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Controversy over the symbolism intended by Lewis W. Rubenstein in his two murals in the Germanic Museum is ignorant and unfounded. The murals are both derived from old Norse legends, and the use of modern accessories to make the allegory more vivid has been twisted in ridiculous fashion by newshawks into a slam at Nazi aims and methods. Nothing could be farther from the truth than these inane shots in the dark.
The mural completed last spring entitled "The Ring of the Niebelungen" represents the dwarf ruler Alberich whipping his workers in order to speed up their creation of destructive wealth, symbolized by the Ring forged from the Rhine gold. The artist is here attempting to present the struggle between creative science and material greed, not, as some one tried to interpret it, a comparison between the treatment of regimented and unregimented workers in contemporary Germany. At the left of the main part of the mural, Alberich's hand tries to grasp the Rhine gold, reaching up from sea-green water, while maidens resist his efforts. The graphic imagination of a member of the press quickly recognized this easy symbol as some one drowning at the sinking of the "Lusitania". At the right of the door an armored fist thrust through the Ring and holding a sword shows the threat of destruction by those who control the power of the Ring. No one has so far come forward with the Nazi parallel for this symbol.
The second mural depicts the legend known as "The Twilight of the Gods". Here the final battle between Gods and Giants is taking place, with the Gods ranged on the left, armed with spears and halberds, facing the Giants on the right, who are fitted out with gas masks, cylinders and a flame thrower. Mr. Rubenstein is attempting to represent the attack of the Giants on Asgard, the home of the Gods, where such a great struggle took place that the earth trembled, and wiped out the existing race. This animated scene has been translated by commotion-seekers into the attack of Nazidom on the Church. The origin of this fantastic idea is the minute cross-shaped mark, more like a trade mark than a Church symbol, cut in the halberd of one of the Gods. At the right, as yet unfinished, there will be shown a sleeper awakening, standing for the regenerated race of man after the holocaust at Asgard.
Mr. Rubenstein had a definite message to convey when he undertook the two murals which have aroused such discussion. Both walls show the constructive and destructive forces of society opposed to one another, and may be classed as art in the highest sense, certainly detached from any suspicion of political significance.
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