with quaint tradition rather than progressive art. Nonetheless, a gallery owner in the German city of Nuremberg has caused controversy by displaying in his window a golden gnome making the Nazi salute.
The public prosecutor's office in Nuremberg has launched an investigation following an anonymous letter of complaint regarding the Nazi gnome. Spokesperson Wolfgang Träg explained to the German press agency DPA that the display of the symbols of organizations which are banned under Germany's constitution -- such as the Nazi party -- is only lawful if the organisation is being overtly criticized. "We are currently deciding whether the case of the garden gnomes is as clear cut as placards with crossed-out swastikas."
The creator of the exhibition, art professor Ottmar Hörl, told DPA of his shock at the reaction to his work. "I am completely stunned," he said. "In 1942 it would have been the Nazis massacring me because of this piece." He argued that "presenting the master race as garden gnomes" clearly constitutes satire.
Still, it is possible that both Hörl and the owner of the gallery could face punishment for their association with this provocative piece of art. The public prosecutor's office is currently giving Hörl time to make a statement in response to the furore.
Earlier this year, Hörl, who has been president of the Nuremberg Academy of Fine Arts since 2005, displayed 700 of the Nazi gnomes in the Belgian city of Gent -- where they were seen by over 40,000 people -- and the Italian region of South Tyrol. The exhibition, entitled "Dance with the Devil," received no official complaints in either country and garnered postive feedback from the Jewish community.