"Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937"

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Photograph: Hulya kolabas; cover image Otto Freundlich; The New Man; 1912 (lost)

“Degenerate Art” brochure cover, 1937

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Photograph: Staatsbibliotek zu Berlin; Stiftung Preussicher Kulturbesitz; Berlin; Berlin/Art Resources NY

Adolph Hitler at the Degenerate Art exhibition. Nationalist Observer, South German issue, No. 199, 07/18/1937, page 4.

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Photograph: Private Collection

Hans Vitus Vierthaler, "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art) exhibition, Munich 1936

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Photograph: Victoria and Albert Museum; London

Typescript inventory prepared by the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, ca. 1941–42

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Photograph: Museum Ludwig; Cologne

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, A Group of Artists (The Painters of the Brücke), 1925- 26

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Photograph: Lasar Segall Museum

Lasar Segall, Eternal Wanderers, 1919

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Photograph: Ernst Barlach Haus Stiftung

Ernst Barlach, The Berserker, 1910

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Photograph: Neue Galerie New York

Oscar Kokoschka, Poster with Self-Portrait for Der Sturm magazine, 1910

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Photograph: The Museum of Modern Art; New York

Max Beckmann, Departure, 1932–35

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Photograph: Pinakothek der Moderne Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen

Adolf Ziegler, The Four Elements: Fire (left wing), Earth and Water (center panel), Air (right wing), 1937

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Photograph: The Museum of Modern Art; New York; © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource; NY © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS); New York

Paul Klee, The Angler, 1921

When the SS first solicited bids for death-camp crematoriums, one manufacturer proposed a design resembling a Greek temple. It was rejected not because of its appearance, but because of its cost.

While such a juxtaposition of neoclassicism and mass murder seems unthinkable today, aesthetics played a key role in Nazism’s exterminist ideology. The perfection of the Aryan superman was contrasted with the perceived defectiveness of the Jew. The Nuremberg Rallies were visual spectacles, as were Leni Riefenstahl’s films. Indeed, Walter Benjamin defined fascism itself as “the aestheticization of politics.”

The Neue Galerie revisits a key point along this perversely arcadian allée to Auschwitz: the 1937 “Degenerate Art” exhibition. On view were Cubist, Expressionist and Dadaist artworks confiscated from public and private collections, hung alongside placards and wall texts mocking them. Some of the very same pieces have been collected here, alongside officially approved Nazi art, ephemera and posters related to the original show.

The exhibit was a huge hit with the German public. Even so, things weren’t always cut and dry. Some modern artists were viewed favorably by certain Nazis, while officially approved artists eventually ran afoul of the regime. One of the great ironies underlying Hitler’s assault on modern art was that the writer who first drew a connection between modernism and degeneracy was a Jew, Max Nordau.

Ultimately, it was Hitler’s exploitation of the German people’s deep devotion to kultur that enabled his rise and “Degenerate Art” to occur. Thus, the Neue Galerie show suggests that the question surrounding the Holocaust was never, “How could the nation of Goethe descend into barbarism?” but rather, “How could it not?”—Howard Halle

Event phone: 212-628-6200
Event website: http://neuegalerie.org
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