Hitler’s Degenerate Art Exhibition reminiscences found in a flat in Munich. But why no love for the modernists?

Hitler's Degenerate Art Exhibition

This week, a stash of “degenerate” art has been found in an apartment in Munich. We raise up a hugely considered question. Why was there no love for the modernists from Hitler’s Nazi party?

“In the paintings and drawings of this chamber of horrors there is no telling what was in the sick brains of those who wielded the brush or the pencil,” reads the entry in the exhibition handbook.

Four years after the Nazi party came to power in 1937, they put on two antithetical art exhibitions in Munich.

The first one showed the works of art that Hitler considered authentic in style and expression among which – statuesque blonde nudes, idealized soldiers and landscapes, the BBC News reports.

The other exhibition presented the so called “degenerate” art. The modern, abstract expression, headed to “reveal the philosophical, political, racial and moral goals and intentions behind this movement, and the driving forces of corruption which follow them,” as stated in the exhibition handbook.

Jonathan Petropoulos, professor of European History and author of several books on art and politics, strengthens the Nazi’s real arguments and motives, insisting that the pieces were selected “if they were abstract or expressionistic, but also in certain cases if the work was by a Jewish artist.”

Hitler paved his own path to revenge through the Degenerate Art Exhibition, when he learned that the art he preferred and appreciated, had been turned down in favor of those he hated the most. He even had given a speech about it, strongly supporting his feelings that “works of art which cannot be understood in themselves but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence will never again find their way to the German people”.

One of the galleries of the exhibition was named “the insanity room”, due to the entirely abstract paintings exhibited there.

Their determination to expose these works to the German people, found the curators hiring actors to interact with the viewers and criticize the “degenerate” art.

Robert Medley, a British artist who went on and saw the show, remembers it ” [was] enormously crowded and all the pictures hung like some kind of provincial auction room where the things had been simply slapped up on the wall regardless to create the effect that this was worthless stuff”.

Some of the “degenerate” works featured in the exhibition, have built the stairway to success for their creators. The artists who at that time were being ridiculed and criticized by the Nazi party, are now considered among the best of modern art.

“This artwork became more attractive abroad, or certainly in anti-Nazi circles it gained values because the Nazis opposed it, and I think that over the longer run it was good for modern art to be viewed as something that the Nazis detested and hated.”

Names listed in The Degenerate Art Exhibition include: Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka and Wassily Kandinsky and German artists – Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde and Georg Grosz.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE