Ideology and Art in Germany 1937

This IBDP Extended Essay in the Visual Arts received 34/36

Why, in 1937 Nationalist Germany, was Max Bergmann´s  painting “Frühling” (1925) labelled as politically correct, whilst Max Bergmann´s “TanzBar in Baden-Baden” (1923) labelled as Degenerate?

ABSTRACT In this essay I will concentrate on the two National Socialist Exhibitions will attempt to prove that although the Nazi tried to manipulate public opinion by labelling Art politically, they were unable to curtail the creative spirits of artist like Max Beckmann, who had to go into exile after the Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich 1937. However also Max Bergmann, who had official Nazi approval of being painter of the German “Volk” after the simultaneous Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung, also had a style, which the Nazi, had they known, would have found subversive.

INTRODUCTION          Can one put a political label on art? In National Socialist Germany during the 1930s, the German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, devised a scheme to use art as a tool to spread Nazi ideology by labelling thousands of modern paintings as “Degenerate”.  The idea of “true art” enforced in form of two simultaneous exhibitions in 1937. In Munich the magnificent Haus der Kunst was built to house works marked as politically correct, while the “Entartete” exhibition took place in a small building nearby. The sheer difference of location conveys the National Socialist message. For my investigations, I have chosen two contemporary paintings, which were exhibited in each of the two venues.  Within the research question “Why was, in 1937 Nationalist Germany,  Max Bergmann´s painting “Frühling” (“Spring”) labelled as politically correct, while Max Beckmanns  “Tanzbar in Baden-Baden” (Dancing Bar in Baden-Baden”), 1923, as degenerate, I will investigate the justification of labelling art, and the choice of art and culture to represent Nazi Germany. My point of view is that art cannot fairly be designated as being the right or the wrong kind. Hitler specifically chose the traditional, classical artistic styles, whilst shunning diversions from the art he wanted to represent his ideology. As I have been living in Germany for several years and am very interested in Art as well as History, this topic is significant to me by giving insight  into both the development of modern art in Germany and the country itself.
THE IDEA OF DEGENERATE ART Degenerate Art was the term used by the Nazis to denote everything in modern art movement. Modernism was being pushed by the likes of Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann and Emil Nolde. It took the form of Dada, Surrealism, Expressionism and Cubism, which had begun to emerge during the avant-garde years of the Weimar republic. The art blossomed into pieces containing the political views of the artist, his expressions and even pieces daring to criticize the government. However, Expressionism was shunned by the Nazi party, branded a threat to German culture and ultimately banned.  Over 20,000 pieces of art were removed and confiscated from galleries, museums and private collections. Some were then displayed in the 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition that was made to insult and ridicule their style. The artists where also banned from painting and prosecuted. Max Beckmann escaped to London, while others, like Nolde, stayed but were banned from buying painting equipment.

NAZI CULTURAL IDEOLOGY Hitler’s statement “Anyone who sees and paints the sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized”  ( was far from exaggerated. The Nazi party went out of its way to ensure that the “original” German spirit of art was preserved and presented. The ideal, perfect picture, in Hitler´s and Goebbels opinion, was that it would contain the attributes of their ideology to portray, such as national pride, family, duty, discipline, heroism and moral purity. The paintings would often feature the countryside. Peasant life was displayed as wholesome and preserving rural values, the people typically beautiful, proud Aryans, or the “Volk”, Hitler’s perfect race, shown in everyday situations to display Germany as peaceful and traditional. The Nazi Party used Art as weapon to manipulate the public. It had essentially become propaganda. 
Haus der Kunst  is a huge museum in the centre of Munich.The venue was a masterpiece of German culture itself, built to house German art. It is an imposing building stretching down the prominent Prinzregentenstraße. However, if one is to walk a little further and cross into the narrow and well hidden Galeriestraße behind Hofgarten,  one will come across the inconspicuous, small building where the “Entartete” art was been carelessly, overcrowded and crammed into narrow rooms for public ridicule.        Enartete opened 19th July 1937. The Nazi painter Adolf Ziegler announced in his in his opening speech that: “We now stand in an exhibition that contains only a fraction of what was bought with the hard-earned savings of the German people and exhibited as art by a large number of museums all over Germany. All around us you see the monstrous offspring of insanity, impudence, ineptitude, and sheer degeneracy. What this exhibition offers inspires horror and disgust in us all”.       On the walls mocking, derogative messages and texts were scribbled around the paintings. These terms accused the paintings of insulting German War heroes, being anti-governmental and marked them as “Perverted Jewish spirit” and a danger to German culture. Five rooms within the exhibit had themes where pictures had been grouped. One room was preserved for the paintings guilty of insulting woman, another for farmers and German soldiers, in another the paintings were to have a religious or blasphemous theme, while a third contained specifically art by the Jewish painters, even though only six out of the selected 112 artist were Jewish. The show described the modern art movement as a conspiracy and tried to convince the German public that this art was inferior to that of the officially approved works by artists such as Adolf Ziegler and Arno Breker. The close proximity of the two exhibitions gave the public opportunity to experience the right and the wrong kind of art at the same time. Interestingly, the “Entartete” Exhibition became a blockbuster, with around three million visiting Germans, three times as many as the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung. This could hint that the general public had a genuine interest in different, modern art, despite the opinions of the regime.
THE POWER OF THE VENUES “Die Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung” was held in the House der Kunst, parallel to the exhibit of degenerate art and opened the day before. The magnificent building that was designed by Paul Ludwig  Troost housed the artwork approved by Hitler and Goebbels. As Hitler said, “With the opening of this Exhibition, the end of the cultural destruction of our people has started.” The museum is a monument to Nazi propaganda. Nazi symbols are still visible engraved into the marble inside the building.    The building is still used today to house exhibits of mainly modern art. This shows Germanys evolution in art, and how modernism overcame the very forces that opposed them. These are now presented in the structure built to rival the degenerate art. When one inspects the avenues of presentation there are hints of the actual art and the difference between the two groups created in Germany. On one hand, there is the colossal majestic building, built in stone and with enormous pillars as show of power. The very ideals that the Nazi Party were trying to convey though architecture and many sculptures and paintings, were like those of ancient Rome, thus also the Roman, classical inspired temple design for Haus der Kunst. On the other hand it is a paradox that the “Entartete” building also contained massive amounts of German culture. This building is also symbolic for the art it presented, with both the exhibits and the way they were presented as being surreal and expressionistic. In both venues the visitor was experiencing the hidden ideologies.
PROBLEMS OF RESEARCH          In my hunt to find paintings to compare I began to research types of Nazi art. Following research about the some of, I found that these paintings had been archived in different museums around German. I then searched for the triptych “The Four Elements” by Adolf Ziegler, which is in Munich city archive. After sending a letter to the “Pinakothek der Moderne”, the most important modern art museum in Munich, I discovered that these paintings where not allowed to be shown to the public because of the history behind them. The labelling of art by Hitler, and the act of forcing his ideology onto paintings, had caused the German government to stop these works of art from being seen in public..        Fortunately, as I discovered, the grandson of Max Bergmann, one of the approved Nazi painters, lives in his grandfather’s gallery and studio, which lies just outside my home village. Although Max Bergmann was not part of the National Socialist Party, the Party approved his style of painting, accurate scenes of heroic farmers and rural beauty.  One of his paintings, “Frühling”, which I will discuss later, was exhibited in Haus der Kunst in 1937 and is now owned by his grandson. I was granted a visit to view this in his home.

