"Degenerate art" was a term applied by the National Socialist regime in Germany to artworks deemed, for whatever reason, un-German and intolerable. Modern artworks were pillaged from museums and private galleries for straying from Nazi values of obedience and militarism. Deemed weak, decadent and impure, pieces by modern masters including Paul Klee, Marc Chagall and Ernst Kirchner were looted by the Nazi regime, to be collected and shown in a traveling exhibition also titled "Degenerate Art." Over 5,000 works were stolen in two weeks.
Adolf Hitler and other Nazi officials (Hoffmann, Willrich, Hansen, and Ziegler) standing by the Dada wall at the “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) exhibition, July 16, 1937. Paintings by Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Kurt Schwitters have been deliberately hung askew and are accompanied by a slogan penned by George Grosz. This photo was published in the Nationalist Observer, South German (Süddeutsche) issue, No. 199, July 18, 1937. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany. bpk, Berlin, Art Resource, NY
An original exhibition of "degenerate" artworks opened in July 1937 and journeyed throughout Germany and Austria. Works were deliberately hung askew to minimize their importance to both artistic evolution and the ideas of modernism. Over the show's four month run, over two million visitors attended. In the years since, many of these "degenerate" works have been presumed lost, sold or destroyed. Yet The Neue Galerie has compiled a stunning new exhibition of works that remain, revisiting this horrific moment in art history and reappropriating Hitler's own language for further dialogue and understanding. The show features paintings, sculptures, drawings and posters deemed unworthy, with one room of the show presenting them in conversation with the works sanctioned by Hitler himself.
Adolf Ziegler (1892-1959), The Four Elements: Fire (left wing), Earth and Water (center panel),
Air (right wing), 1937, Oil on canvas
Pinakothek der Moderne, Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen, Munich Photo credit: bpk, Berlin/Art Resource, NY
One example of a Nazi-approved artwork is Adolf Ziegler's "The Four Elements," which was in Hitler's personal collection, depicting four blonde and beautiful women, each representing a season. Not only do the subjects' physical forms embody the German ideals of attractiveness and ethnic purity, but the painting style itself follows such rigidly figurative guidelines. This classical representation of classical form is worlds away from Lasar Segall's denounced work, "Eternal Wanderers," in which geometric, mask-like figures float through darkness.
"I wanted to compare what was considered official art and what was degenerate," Olaf Peters, the art historian who organized the show, told the New York Times. "And to examine the role modern art played in anti-Jewish policy, seeing how official art looks after 80 years.”
Lasar Segall (1891-1957) Eternal Wanderers, 1919, Oil on canvas
Lasar Segall Museum, IBRAM/Ministry of Culture Photo: Jorge Bastos
"Degenerate Art" contains 50 paintings and sculptures and 30 paper works, as well as other memorabilia. The exhibition lands at an especially relevant time, considering the recent discovery of hundreds of Nazi-looted artworks stashed in a Munich apartment. Also, the upcoming release of "The Monuments Men," George Clooney's film chronicling the World War II platoon assigned to rescue endangered artworks, is sure to incite conversation regarding this regrettable and fascinating historical moment.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938), A Group of Artists (The Painters of the Brücke), 1925-26 Oil on canvas
Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Photo: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Cologne
"Degenerate Art" doesn't open until March, but in the meantime, you can see a preview of the artworks below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Ernst Barlach (1870-1937) The Berserker, 1910, Bronze
© Ernst Barlach Haus – Stiftung Hermann F. Reemtsma, Hamburg Photo: H.-P. Cordes
Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980), Poster with Self-Portrait for Der Sturm magazine, 1910, Colored lithograph
© Neue Galerie New York. Gift of Leonard A. Lauder
© 2014 Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ ProLitteris, Zürich
Max Beckmann (1884-1950), Departure, Frankfurt 1932, Berlin 1933-35, Oil on canvas
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Given anonymously (by exchange) Digital Image © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource, NY © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Paul Klee (1879-1940) The Angler, 1921, Watercolor, transfer drawing and ink on paper
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. John S. Newberry Collection Digital Image © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource, NY, © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
"Degenerate Art" will run from March 13 until June 30, 2014 at the Neue Galerie in New York.