PASSAU, Germany, July 17, 2009— -- German artist Ottmar Horl is being investigated by Nuremberg prosecutors after his exhibition of some 700 garden gnomes included a golden gnome with the right hand raised in a Hitler-style salute.
The display of Nazi symbols and the Hitler salute has been illegal in Germany since after World War II.
Prosecutors are now investigating whether the artist, a sculptor and professor at Nuremberg's Applied Arts School, has violated German law by creating and exhibiting the Hitler salute garden gnome in an art gallery window in downtown Nuremberg.
Prosecution spokesman Wolfgang Trag confirmed that the artist is being interviewed after people complained about the exhibition.
"I personally think the whole thing is blown out of proportion," Trag told ABC News. "But we're obliged to determine whether this is art and whether the gnome is in fact ridiculing, rather than glorifying, the Third Reich. I expect this investigation to be concluded in the shortest time."
Art professor Horl is no stranger to controversy, says gallery owner Erwin Weigl who has taken the Nazi gnome out of the exhibition for now.
"Portraying the 'master race' as a garden gnome is a purely ironic gesture in itself," he said. "Professor Horl had previously shown the same exhibition in Gent, Belgium, as a protest against right-wing extremism there and it did not cause any outcry there.
"Other cities in Germany, like Aschaffenburg, where the gnomes have been on display for two weeks before the exhibition came to Nuremberg, had no complaints either."
"The city of Nuremberg has had a hard time to shake off its Nazi reputation, which it gained by being considered the birth place of Hitler's Nazi party and the fact, that the Nazis held their infamous annual Nazi rallies there. Maybe that's the reason people here are more sensitive about that issue" Weigl said.
"But, truth be told, I think it is time to overcome that and leave the past behind and see this for what it is -- an interesting piece of art."