COMPARISONS OF THE ART WORKS OF BERGMANN AND BECKMANN To show the difference between the two types of arts, and why one was treasured by the Nazi party, I will compare the painting “Tanzbar in Baden-Baden” by Max Beckmann with the Nationalist Socialist approved painting “Frühling” by Max Bergmann. “Tanzbar”, now on display in Pinakothek der Modern in Munich, was painted in 1923. It is in oil on canvas and measures 100.5cm x 65.5cm making it quite a large piece.  “Tanzbar”, as well as other works by Max Beckmann, were hung in Room five in the “Entartete”, which catalogue described as: “This section of the exhibition affords a survey of the moral aspect of degeneracy in art. To those “artists” whom it represents, the entire world is clearly no more or less than a brothel and the human race is exclusively composed of harlots and pimps. Among these works of painted and drawn pornography there are some that can no longer be displayed, even in the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, in view of the fact that that women will be among the visitors.” It shows how the Nazi propagandists were imposing their uncompromising opinions on what harmful art.
INTERPRETATION, BECKMANN´S “TANZBAR BADEN-BADEN”       “Tanzbar” was painted during the Weimar Republic, at the time when the Expressionist style picked up in Germany. It shows a scene from the 1920s and depicts the upper social class. The format of the painting is high and narrow, showing two couples dominating the centre, with people squashed in around them, pressing against the frame. The figures fill the whole space, making it cramped and unnatural scene. The unreality is enforced with the multiple perspective being very steep and exaggerated. The figures appear like they are pushed towards the viewer. It is painted this way to make the viewer feel claustrophobic and uneasy, thus criticising the top of society, accusing the rich of inhabiting their very own little privileged world, not caring about, the bad things that happen outside, like the massive problems in society after the First World War.         “Tanzbar” is painted in an expressionist style, which evokes mood and promotes feelings. The scene is non-fictional, but the reality is that it a political, emotional statement. The expressionist painters used these kinds of work to oppose the impressionist and realistic style of the Nazi artists, in order give social criticism. Looking at the painting, there are seven hands and arms are pointing to the bottom right corner, cutting the painting into diagonals. This is to give an idea of the rhythm and dance, portrayed in the piece. The angle of the floor and the man in the left bottom corner both act as counter movements to balance the picture. The red and black colours create another pattern. The red dress, then a black smoking, followed by a red bow tie and the red stocking with a white shoe all further create a cadence. The source of light in “Tanzbar” is rather diffuse. It seems that it comes from the left, even though there are no real shadows cast by the characters, making make them seem to float, all adding to the nightmarish feel. The couples are very close but it seems there is no real connection, shown by the woman looking away. It could be a comment on how the upper class was united only by their ego.  “Tanzbar” was painted during the pinnacle of the Weimar inflation. Put together with the jewellery and clothes of the characters, it gives a sense of how well off and uncaring the upper class was about the people suffering outside and the massive problems in society after the First World War. However, as the steep perspective indicates, which makes it look as though the character might slide off, their way of life is about to come to an end. Max Beckmann has made a very critical prediction of, what social instability would cause.
INTERPRETATION, BERGMANN´S “FRÜHLING”          The painting “Frühling” by Max Bergmann was painted in 1925 and exhibited in the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung. Painted in oil on canvas, like ”Tanzbar”, and measuring 120x90 cm, it depicts two cows dragging a load. In the background are trees. It is painted in an exact, naturalistic style, but with loose, energetic brushstrokes like the Impressionists. The cows are facing directly out of the picture. It is a classic Bavarian scene where the artist has attempted to convey the beauty of the farmland. On the right hand side, part of the farmer is seen. He is driving his cows in the lovely weather. The sun is shining, which is why he is wearing a hat and the shadows appear purple. The light is coming directly from the front, this is evident of the way the shadows hits the ground, emphasizing the highlights on the cows, and giving the scene a naturalistic feel. There is no sky to be seen, so it is a very intimate painting. Because of the extreme foreshortening of the cows and the linear one-point perspective it gives the viewer the viewer a sense of engaging directly with the scene and being, standing on the pathway, directly confronting the cows.      It is important that the painting is painted outdoors or “en plain air” which means open-air, and derives from French impressionist artists like Monet and Renoir.  Hitler and Goebbels approved this style of art because it depicted the Völkisch tradition, is very rural, serene and adheres to the old traditional values of people tending to their own business. It also signifies that the Germans should get back to nature and basic existence. The Nazi party wanted these original peaceful scenes to represent their culture, in “Frühling” enforced by the fact how fat and well tended the cows are. The contentment on the farmer’s face shows there is no hint of war or tension outside the picture. These kinds of paintings were after all used by the National Socialists to deceive the public. They tried to convey that Germany was still beautiful and well tended, and the brutal acts, which they were committing, where not really happening. Or it could be an apology for committing atrocities in order to preserve these values from outside threats, like the Jews and the Communists.  Art was used as an illusion by Hitler created to convince the public that the goal was the old moral values, in comparison to the decadence of the Weimar culture.
DIFFERENCES AND SIMILARITIES OF THE TWO WORKS       Both Max Beckmann and Max Bergmann were contemporary and practised painting at almost to the same time.  “Tanzbar” and “Frühling” are similar in size, and both are painted in very traditional medium of oil on canvas. The oil medium means great artistic diversity and a beautiful shiny surface is created, also when it is dry. A multitude of tones and shades can be created. Both artists rely on “chiaroscuro”, which comes from the Italian and means strong contrast between light and shade. This effect is used to create depth and strong three-dimensional image. Max Beckmann uses this cleverly by having the woman wear bright colours in contrast to the gentleman’s black smoking, making the painting bold and striking. Max Bergmann likewise uses strong tonal contrasts to emphasize his figures in sunlight. Where                      Beckmann uses multiple perspectives like the Cubists, making the scene unreal, while Bergmann uses one point perspective, which is very traditional and realistic. “Frühling” gives an atmosphere of rural peace while “Tanzbar” gives a noisy crammed almost eerie ambience. The painting by Beckmann seems to be swirling and contained, spinning in circles around itself, while Bergmann’s is open and free. It is interesting, however, that the viewer is unable to enter either painting. In “Tanzbar” entry is impossible because of the self-sustaining whirl and the naked arms, which are pushed against the picture plane, barring entry and only allowing the viewer to observe the decadent rich from the outside.  It is an obvious social criticism of a social world, which is only open to a few, selected and arrogant people. Equally in “Früling” the viewer cannot enter the painting. The cows, in effect a peaceful scene, faces the viewer straight on and approaches with what actually seems to be in a disconcerting, slightly threatening, way.  The noses of the animals are touching the picture plane, and if the viewer does not move he or she will be trampled on. It could be an image of the fact that rural life is perhaps not that romantic as the Nazi wanted people to believe, and everything is an illusion. The fact that the cows are so extremely foreshortened is first of all to show off the artist’s skill in drawing and observation, but also to create an unusual, staged atmosphere. Maybe this is an inherent criticism of the social conditions.
MAX BECKMANN BIOGRAPHY         Max Beckmann was born in 1884 in Leipzig and was the youngest of three children of a merchant family. After the death of his father he moved to Braunschweig, and went to the Art Academy in Weimar. In Berlin he encountered the emerging German impressionist painters and began to paint in this style as well. During WW1 he became involuntarily a nursing officer on the Eastern Front. In 1915 he had a nervous breakdown because of his war experiences and was sent to a Hospital in Frankfurt. The paintings he did during the War were exclusively Expressionist, which he continued after discovering “Die Brücke”, an Expressionist movement from Dresden. It became a way of expressing the horrors of the War, no longer realistic but with more extreme emotions and scenes. 1925 he married Quappi, who features in a lot of his paintings. He taught at the art academy in Frankfurt and became quite famous, with exhibits in America and in Europe. In 1933 with the Nazi Party taking power, he lost his job, was banned from painting and his art labelled as Degenerate. Between 1993-1936 over 800 of his works were confiscated from exhibits all over Germany. One week after the exhibition in Munich he felt forced to flee to London. He passed away December 1950 in New York, but as a very famous, renowned artist.
MAX BERGMANN BIOGRAPHY       The German artist Max Bergmann was born the 2nd of December, also in 1884, in Fürstenberg. His parents owned a dyeing factory and were quite wealthy. He started painting early and quickly became very good at portrait drawings. He visited the “Fine Art Academy Schalottenburg” in Berlin where he could further progress in his work.  In 1907 he studied figure drawing and animal painting at the Art Academy in Munich. Like Bergmann, he was also sent to the Front during WW1. In his house his I saw old photographs of him as a dashing young officer, a post he became straight away because family’s social standing. Unlike his artist colleague, he came out of the War unscathed, but with a lot of sketches of the local people in Hungary. Bergmann then began to travel to Paris, where he became a close friend of Marcel Duchamp, the later famous Dadaist. In Bergmann’s house, I was allowed to see original postcards and sketches, which Hans Peter Bergmann’s grandfather had received from Duchamp. Later he married Dorothea Karstadt, heiress to the huge Munich Karstadt dynasty. They moved to Haimhausen, my village, where he formed an art school, focusing on painting outside in the open air. Bergmann is probably mostly known within Germany, but his paintings stand now in high regard. Because of his impressionist style and content of his paintings he was presented in the first Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung. It was his life on the country that inspired his paintings. Max Bergmann did not have his work confiscated, but was made to report many times during the War to an “Internat”, checking if his art appropriately conveyed the message that the National socialists wanted it to.

