Attacking Modern Art: Degenerate Art Exhibition

For one of my classes, I’m planning on writing a paper on uses of art as propaganda for the rise of Nazi Party and during the Nazi Regime. There’s one exhibition by the Nazi Party, that I remember learning about in a modern art class, that took modern art and mocked it. This Exhibition was called Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art), and it occurred in Munich, Germany, 1937.

This exhibition was intense and brutal. It extremely ridiculed modern art and movements, such as Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism and many others. The point of the exhibition was to the show the Germans that this art is “wrong.” These were the works of Jews, Blacks, Bolsheviks, and (as the title says) the Degenerate. They were not to be praised but to be seen as inferior and the work of the mad.

Put yourself in this mindset. Imagine spending hours on an art piece. Then you were able to get your work out into the world, mainly through a museum. People were finally going to see your art. Then someone from the Nazi Party, who was instructed to go find art they considered to be “degenerate,” took it and placed it in an exhibition that was meant to ridicule your work. This is a clear violation of freedom and expression.

Also around this time, there was another exhibition called Hitler’s Great German Art Exhibition. It showed artworks that were acceptable for Hitler and the Nazi Regime. Much of it involved very realistic and classical style art. Basically, this was an exhibit that showed the “right” types of art, and the Degenerate Art exhibition was showing the “wrong” types.

Great Exhibition of German Art catalogue cover (left), 1937 & Entartete Kunst exhibition catalogue cover (right), 1937

Great Exhibition of German Art catalogue cover (left) & Entartete Kunst exhibition catalogue cover (right) – Image from Khan Academy.

At the Degenerate Art Exhibition, art was hung and displayed poorly. Much of the paintings were very close to each other, some were out of their frames, and some were hung backwards. Personally, I think this poor displaying technique was another way to undermine the artworks. These works were so worthless to the Nazi Party, that they couldn’t even place them up correctly. Another propagandist move in the museum was that there were wall writings all over the museum. These writings were ruthless, saying that these art movements and art works were wrong, disgraceful, and unacceptable.

Here are some examples of works that were shown in the exhibition, it is provided by the MOMA museum:

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Anyone who showed a particular interest in these works in the exhibit was at risk. A soldier could report this, and then they would come to the viewers home and shot them.

This exhibit shows the complexity of the times, and how dangerous art can be when it is used for propagandist motives.

Feature Image from | Here are more examples of artworks in the exhibition

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