Arnold Bartetzky (Leipzig): Bottom-up Censorship? Current disputes about dissonant monuments and controversial works of art

In recent years, attacks on despised monuments in the public space have increased, even in liberal societies of the West. At the same time, campaigns against the display of artworks deemed offensive in museums and galleries are growing. Both have a tradition that probably goes back as far as the history of art production itself. In the past, the reflex to remove monuments that do not conform to the political norms of the present day was particularly a characteristic of authoritarian regimes. This is even more true of interventions to restrict artistic freedom in the name of morality or ideology. In various parts of the world, such mechanisms of authoritarian control over visual culture continue to operate.
In the countries of the West, on the other hand, demands for the regulation of memory culture, art production and exhibition practices are predominantly rooted in a kind of social activism that sees itself as an emancipatory movement from below and finds resonance especially in the social media of the internet. On closer examination, however, the supposed contrast between authoritarian regulatory measures and the campaigns of activist initiatives, which are ostensibly directed against the establishment, becomes relative.
The paper traces these developments in a historical perspective using case studies from different continents. Of particular interest is the question whether the conflicts in the present are only one facet of ongoing social negotiation processes about the treatment of cultural heritage and the status of art, or whether new totalitarian patterns of thought can be discerned here that undermine an understanding of culture based on tolerance and plurality and thus also the liberal model of society.