VISIT TO MAX BERMANN´S STUDIO         I visited the grandchild of Max Bergmann, Hans Peter Bergmann, on Monday 10th August 2011. He still to this day lives in the house, where Max Bergman lived and worked. The old, imposing artist villa, which before 1919 belonged to the well-known landscape artist, Buttersack, is local Haimhausen. Max Bergman wanted to be away from the bigger cities and have freedom and peace to paint. The huge garden also allowed him and his art student to paint outside. Hans Peter Bergmann allowed me to see the original, amazing art studio which still stands like it has done for almost over ninety years.  The paintings he had inherited from his grandfather were displayed everywhere and were absolutely incredible. Max Bergmann had an unbelievable skill of direct observation of nature and people, and he used very rich and colourful oil paint. His style was often sketchy, where only a few brushstrokes indicated his subject, capturing the form and colour and giving a realistic and lively effect . The figure paintings, his portraits and his nudes were powerful, several almost expressionistic in colour and brush strokes and with strong emphasis on light and shade. Some of the works, like “Salome “ and “The Sirens” were staged with a gloomy, sinister, frightening theme.  The expression of obvious, aggressive female sexuality was rather striking, considering the time, when they were painted. These two paintings, as the grandson said, would have been just as extreme and outrageous for the National Socialists as Max Beckmann's paintings. In comparison, Beckmann´s “ Parisian Carnival”, which was also included in the Degenerate Art Exhibition, likewise shows female promiscuity. This painting is just as constructed and theatrical with extreme colour scheme as the “Salome” painting. Looking at the two works in Max Bergmann’s studio, you got a feeling that he artist was perhaps not quite the artist that Hitler perceived him to be.  Most of his landscape and animal works were done in an impressionist style, mainly because of the influence from Paris. He also confirmed that his grandfather publicly remained with his well-known impressionist style, which he exhibited in Haus der Kunst, but kept, during the time, when artists were in danger of having their works confiscated, the more extreme and expressionist paintings hidden from the authorities. During the 1930s and until the end of the War Bergmann continued to paint as the Nazis wanted. This was for financial reasons and to secure that he and his family were left in peace. The Nazi party approved of him as an artist because they did not know about his private works, and because he was already been included in the Große Kunstausstellung to denote true German art, they never ransacked his home. His grandchild also showed me his sketchbook, which was a present to his father. This sketchbook showed the talent of the artist, he had 500 sketches of characters in restaurants, farm animals and caricatures. It was very interesting to see the environment he painted in how he recorded his experiences and his life of an artist. I also saw photos of Max Bergmann that he was able to sustain a comfortable life during the War as an artist and was able to exhibit and sell his own painting and those of his art students.
CONCLUSION The reason why Max Bergmann he was never thoroughly investigated by the Nazis, although the farming community of Haimhausen apparently found the wild parties and the nude models running around outside, rather outrageous, was that his landscape paintings had got a certain status in promoting the true Völkish tradition. In contrast, Max Beckmann was disgraced as a German artist and had to escape to London in order to avoid being arrested and sent to concentration camp. Interestingly, as the grandson mentioned, the paintings of Max Bergmann and Max Beckmann both increased and kept their values also after the War, especially because of the, in our eyes nowadays, controversial cultural politics of the National Socialists. The inclusion of  “Frühling” as true to German, Aryan values and the “Tanzbar” as dangerous, subversive and degenerate for the German spirit, secured the fame and value of both artists until our present day. It also means that the Nazi labelling of art is not effective. They selected art which did not adhere to classical or traditional moral valued, using the two contrasting exhibitions in 1937 purely for furthering their own apology for exterminate what they saw as threatening to Germany. It is nice to see, however, that the artistic spirit, in both Max Beckmann´s case, who continued his work abroad, and in the case of Max Bergmann, who like Emil Nolde, continued his passionate work in secrecy, cannot be broken by any political censorship.

Peter-Klaus Schuster: “Die “Kunststadt” München 1937, Nationalsocialismus und Entartete Kunst”, Prestel Verlag 1987
Steve Barron: “Degenerate Art, the Fate of the Avantgarde in Nazi Germany,” Los Angeles Museum of Art, 1991
Birgit Schurerth: Geniewahn: Hitler und die Kunst, Böhlau 2009
George Heard Hamilton: “Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1880 to 1940”, Pelican 1983
Royal Academy of Arts: “German Art in the 20th Century” Prestel Verlag  1985
Stephen Lackner: “Max Beckmann”, Dumont 1979
Wilhelm Weber: “Max Bergmann”, Pfälzer Kunst, 1984

IBDP History Internal Assessment

Was the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich a Propaganda Success?

 Abstract: Was the 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich a propaganda success? That is the question this essay endeavours to answer, exploring not only the Nazis’ and Hitler’s perspective on modernist art and why it had to be deemed unacceptable but also measures the reaction to the exhibition. Its success is therefore determined by not only whether or not it achieved its goal as intentioned by the Nazis but also the reaction the Exhibition received from the German Volk. The aim of this essay is to balance the opposing views of how this historic event has been studied: either detached from its context and judged purely as an exhibition or as a systematic propaganda event staged by the Nazis. If it was indeed propaganda, how was this achieved?
Historians such as Frederic Spotts, William Shirer and Neil Levi not only have opposing views on the success and importance of the Exhibition but also on its purpose. This will further be examined by exploring these perspectives and placing them in their respective contexts as well as the context of the 1937 Nazi Exhibition as highlighted by the displayed artwork and exhibition catalogue. Works, of both German and English language historians were used in accordance with various artist biographies. The conclusion reached, examining the Exhibition in the long-term context of the Third Reich, is that the while it did not initiate the cleansing of German culture and art, it did initiate its climax as well as demonstrate its important role in Nazi propaganda and can therefore be deemed successful.                                                                      Word Count: 272

 The largest modern art exhibition put before the German public opened on Monday July 19th, 1937 in what is now the headquarters for Munich’s Art Society. It was not an exhibition to celebrate modern art and artists, or to celebrate creativity and expression or to admire genius.[1] It was an exhibition of work denounced by the Nazis and instead of building up artists such as Die Brücke and many others, it sought to destroy and deride them.[2] The Exhibition degraded over 112 artists from Europe and beyond. [3]The modernist art displayed was seen as defining and representative of the developing German mind-set in the inter-war years; the degradation and later destruction of this art is still impactful today. Especially here in Germany and the German diaspora in the United States the Exhibition is still regularly engaged with: from 25.10.1962 – 16.12.1962 the Munich Haus der Kunst [4]there was an exhibition celebrating these shunned and partially destructed artworks, just 25 years after the experience. [5]In 2014 the Neue Galerie in New York had an exhibition titled ‘Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany’.[6] As Governments and organisations increasingly influence us and drive our tastes through art and media, reflecting on the Exhibition inspires us to consider how this has happened before. In fact, art historians argue that the ‘attack’ on modern art is not over, that we will always punish the new for exactly that, its novelty.[7] Here in Munich the question of Cornelius Gurlitt , an elderly gentleman who was found to be living with 1500 artworks confiscated by the Nazis, still splits opinions.[8] The Nazi act of confiscation and destruction is important to discuss today, as the lines of what is propaganda and what is not are blurrier than ever before, as is the ownership of art. This also raises the question of censorship. Taking a step back to not only consider the ‘how’ but also the ‘why’ of the Entartete Kunstaustellungn allows us to judge its success and better analyse our media today. Art is a historic source, not only because it can express contemporary views, ideals, conditions and problems but also because it can be used to manipulate in the form of propaganda. This essay will analyse the success of the exhibition as a propaganda event and the political and artistic dimensions fused to support Nazi German ideology.

