ART AS HELL IN A HAND-CART: The New Objectivity?

“The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.” …”All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war.” (Walter Benjamin )…”A work of art carries its defence within itself.” ( Jean Cocteau).

Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibit,  was visited by three million Germans as it traveled around the country in 1937 and 1938. It is very instructive  to see what degenerate art is and why it is so important to embrace Modern and Avant Garde art: we can see from the past what could become of artists, and their artworks, which come from the wrong culture or ask the wrong questions about the world around them.

Jankel Adler, The Mutilated, 1942. The Mutilated was painted in London during heavy bombing and reflected, he said, his admiration for "the behaviour of Londoners under great stress and suffering, only then could humanity be seen at its best".

…A painting by Jankel Adler received a gold medal at the exhibition “German Art Düsseldorf” in 1928. In 1931 Adler moved into a studio at the Düsseldorf academy, which he abandoned in 1933 when leaving Germany upon friends’ advice, after he had published together with other left-wing artists and intellectuals an “urgent appeal” against the Nazi policy and for communism during the campaigns for the parliamentary “elections” in February 1933.

Pinch of Snuff. Marc Chagall. "In his etchings about the bible, which he begins in 1931, he makes the issues of guilt and atonement, revenge and damnation a major theme. Some illustrations like the prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem and Babel appear to be most especially metaphors for contemporary catastrophes."

“In that year, two of his pictures were displayed by the Nazis at the Mannheimer Arts Center as examples of degenerate art. Adler now left Germany, staying in Paris, where he regarded his exile consciously as political resistance against the fascist regime in Germany. In the years that followed, he made numerous journeys to Poland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Romania and the Soviet Union. In 1937, twenty-five of his works were seized from public collections by the Nazis and four were shown in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition in Munich. (haGalil)

Raoul Hausmann. The Art Critic. 1919-1920.

Until 1933 Chagall was a renowned painter of modern art, even and especially in Germany where notable museum directors such as Georg Swarzenski and Gustav Friedrich Hartlaub had purchased his pictures. Already in 1933 these purchases came to be the target of Nazi propaganda. In Mannheim at the exhibition “kulturbolschewistische Bilder” Chagall’s famous painting ‘The Pinch of Snuff’ was pulled on a hand-cart through the streets together with a painting from Jankel Adler and publicly jeered at.

Johannes Itten (November 11, 1888 - May 27, 1967) was a Swiss painter, designer teacher, writer and theorist associated with the Bauhaus school.

In 1938 all of Chagall’s oil paintings and water-colour pictures were confiscated from the public collections. Four of these were on display at the exhibition of “Degenerate Art” (i.e. ‘Purim’ from the Folkwang Museum Essen, ‘The Pinch of Snuff’ from the Kunsthalle Mannheim, ‘ Winter’ and ‘Men with Cow’ – two water-colour paintings from the Städtische Galerie at the Städelsche Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt/ Main). The confiscated works were later sold in Switzerland in exchange for foreign currencies…. Paintings that belonged to private collections shared about the same fate. For instance those that belonged to the vast private collection of Herwarth Waldens. …

aThe years 1927-37 were critical for artists in Germany. In 1927, the National Socialist Society for German Culture was formed. The aim of this organization was to halt the “corruption of art” and inform the people about the relationship between race and art. By 1933, the terms “Jewish,” “Degenerate,” and “Bolshevik” were in common use to describe almost all modern art.

In 1937, Nazi officials purged German museums of works the Party considered to be degenerate. From the thousands of works removed, 650 were chosen for a special exhibit of Entartete Kunst. The exhibit opened in Munich and then traveled to eleven other cities in Germany and Austria. In each installation, the works were poorly hung and surrounded by graffiti and hand written labels mocking the artists and their creations. Over three million visitors attended making it the first “blockbuster” exhibition

Steven Lehrer:In summer 1937, Joseph Goebbels’ degenerate art commission canvassed Germany, searching public and private collections. Propaganda office officials seized the works of Otto Dix, Oskar Kokoschka, Erich Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, and Käthe Kollwitz, among others. Especially hard hit was the modern art division of the Berlin National Gallery, which lost 136 paintings, 28 sculptures, and 324 drawings.

“The so-called Jewish nature of all impenetrable, distorted or depr av ed art had to be suppressed. By propagating the theory of degeneracy, the Nazis combined their anti-Semitism with their drive to control the culture. And in Nazi Germany from 1933 on, the terms Jewish, Degen erate, modernist and Bolsh evik were all used to refer to non-Germanic art, whet­her it was created by German artists or not. Hitler, Goebbels and others did not dislike art. On the contrary, they were pass ion ate art patrons, collectors and sometimes connoisseurs. In fact as an art-loving chan cellor, Hitler viewed art as the expression of a racially pure culture and as a means to unite a community. ” ( Helen Webberley )

Steven Lehrer:Goebbels first visited the warehouse on November 4, 1937. The painter Adolf Ziegler, President of the Reich Chamber of Artists, and architect Albert Speer accompanied him. In his diary, Goebbels wrote, “Very few borderline cases. The rest is such dreck that a three hour visit makes one sick.” In order to convince Hitler to legalize the confiscations that had already taken place, Goebbels gave him a tour of the warehouse on January 13, 1938. “No picture was acceptable,” wrote Goebbels in his diary. “Führer also wants no compensation paid to the owners. We will exchange a few of the works outside of Germany for real masterpieces.” On May 31, 1938, the seizure without compensation of degenerate art was legalized ex post facto. At the same time, avant-garde artists living in Germany were forbidden to paint. To obtain foreign currency, four German art dealers were appointed to find foreign customers for some of the degenerate art. Most of the remainder was sent to a gallery in Lucerne for international sale. Before shipment, the works were displayed in the rooms of a castle, Schloß Niederschönhausen. Franz Hofmann, the director of fine art and art critic of the Völkischer Beobachter, recommended that “the worthless, unsalable remainder be dumped in a trash heap and symbolically burned,” Goebbels wrote. “I should also deliver a peppery eulogy.”


the Nazis actively pro moted paintings and sculptures that were narrowly traditional in manner and that exalted the True Blood and Soil values of racial pur ity, nationalism, mil itarism, health and obedience. They referred to this style of art as Heroic Romantic Realism. Hitler himself said that “we have come to the end of artistic lunacy and with it, the artistic poll ution of our people. National Socialism has set out to rid the German Reich, and our people, of all those influences which threaten its exist ence. And although this purge cannot be accompl ished in one day, from now on we will wage an un relenting war of purification against the last element of putre faction in our art”.

By 1937 racial purity was firmly entrenched in Nazi policy, and auth orities purged German museums of modern art now labelled degenerate. The selection criter ia were to be scientific ally based on the new Aesthet ics: all German art had to serve a state purpose. Heroic German Art symbol ised racially pure art, while modern styles dev ia t ed from the prescribed norm of clas s ical beauty. Racially pure art ists prod uced racially pure art; modernists of an inferior race pro d uced contorted works. Any that “insults German feeling, or destroys or con fuses natural form, or reveals an absence of ad equate manual & artistic skill” was culled. Inventory lists indicate that at least 16,500 works were seized from Germany’s galleries.

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