Nazis Exhibited "Degenerate Art"


It's Fan Friday, and today I wanted to discuss a topic suggested by loyal podcast listener Paul. An artist himself, Paul wanted us to address an art history subject. His suggestion of the Nazi "Degenerate Art" show immediately piqued my interest. Candace and I have done a podcast on the Nazi propaganda machine, but we didn't go into this particular aspect of it. Plus, the subject of Nazi art theory is especially timely: Next month, a collection of Adolf Hitler's paintings (including his first self-portrait) will go up for auction, reports Telegraph.

As Hitler himself was an artist, and (as we mentioned in the podcast) the Nazis actually tried to ban jazz music in Germany, it should come as no surprise that they had certain ideas about art. According to this graphic design history book, they attacked almost all schools of modern art, including Expressionism, Art Deco, Cubism, Purism, De Stijl and Dada, which Candace covered in a recent post.

In usual Nazi fashion, they banned artists from producing or exhibiting this kind of "un-German," Jewish-influenced work. But they did more than just ban it -- after they confiscated thousands of works, they picked some of their least favorites and made an exhibit out of them. With derogatory comments next to the art, the exhibit attempted to show the public exactly what bad art looks like. This exhibit, called "Entartete Kunst" or "Degenerate Art," was very popular and toured several German cities throughout the 1930s.

To complement this exhibit, Hitler and his cronies arranged another exhibit, the Great German Art Exhibition, which displayed patriotic and state-sanctioned works. Interestingly, this didn't garner as much attention as the Degenerate Art exhibit. According to Jay Y. Gonen, this was because the modern art was more interesting and because it was the people's last chance to see it. However, the Encyclopaedia Britannica states that the German press and people ridiculed the "degenerate" art. So, maybe it's also more enjoyable to criticize art than praise it. I wonder how a modern-day art-protest exhibit would do.

More Nazi Stuff: Are there Nazi war criminals still at large? Could treasure hunters have discovered "Nazi Gold"? Nazi Concentration Camps