The Exhibition: The Exhibition was organized by Adolf Ziegler, the President of the Reich Chamber of Art, ran for four months and presented over 650 pieces of art, most impounded from museums or collections across Germany. [9]He had only two weeks to organise: the artworks were displayed from the floorboards to the ceiling in the displayed in seven cramped rooms; many were unframed and purposefully hung carelessly. [10]There was no consideration for artist, date or name of the work and many pieces had been disfigured by propagandistic slogans such as “nature as seen by sick minds’’ or ‘‘revelations of the Jewish Racial Soul” and quotes by Nazi officials denouncing the work.[11] After the exhibition had concluded in Munich the works were negligently packed and sent around the German speaking area to educate the population on the horrors of modern art. [12]Most of the works were subsequently burned, auctioned off or destroyed in Allied bombings. Therefore, some pieces have never been seen again and a generation’s art was lost.[13]  The Große Deutsche Kunstaustellung[14] in which the art that was deemed worthy both stylistically and ideologically by Hitler was showcased, aimed to juxtapose the Degenerate Art Exhibition. [15] On the 30th of June 1937 Hitler signed a decree that authorised Goebbels to impound all ‘degenerate art’ in Germany since 1910, here defined as works that “insult German feeling, destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual artistic skill.”[16] Styles included Bauhaus, Dada, Expressionism and New Objectivity. However, this was not the only reason Hitler dismissed artwork. While foreign artists, such as those of Eastern European and/or Jewish heritage were profusely condemned by the regime as they were seen as inferior and “members of an international communist conspiracy”, German artists who appeared too influenced by non-Western styles, art forms and themes were also censured as were Jews, communists, ‘non-Aryans’ and disabled people in general. [17]The German mentality, its people and what it meant to be ‘German’ was drastically redefined. The works of art displayed in the Degenerate Art Exhibition and in the Great German Art Exhibition both addressed these themes and were purposefully juxtaposed. This was accentuated as both exhibitions opened within 24 of each other, on opposites sides of the road. [18] Sensitive topics, like the changing roles of men and women in society and the moral bankruptcy of traditional German militarism were packaged in new and unusual art. This cultivated feelings of discomfort and uneasiness towards modern art and those who created it. These reactions were capitalised on by Hitler’s regime as can be seen in the artwork picked: there was visually and thematically disturbing content especially when depicted in contrast more traditional European art such as works by impressionists that dealt with elegant depictions of mood, emotion, light and little to no social critique. [19] These modern pieces of art had no shame and portrayed everything from childhood to war in a gruesome manner. In contrast to these grim works the appealing ones of previous generations hung across Europe reminding of a better time and were considered ‘racially pure’. [20] Every nerve of the Exhibition was geared to inspire distrust and hate towards the art, its artists and anti-Nazi ideals. The Exhibition was a part of a greater project, to cleanse the Reich of all non-German art. This had been initiated in 1933, just after Hitler came to power, when professors, museum directors/curators and other members of the art world were removed from office and replaced by preferred staff. This had reached its height by 1937.[21]

The poster and exhibition guide[22] displayed the word art (Ger: Kunst) in quotation marks and were written in crayon to depict its childlike and unprofessional manner and the non-recognition of these works as art. The exhibition hall in which the art was purposefully hung incorrectly, damaged, displayed in dark lighting and with creeping shadows to make the artwork appear more terrifying intended to repulse the viewer. [23] (see appendix)

The most dominant political criticism was that the communists and the Jews had influenced or even created these works. Condemnation of these social groups was prominent in every aspect of the Nazi regime with speeches, news services, pamphlets and education geared towards this mind-set. [24] The Exhibition marked a turning point as up until then the vast majority of the anti-Communist/anti- Jewish propaganda was geared towards their apparent influence on Germany’s defeat during the First World War and the turmoil under the Weimar regime, now they were attacked socially and culturally, as was anyone who supported them. Ironically, only 6 of the 122 artists were Jewish. 
Exhibition’s Success:
To determine the success of the Exhibition one must first consider what its intention was and what its reception was. Various different historians not only have opposing views on the success and importance of the Exhibition but also on its purpose. In ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’ William Shirer argues that the Exhibition was unsuccessful and a ‘failure’. He was there on the opening day and remembers a long line forming in front of the building and an “incensed and embarrassed” Dr. Goebbels who soon closed the doors.  [25]However, he fails to recall or speculate why Goebbels seemed such. Shirer was not only a contemporary but he was one of the few with access to the German archives, yet his book, as he himself notes, was published in 1960, 23 years after the exhibition which shows the fallibility of his memory. Additionally this seems suspect as Goebbels wrote of the success in his diaries as well as the plan to let the Exhibition tour around the Reich.[26] Furthermore, would the large crowd not be a sign of its success? Even if it was a negatively charged exhibition, every exhibition needs and wants visitors. In fact this is a common opinion, as the exhibition had higher visitor numbers than the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung, which was of course more prestigious.[27] This could be considered a failure, and a sign of the rebellious German population who preferred to choose themselves what art they deemed valuable. Shirer seemed to be of this opinion as his sarcastic remark about the Grosse Kunstausstellung was “and yet some Germans [especially in Munich] preferred to be artistically polluted.”[28] 2 million people visited Degenerate Art in Munich alone, more than five times as much as the ‘great’ exhibition. This would seem like commercial and propaganda failure for the Grosse Kunstausstellung, however not all historians agree. [29]

Historian Frederic Spotts counters, arguing that this was what Hitler had intended. The Great Exhibition and the Haus der Kunst would be there ‘forever’, these were structures meant to last. As a propaganda strategy, the more immediate goal, was to show the public what was wrong and depraved, to educate and alienate. Hitler encouraged attendance and as mirrored in his speeches, made it clear what he and his party stood against instead of highlighting what they stood for. Hitler frequently arranged for free of charge entrance and for group excursions.[30] It was paramount that the public learned to share his aesthetic view. As Jonathan Petropoulos points out in Art as Politics in the Third Reich, the intention was to simultaneously educate the Volk on what was acceptable as ‘German’ art and to shame modernist artists.[31] As recorded in the news at the time, a majority of the visitors did not come to praise the art but, as is common for human nature, to marvel at the disgusting nature of the art, which was according to official statements was made by the mentally ill and unstable. As one visitor remarked: “…most people had come to see the exhibition with the intention of disliking everything” just as Hitler had hoped.[32] Eye witness accounts record the loud condemnation of the crowds and Spotts argues “He achieved his purpose” and that there the Exhibition was not only successful commercially but also successful as a piece of propaganda. Hitler’s position as a member of the art world was strengthened; his ability to crush those who defied him and his goal to re-shape the art world and rid of modernism was achieved. [33]

 Further evidence to support Spotts’ argument that the exhibition was a successful propaganda operation can be seen in the meticulous planning, even though it staged within two weeks.[34] The opening of the Grosse Kunstaustellung just one day before and across the street is an example of that. Hitler described it as national socialist zenith, “unparalleled and inimitable” in its architecture and programme. The inauguration of the building was marked by him stating: “not only the cornerstone of a new home but also the foundation of a new and genuine German art.”[35] By juxtaposing the two exhibitions, Hitler demonstrated “most dramatic confrontation in history between conflicting styles of art” according to Spotts.[36] This alienation and contrast of ‘good art vs. bad art’ indicates the political motivation behind the Degenerate Art Exhibition.

