Friday, March 14, 2014
The Neue Galerie, in New York, opened a show this week titled Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937. Pursuing my art-oriented vacation, I slipped in yesterday.
The German National Socialists, the Nazis, viewed their movement as at war with modern creativity. On assuming power in 1933, they not only expelled Jews, queers and even Socialists from academia and burned books they considered tainted -- they also seized art that offended their vision of Aryan purity. In 1937 in Munich they assembled a huge show -- "Entartete Kunst "-- out of the offending works by such artists as Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, and Klee.
Most of the art works that the Nazis stole did not survive the war, though even today pieces turn up in odd corners of the world. Many of the artists did not survive either. The current show highlights works by Oskar Kokoschka, Emil Nolde and Max Beckmann among others. I suspect that some of these German and Austrian abstract expressionists were considered rather staid by their peers. It was a bit of revelation to me that several seemed to be working Christian themes, not what I expect from self-conscious members of a European avant-garde.
It was somehow disconcerting to view all this in a hyper-elegant setting, north along Park Ave. from the Metropolitan Museum.
Apparently the original, admission-free, Nazi Degenerate Art show was hugely popular. Neue Galerie's exhibition displays looping 1937 video of the gawking crowds. Some of this footage leads off this musically overwrought 1993 documentary about the Nazi show. The history of Nazi crimes lends itself to overwrought presentations.