Neil Levi only partially agrees with Spotts’ interpretation, stating that rather than persuading the public of the horrors of modernism, the Exhibition solely sought “the public’s participation in and assent to a certain kind of political spectacle of which they were both the subjects and objects” and not specifically the ‘artist’s goal’ that Spotts’ claims Hitler had along with his political one. [37] He argues that the decision to set an end to ‘non-German art’ was made earlier. He validates this with the aforementioned notation in Goebbels’ diary about the long queues and the success of the exhibition.[38] Spotts specifically counters this, and claims, that “now that the public had demonstrated its disgust, Hitler must have concluded he could exploit this sentiment and finish the job,” by which he means that all modernist work was only removed after he had earned his Volk’s approval. [39]However, in light of Hitler’s speech at the inauguration and his decree to Goebbels (as mentioned above) this seems unlikely. He (Goebbels) stated: “I was always determined, if fate ever gave us power, not to discuss these matters [of artistic judgment] but to make decisions” which indicates the plan was long underway.[40] The ‘artistic purges’ were concluded by 1938 and nearly every prominent member of the art world was a member of the party. [41]
 The unfavourable display of the rooms in combination with pictures of mentally and physically disabled persons and hateful slogans such as: “revelation of the Jewish soul,” and “Nature as seen by sick minds” made the artwork appear more terrifying. [42] [43]

Levi insists that this proves the public could not “judge for themselves” as Ziegler declared during his opening speech. [44] With this forced horror and juxtaposition its was not only a commercial success but also a propaganda success as everyone who visited the exhibition left in accord with the Nazis’ ideology. 
 However this concept of degeneracy (the notion that artists have pathological disorders and their art was not only bad but also sick and possibly contagious) was common in the 19th century Europe, most prominently by the Austro-Hungarian doctor, Max Nordau, whose 1892 text Entartung ("Degeneration")[45] warned of these dangers to society. "Degenerates are not always criminals, prostitutes, anarchists and pronounced lunatics; they are often authors and artists," he argued.[46] His theories on this are drawn through Nazi ideology and Mein Kampf. [47]
 Both Spotts and Levi agree in the goal of creating a political and propaganda event as well as potentially educating the public to set guidelines for acceptable art and behaviour through the juxtaposition of the exhibitions and the display of the art and that this was achieved. The viewers were left unable to oppose Hitler’s artistic propaganda mill.
How the Propaganda was successful: Propaganda is defined as information of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicise a cause or point of view. The Degenerate Art Exhibition was a propaganda success because Hitler, Goebbels and Ziegler meticulously planned its purpose, message and execution, ensuring its success.[48] The administrative team, made sure every nerve of the exhibition was geared to inspire distrust and hate towards the art, its artists and anti-Nazi ideology. These included the changing roles of men and women in society in the inter-war years and the moral bankruptcy of traditional German militarism.[49] These sensitive topics were packaged in abstract, aesthetically unsightly forms. Critique of these groups was common in other Nazi media such as speeches, news services, pamphlets and education geared towards this mind-set.
The Exhibition thus was a propaganda success due to the themes and styles expressed: the images of women created by modernists were very different from what the German public was used to in the traditional and accepted works of the 19th and early 20th century. Women previously had mostly been shown clothed inconspicuously, undergoing mundane tasks and as objects of grace and beauty.[50] Hitler favoured Adolf Wissel, as his women were portrayed working in fields, with children, praying, gracefully entertaining or in flattering realistic portraits. [51] Goebbels wrote in his novel ‘Michael: Ein Deutsches Schicksal’: “the female bird pretties herself for her mate and hatches the eggs for him. In exchange the mate takes care of gathering the food, stands guard and wards off the enemy” which summaries the Nazis’ and common German perspective on gender roles. [52] The war had rattled this as 3.8 million men had gone to war leaving the women behind to manage the country's infrastructure and jobs. Sexual promiscuity as well as more nonpartisan ownership, divorce and settlement laws allowed for the rise of a new type of woman. As American influences, such as shorter skirts and make-up gained impact, so did the sex trade.[53] While the image of the emancipated woman was popularised, not many lived this lifestyle or wished to. The feminist historian Mary Fullbrook argues that only a small minority of women adopted this ‘wild’ lifestyle including “...smoking cigarettes, cutting their hair short, driving and indulging in a daring glittery nightlife.”[54] Instead many preferred to enter marriages and if financial security and class permitted, to stay at home.
As women’s independent lifestyles were frowned upon by the majority of Germans so was the support of such choices and artists ‘encouraging’ them: this depiction offended women. Stephanie Barron recorded that in room three of the Exhibition two large slogans reading “An insult to German womanhood” and “Ideal Cretin and Whore” were written with works apparently representative of such ideals.[55] The majority of viewers wanted the stability of the pre-war years and along with that most men criticised the artworks. This, Fullbrook states, suited the Nazis’ Kinder, Küche, Kirche ideology. The reason this section of the Exhibition was a success, was due to the lack of emphasis on what Peter Adams has described as “the role of the mother as the guardian of show the healthy physical being, the biological value of the individual woman”. [56]

 Michael Kimmerlman argues that what made the Exhbition a propaganda success was the juxtaposition with the Grosse Kunstausstellung in the representation of women and war. While classical artists had created depictions of women in the nude, this had been accepted as high art and an exploration of the human body by the Nazis   condemned the versions by modern artists where women were often dressed as sex workers or dancers with their sexuality frequently overt. [57] That this was often done in connection to models that were quite obviously not of ‘Aryan’ decent, did not help gain appreciation or understanding for the artists. Kirchner for example, had intended to critique bourgeois life “anxious...purposefully questioning their conventions, preconceptions and morality.” [58][59] The Nazis did not support his wish for individuality; they condemned him; for making ‘communist’ statements and asking the public to judge for themselves. His work was displayed under the title: “the prostitute is extolled as the moral ideal”. [60] (see appendix)
Another example of a similarly treated artist is Otto Dix. He was also a celebrated and popular artist whose portrayals of women were not only shunned for their condemnation of bourgeois society but also for their ‘grotesque erotic imagery’. He was brought to trial for obscenity and his reputation across Germany destroyed; in the Exhibition the Nazis displayed his works containing images of Weimar time rapes and murders.[61] Barron reports witness accounts of visitor’s feeling embarrassment, repulsion and fremdschämen at the sight of a former German hero having stooped this low. This representation of Germany’s weakness and darkest hour was not appreciated by the regime and described as treasonous, grotesque and Dix himself as ‘sick in the mind’.  [62] (see appendix)

Historian Walter Grasskamp claims that the majority of condemned artists, would have ideologically supported the Nazis were it not for their persecution based artistic style, arguably even after they had been publicly shamed, threatened, killed or exiled. [66]
 The depictions of war in the Exhibition were decided by the Reichspropagandaleitung der NSDAP: Kulturamt: “the soldier is a murderer or a military virtues: valour, fortitude, and readiness for combat…alongside caricatures of war cripples designed to arouse repulsion and views of mass graves, German soldiers as simpletons, vile erotic wastrels and drunkards.” [63] However, after the death of 1.6 million men with countless wounded, the German public did not want to be reminded of failure, or see their loved ones displayed as such, as this art gained popularity in the interwar years, so did the myths of internal enemies such as the ‘backstabbing Jews and communists’ Many Germans had fought valiantly for Germany and were proud nationals, and even shared the belief that German culture was superior. [64]The Nazis, as with gender roles, capitalised on this, as they liberally interpreted disrespect and ungratefulness into works by artists for whom they had even the slightest contempt. [65]
As Levi further mentions in support for his argument that the Exhibition was indeed successful propaganda, the public also considered the ‘misrepresentation’ of Christianity treasonous. [67] Such artists were inducted for blasphemy and sacrilege and lost all respect in a booming and grateful Germany. The Nazis had gained so much power and control, not only over the art world but also over the social norms of the public that after the Exhibition their authority had increased. Konrad Adenauer the then mayor of Cologne and later the first Chancellor of post-war Germany supported the Nazis vocally now, due to their views on society and war remembrance. He cleansed Cologne of degenerate art and only after the Nazis had lost interest in him, did he start opposing their work. [68]

Conclusion: The Degenerate Art Exhibition was a propaganda success because Hitler used the motifs of social norms and the wounded German pride in contrast to how Germany had built itself up, under his leadership, in recent years. He knew that by displaying anti-national and depraving figures of war and women in unpleasant forms he would strengthen his support from conservatives and sway the undecided. If fervour would not work, the fear he inspired by his persecution of artists would.
It is difficult to measure anything but commercial success for an exhibition, especially for one under a totalitarian government, which controlled the press and witness accounts. This represented the greatest struggle of the investigation, a lack of primary sources outside of the documentation of the artwork and government decrees/instructions. However, as we can infer with hindsight, the Nazis had already complete control over the Reich’s art world so their influence was only strengthened by the Exhibitions. The Exhibition’s goal, according to Spotts, of creating a political and propaganda event as well as potentially educating the public to set guidelines for acceptable art and behaviour was seen by the increase in party memberships, heightened persecution of ‘degenerates’ and Hitler’s strengthened control over the media. The persecution of Jews, communists and anyone else ‘treacherous’ was thereafter not greatly opposed or questioned and if it was, the Nazis had grown strong enough to quell internal opposition and make an example of it. For Degenerate Art, the Nazis simply selected pieces of art which did not adhere to their values and they used the juxtaposition of the two 1937 exhibitions to justify the extermination of their opponents. However, on a positive endnote 75+ years later the worth of ‘degenerate art’ is higher as these ‘lost’ and formerly shunned works are now celebrated for their suffering and are valued higher commercially than their Nazi counterparts. This can be seen in New York and in Munich such as the Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany (2014) and „Entartete“ Kunst – Verfolgung der Moderne im NS-Staat (2016) exhibitions, the latter just a few miles from where they were once scorned.
Books and Articles:
Adams P, Art of the Third Reich (Harry N Abrams, Inc 1992)
Barron S, ed. Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, (Los Angeles, CA: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991)
Barron S, Exiles + Emigres: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler (Angeles County Museum of Art 1997).
Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 March 13-September 1, 2014” ( accessed June 26, 2016
Dittmar P, “Wie Picassos in Einer Vermüllten Wohnung Landeten” Die Welt (November 3, 2013) accessed June 28, 2016
Entartete Kunst — Bildersturm Vor 25 Jahren AUSSTELLUNG 25.10.1962 – 16.12.1962” ( accessed June 26, 2016
Entartete“ Kunst – Verfolgung der Moderne im NS-Staat. Werke aus der Sammlung Gerhard Schneider in Kallmann Museum Ismaning 1. Mai bis 11. September 2016
Farago J, “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 Review – What Hitler Dismissed as 'Filth'” The Guardian (March 13, 2014) accessed June 26, 2016
Flavell,, KM George Grosz: A Biography (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988) Kimmelman, M. (19 June 2014). ‘The Art Hitler Hated’. The New York Review of Books 61 (11): 25-26
Fullbrook M, The Divided Nation: A History of Germany 1918-1990 ( New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992).
Goebbels J, Michael: Ein Deutsches Schicksal (1929).
Goebbels J, Tagebücher, vol 3 (Penguin Books 1948)
Grasskamp W, The divided heritage: themes and problems in German modernism, ed. Irit Rogoff. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991).
Grosshans H, Hitler and the Artists (Holmes & Meier Publishers 1983).
Hitchens C, For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports (Verso 1993).
Krell J, ‘Michel Tournier's "Degenerate Art"’ Dalhousie French Studies, vol 31, 1995, Available from JSTOR (accessed 1 August 2016).
Levi N, ‘”Judge for Yourselves!”- The “Degenerate Art” Exhibition as Political Spectacle,’ October, vol. 85, 1998. Available from JSTOR (accessed 1 August 2016).
Levi, N. Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification. Fordham UP, 2014.
Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). “Artists of Brücke: Themes in German Expressionist Prints.” (21 March 2003) <
Nordau M, Degeneration (1892)
Oxford Online Dictionary
Petropoulos J, Art as Politics in the Third Reich. (University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
Reichspropagandaleitung der NSDAP: Kulturamt, Führer durch die Austellung Entartete Kunst. Printed: 1937, Archives: 1972.
Schneider G and Kleine R, “Entartete” Kunst Verfolgung Der Moderne im NS-Staat: Dargestellt Mit Werken Aus Der Sammlung Gerhard Schneider. Kallmann-Museum, 2016
Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; a History of Nazi Germany. (Simon and Schuster, 1960),
Spotts, F. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. (The Overlook Press 2002).
Welch D, The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda (Routledge 1994),
FOOTNOTES:  [1] Barron S, ed. Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, (Los Angeles, CA: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991) 45.  [2] Ibid.  [3] Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). “Artists of Brücke: Themes in German Expressionist Prints.” (21 March 2003) <  [4] formerly House of German Art, in which the Great German art exhibition was held in 1937  [5] “Entartete Kunst — Bildersturm Vor 25 Jahren AUSSTELLUNG 25.10.1962 – 16.12.1962” ( accessed June 26, 2016  [6] “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 March 13-September 1, 2014” ( accessed June 26, 2016  [7] Farago J, “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 Review – What Hitler Dismissed as 'Filth'” The Guardian (March 13, 2014) accessed June 26, 2016  [8] Dittmar P, “Wie Picassos in Einer Vermüllten Wohnung Landeten” Die Welt (November 3, 2013) accessed June 28, 2016  [9] Spotts, F. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. (The Overlook Press 2002). 68  [10] Barron, 10.  [11] Flavell,, KM George Grosz: A Biography (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988)  [12] Barron, 11.  [13] Spotts, 72.  [14] English: Great German Art Exhibition  [15] Barron, 57.  [16] Spotts, 163.  [17] Ibid.  [18] Spotts, 68.  [19] Barron, 15.  [20] „Entartete“ Kunst – Verfolgung der Moderne im NS-Staat. Werke aus der Sammlung Gerhard Schneider in Kallmann Museum Ismaning 1. Mai bis 11. September 2016  [21] Schneider G and Kleine R, “Entartete” Kunst Verfolgung Der Moderne im NS-Staat: Dargestellt Mit Werken Aus Der Sammlung Gerhard Schneider. Kallmann-Museum, 2016, 16-17.  [22] Reichspropagandaleitung…Published 1972  [23] Entartete“ Kunst – Verfolgung der Moderne im NS-Staat. Werke aus der Sammlung Gerhard Schneider  [24] Welch D, The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda (Routledge 1994), 6.  [25] Shirer,  WL., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; a History of Nazi Germany. (Simon and Schuster, 1960), 217.  [26] Goebbels J, Tagebücher, vol 3 (Penguin Books 1948), 251.  [27] Krell J, ‘Michel Tournier's "Degenerate Art"’ Dalhousie French Studies, vol 31, 1995, Available from JSTOR (accessed 1 August 2016), 139.  [28] Shirer, 217.  [29] Spotts, 163.  [30] Ibid.  [31] Petropoulos J, Art as Politics in the Third Reich. University of North Carolina Press, 1996,109.  [32] Ibid.  [33] Spotts, 165.  [34] Barron, 10.  [35] Levi, N. Modernist Form and the Myth of Jewification. Fordham UP, 2014, 88.  [36] Spotts, 166.  [37] Levi, Modernist Form. 88.  [38] Goebbels J, Tagebücher, vol 3 (Penguin Books 1948), 251.  [39] Spotts, 166.  [40] Grosshans H, Hitler and the Artists (Holmes & Meier Publishers 1983), 68.  [41] Barron S, Exiles + Emigres: The Flight of European Artists from Hitler (Angeles County Museum of Art 1997), 13.  [42] Barron, Degenerate Art,16.  [43] Ibid.  [44] Levi N, ‘”Judge for Yourselves!”- The “Degenerate Art” Exhibition as Political Spectacle,’ October, vol. 85, 1998. Available from JSTOR (accessed 1 August 2016), 41.  [45] Nordau M, Degeneration (1892)  [46] “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 March 13-September 1, 2014” ( accessed June 26, 2016  [47] Ibid.  [48] Adams P, Art of the Third Reich (Harry N Abrams, Inc 1992), 52.  [49] Spotts, 68.  [50] Grosshans, 70.  [51] Ibid.  [52] Goebbels J. Michael: Ein Deutsches Schicksal (1929).  [53] Fullbrook M, The Divided Nation: A History of Germany 1918-1990 ( New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press 1992), 78.  [54] Fullbrook, 42.  [55] Barron, 56.  [56] Adams, 110.  [57] Kimmelman, M. (19 June 2014). ‘The Art Hitler Hated’. The New York Review of Books 61 (11): 25-26  [58] Adam, 165.  [59] Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (6 May 1880 – 15 June 1938)  [60] Adams, 124.  [61] Adams, 111.  [62] Barron, 224.  [63] Reichspropagandaleitung der NSDAP Kulturamt, Führer durch die Austellung Entartete Kunst. Veröffentlicht: 1972, 16.  [64]Barron, 224.  [65] Grasskamp W, The divided heritage: themes and problems in German modernism, ed. Irit Rogoff. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 19.
  [66] Ibid.  [67] Levi N, ‘”Judge for Yourselves!”  [68] Hitchens C, For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports (Verso 1993), 305.

Was the Munich Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937 a success?

[Word Count: 2,158]


“WAS THE MUNICH DEGENERATE ART EXHIBITION OF 1937 A SUCCESS?” Success in all areas is measured by how well aims or goals are achieved, and this will be the focus of the investigation. Thus the classic ”Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and the more recent “Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics” will be of particular importance as they offer a clear insight into the mindset and values of Hitler and his entourage as well as detailed accounts of the inner workings of the Munich exhibition.

Published in 1960, Shirer’s classic book won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction and was praised by Orville Prescott as “one of the most important works of history”1. Although only a couple of pages are devoted to the Degenerate Art exhibition, Shirer’s personal experience visiting the exhibition are of great importance as this functions as a witness account. Shirer highlights what was liked and disliked by Hitler and his regime through his personal memory of the exhibition. His expertise and personal engagement as a foreign correspondent makes him a valuable source.2 Shirer was an American journalist who reported from Nazi Germany until the American entrance in the war in 1941 with great detail.3 The twenty year time span between the exhibition and the book allows Shirer to look back in hindsight and examine the success of the exhibition based on events that followed. However it was criticized by professional historians who highlight “glaring gaps in its coverage”4. This is a problem as wrote the book in a time that allowed for great bias towards the demonization of Hitler .5 The source offers a nuanced perspective on the propaganda events that led to the Rise of the Third Reich. This is of great importance as one cannot analyze the success of the exhibition if one is not familiar with the events that occurred before and after the exhibition.

Spotts examines Hitler’s relationship with culture. He was a US Diplomat for Foreign Services in the sixties, who understood the European mentality which is advantageous in this investigation. However as a modern foreigner he is subjected towards Germany as the cause of two world wars, which is a limitation. As the Degenerate Art exhibition was vastly influenced by political decisions, the source is vital to understand Hitler’s connection and the importance of art in the Third Reich through the backgrounding political ideology. The book allows to understand that the exhibition was a representation of Hitler’s vision of the pure Germany that would be expressed equally in arts and politics, which emphasizes that art was used to dictate in Germany during the time of the exhibition. Furthermore the book is highly valuable as Spotts is not an accredited historian, but rather a scholar who’s book was viewed controversial among many historians. He tries to eradicate the irrational emotion that historians who write about Hitler face.6 However it is difficult for a foreign author to write about a specific exhibition, let alone nearly half a century after the subjected event occurred. As the majority of the book is dedicated towards Hitler, only a small section analyses the Degenerate Art exhibition, therefore the source is not directly relevant, which is a limitation, but it provides the necessary background information about Hitler, not the ruthless leader, but rather “a man of remarkable aesthetic instincts”.7

  Part two: investigation 
Hitler followed the ideology that “art must reflect the racial soul of people”.[5] In 1933, Hitler established the  Reichskulturkammer which was administered by the Reichsminister für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, Dr. Josef Goebbels.[6] Although Goebbels admired the prominent Expressionist works of Emil Nolde, Ernst Barlack and Erick Heckel, Alfred Rosenberg, a second important figure on Hitler's cultural pyramid,  despised these and put forth a bitter ideology that condemned modern art and praised pure Aryan art.[7] Whole movements were blamed to be communist conspiracies and banned, including Expressionism, Impressionism, Dada, New Objectivity, Surrealism, Cubism and Fauvism[8]. Hitler adopted this ideology and denounced modern art and its practitioners as “incompetents, cheats and madman”[9] and in contrast to the realistic, monumental or manifested grey scaled pure German art, every work of art that did not confront the Nazi definition was declared Entartete Kunst, “Degenerate Art”.[10]
                  On July 19th 1937 the Degenerate Art exhibition provocatively opened across the street of the official German art exhibition held in the newly built Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Prinzregenten Straße in Munich, the “Hauptstadt der Bewegung” [11], long recognized as Germany’s art capital[12]. The Degenerate art was exhibited in a building in the Hofgarten occupied by the institute of Archaeology.[13] 650 paintings, sculptures and prints from 112 different artists taken from 32 different German museums were crammed into the dark, dank rooms that had to be emptied of a collection of dusty plaster casts.[14] These rooms were not typical welcoming exhibition rooms with high walls and bare windows, but rather as eyewitness reports recalled that the narrow rooms contained works in thematic groupings, whereas others contained random collections of all subject matter, medium and style.[15] Many of the artworks had been taken out of their frames and were mostly covered by Nazi propaganda slogans or derogatory slanderous remarks about the intent of the artist.[16] Graffiti-like large scale scribbles that covered the walls connoted the degeneracy and lunacy of the artists, all such to promote the disregard of the accomplishments by the masters of modern art inked with angry or derisive texts such as "madness becomes method" or "revelation of the Jewish racial soul."[17] The exhibition presented works that “insulted German feeling or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveals an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill”.[18]
For Hitler, whose perception of art was characterized by his own failure as an artist[19], the exhibition served to encourage the idea that modernism was a conspiracy by people who hated German decency[20]. He frequently throughout the exhibition identified Jewish- Bolshevists, although only six of the artists were Jewish, as the perpetrators of this ideology[21]. He somewhat used it to mock the idea of how much, in his eyes, the worthless artist was paid for by museums.[22] Ziegler worried that the exhibition would cause violent reactions from the viewers as they brutally mocked art that was considered valuable and appreciated by the masses.[23] The papers in advance proclaimed the exhibits were ‘shoddy products of a melancholy age’ ‘ghosts of the past’ from the era when ‘bolshevism and dilettantism celebrated their triumphs’. These lurid descriptions showed readers what they could expect.[24] 
The exhibition which ran up to November 30, had the highest number of attendance ever of any modern art show: 2,009,899, an average of 20,000 people per day[25]. Historian Richard Evans himself calls the exhibition “extremely popular”[26]; it attracted twice as many visitors as the official art show at the Haus der Kunst. Records state that on Sunday August 2 1937, thirty six thousand visitors passed through the exhibition[27]. He furthermore claims that the popularity of Entartete Kunst has never been matched by any other exhibition of modern art. Newspaper accounts proclaim that five times as many people visited the Degenerate Art exhibition as saw the Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung.[28]  Some visitors came in order to part forever from important works, but other reports claim that most visitors agreed with the Nazi opinion and complained about what in their eyes was not art and for the fact that prior 1933 large sums had been paid for acquiring them.[29] There was no entrance fee to the exhibition, allowing a majority of people to attend who could have not attended the exhibition otherwise.[30] Therefore, in the first weeks the visitors were mainly people from Munich’s lower middle class, a lot of them had never seen an art exhibition before, and “by the Party faithful, eager to imbibe a new for, of anti-Semitic hatred”. [31] The Reichspropagandaministerium prohibited the entrance of people under the age of 21, as the exhibition was claimed to be too shocking, creating an aura of secrecy and forbiddingness, attracting curious people and titillation to entice the eager public. The National Socialists organized mandatory group visits to the exhibition for all party members.[32]
                  "German Volk, come and judge for yourselves!" Ziegler proclaimed at the opening of the Degenerate Art exhibition[33]. The Germans of 1937, of course, had no such freedom of judgment,  they were caught in the political ideology of the leading party, making the statement seem like an act of reverse psychology. In 1936 the Nazi party prohibited art criticism justifying this ban in the same terms as their justification of the exhibition to separate the German volk  from the Jewish influences. What made the exhibition successful was that quite contradictory to the opening line, Nazi comments and descriptions were placed next to each artwork, forcing their ideological views onto the viewer, leaving them little space for their own judgement. The historian Frederic Spotts argues that this was the reason for the success of the exhibition, the people wanted to see as they were not allowed to critique art what their party thought was wrong and socially unacceptable. The exhibition, like in all matters of the time, lay down a pathway for the people to follow, they had little own work to do[34].                                                                    
                  The reactions to the exhibition were divided, however the majority rejected the artworks and adapted the assessment of the exhibitors. A witness report from Carola Roth, a friend of Max Beckman, reflected on how the older visitors examined the exhibition with shaking heads, young party activists and brown shirts mocked the exhibits. Foreign newspapers proclaimed that the exhibition was like a “pilgrimage to the praised modernity” [35]. This interpretation stirred sharp comments from National Socialist newspapers, especially the art historian Paul Ortwin Rave commented that not many people who visited the exhibition bid farewell to the works of art that were now branded explicitly by the NSDAP but rather appreciated the mocking of Bolshevik art[36]. The atmosphere of hatred and loudmouthed ridicule allowed no dissent; indeed, it was an essential part of the exhibition itself, turning it into yet another mass propaganda exercise for the regime.”[37]
                  In conclusion, the question, was the munich degenerate art exhibition of 1937 a success, on superficial argumentation can be answered with that the exhibition, due to the large visitor numbers, could be seen as a success. The people that lived under the national socialist dictatorial regime had no other option than to follow the political leader, one component being by showing their support by visiting the government organized events, such as the Degenerate art exhibition. The Nazis sent out the message of their intolerance of art, accentuated by their manipulation of the German people, the exhibition had the force of a popular mandate[38]. However deeply analysis shows that the statistics about the number of visitors accounted for the party members, which made up a majority and that the people were somewhat forced to attend. The exhibition can indeed be seen as successful, however the success cannot be compared with the success that one has in art exhibitions through democratic popularity today.
[WORD COUNT: 1292]

 Part three: Reflection

The investigation allowed me to become more critical about my sources, as it showed me that history, unlike mathematics or science, does not have an absolute answer, it is rather subjective influenced by different facts and personal opinion. For example, as I read different history books about Hitler and the Third Reich by respected historians such as Richard J Evans, Frederic Spotts, William Shirer or Allan Bullock, I started to notice a pattern: although nearly all of them stated the number of visitors to the exhibition, only some took these as a measure to success. They rather developed their argument if the Degenerate Art exhibition was successful by examining the reasons behind high attendance number, that the exhibition had no entry fees, that the Nazi party organized visits for its members which lead to my conclusion that history books too are influenced by personal opinion.
                  My research question asks for the evaluation of the success of the exhibition, which is a matter of subjectivity. One might, as Evans did, consider an attendance number of two million as successful, whereas in Spotts opinion the high attendance number only resulted through the peoples curiosity that was awakened by the press. I found that before answering the question I had to think what are the criteria of success I will use to examine whether the exhibition was successful or not. This again showed me that investigations in history are very subjective.
                  Furthermore, I became more insightful of the importance of context in historical investigations. Without my understanding of Hitler’s deep appreciation of culture, caused by his personal failure as an artist, the Degenerate Art exhibition would only have been another exhibition in the Nazi era. Now, with my understanding of Hitler’s personal involvement, it became clear that the exhibition not only criticized degenerate art, but also set the social barriers of which art was accepted and which not.
As my investigation relied heavily on archive based research, I noticed the difficulties historians face gathering information from the past, as many important documents, books and art were destroyed in the war, leaving open questions in ones understanding of those. What helped me in my investigation was my ability to read documents and books published in German. Without that skill, my list of sources would be limited.

Adam, Peter. Art of the Third Reich. New York, H.N. Abrams, 1995. Print.
Barron, Stephanie, and Peter Günther. "Degenerate Art": the fate of the avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991. Print.
Bryan, Julien . 1937, Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
Bullock, Alan. Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. London, Fontana Press, 1998. Print.
Camper, Fred. “"Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany.” Chicago Reader , Sun-Times Media, LLC., 8 Sept. 2017, Accessed 4 Apr. 2017.
Evans, Richard John. The Third Reich in Power: 1933-1939. London, Penguin Books, 2006. Print.
Farago, Jason. “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937 review – What Hitler dismissed as 'filth'.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Mar. 2014, Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
Ginder, Ursula A . “The Development of Two Pivotal Art Exhibitions.”, Department of History, University of California, 18 Mar. 2004, Accessed 11 Sept. 2017.
Gordon, Donald Edward. Expressionism: Art and Idea. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1990. Print.
“Guide to the "Degenerate Art" Exhibition (1937) .” GHDI , Entartete Kunst Ausstellungsführer. Berlin: Verlag für Kultur- und Wirtschaftswerbung 1937, Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.
Kaiser , Fritz . Fuehrer-Durch-Die-Ausstellung-Entartete-Kunst-2. Munich , Verlag für Kultur- und Wirtschaftswerbung, 1937. , Accessed 9 Apr. 2017.
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler. London, Penguin, 2009. Print.
Kimmelman, Michael. “Review/Art; Exhibition of Works By Those the Nazis Hounded and Scorned.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company , 24 Feb. 1991, Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
Langbehn, Julius. Rembrandt als Erzieher. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2012. Print.
Levi, Neil. “"Judge for Yourselves!"-The "Degenerate Art" Exhibition as Political Spectacle.” Vol. 85, 1998, pp. 41–64. JSTOR , doi:10.2307/779182.
Tatzkow, Monika, Thomas Blubacher, Gunnar Schnabel, and Melissa Müller. Verlorene Bilder, Verlorene Leben: Jüdische Sammler Und Was Aus Ihren Kunstwerken Wurde. N.p.: Elisabeth Sandmann, 2014. Print.
Shirer, William L. The rise and fall of the Third Reich: a history of Nazi Germany. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.
Spotts, Frederic. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. Woodstock, Overlook Press, 2009. Print.
Steinkamp, Maike, and Ute Haug. Werke und Werte über das Handeln und Sammeln von Kunst im Nationalsozialismus. Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 2010.
“The "Degenerate Art" Exhibit, 1937.” The National Library of Israel, Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
Wilson, William. ART REVIEW: Revisiting the Unthinkable: Nazi Germany's 'Degenerate Art' Show at LACMA. Los Angeles Times, 15 Feb. 1991, Accessed 7 Apr. 2017.
FOOTNOTES:  [1] Wilson  [2] Camper  [3] Kimmelmann  [4] Barron  [5] Evans, 168  [6] Bullock,  439  [7] Kershaw,  945  [8] “Guide to the "Degenerate Art" Exhibition (1937) .”  [9] Farago  [10] “The "Degenerate Art" Exhibit, 1937.”  [11] Shirer    [12] Evans,  172  [13] my own fieldwork  [14] Ginder  [15] Schuster  [16] Ginder  [17] Farago  [18] Spotts, 151  [19] Evans, 170  [20] Entartete Kunst Ausstellungsführer  [21] Kaiser  [22] Levi  [23] Barron  [24] Evans, 170  [25] Evans, 171    [26] Evans, 173  [27] Barron  [28] Berliner Morgenpost 172, 20 july 1937  [29] Ginder  [30] Bryan  [31] Evans, 174  [32] Shirer  [33] Spotts, 164  [34] Levi  [35] Schuster  [36] Steinkamp  [37] Evans, 174    [38] Barron