quarta-feira, 25 de julho de 2012

Adolf Hitler visits the exhibition of "degenerated Art" in Munich for 75 years ago (19 th July 1937) by Peter Adam

FOR IT IS AN AFFAIR OF THE STATE... TO PREVENT A PEOPLE FROM BEING DRIVEN INTO THE ARMS OF SPIRITUAL LUNACY... FOR ON THE DAY THAT THIS KIND OF ART WERE ACTUALLY TO CORRESPOND TO THE GENERAL CONCEPTION, ONE OF THE MOST SEVERE CHANGES OF MANKIND WOULD HAVE BEGUN; THE BACKWARD DEVELOPMENT OF E HUMAN BRAIN.... -
Hitler, Mein Kampf (1)

It is not the function of art to wallow in dirt for dirt's sake, never its task, to paint the state of decomposition, to draw cretins as the symbol of motherhood, to picture hunch-backed idiots as representatives of manly strength," Hitler had declared at the Party rally in Nuremberg in 1935. (2)

In July 1937 Hitler and Goebbels decided to clear museums of all remaining modern works and to mount an exhibition of modern works as an example of what they considered the most horrific art ever created. "The custodians of all government and private museums and art collections are busy removing the most hideous creations of a degenerate humanity and of a pathological generation of 'artists,'" the magazine Der SA-Mann reported triumphantly in September. (3)

And the director of the German Art Association had this to say to the cultural theorist Alfred Rosenberg: "Throw this decaying foulness out of the art of the awakening Germany! Out also all those who still allow and foster cultural Bolshe-vism! . . . The undersigned knows that the Fuhrer and you, Herr Reichsleiter, cannot do everything alone. . . . Therefore we make ourselves available to fight unreservedly, with all our strength and ability, for a German philosophy [Weltanschauung], for the fertility of German life, and through this for German art. We are at your command. Heil Hitler!" (4)



A commission under the painter Adolf Ziegler, president of the Reich Culture Chamber, aided by some art historians, including the director of the Folkwang Museum in Essen, Klaus Graf von Baudissin, seized over 5,000 works from private and public collections, Among: the works were: 1,052 by Emil Nolde, 759 by Erich Heckel, 639 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and 508 by M Beckmann. They also took works by Alexander Archipenko, Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Giorgio de Chirico, Robert Delaunay, André Derain, Theo van Doesburg, James Ensor, Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Albert Gleizes, Alexei Jawlensky, Wassily Kan-dinsky, Fernand Léger, El Lissitzky, Franz Masereel, Henri Matisse, Laszlô Moholy-Nagy, Piet Mondrian, vard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Georges Rouault, and Maurice Vlaminck. Goring had made sure to reserve and appropriate 14 works from the confiscated loot, among them 4 van Goghs, 4 Munchs, 3 Marcs, 1 Gauguin, 1 Cézanne, and 1 Signac.

Right from the start the National Socialists began stage propaganda exhibitions of what they considered the most blatant examples of modern art. The League for the Defense of German Culture had organized a show in Karlsruhe in 1933 which showed "official" art in Germany from 1918 to 1933. "Official" in these terms were the works by Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter as well as paintings by Max Slevogt, Lovis Corinth, and Munch. Each of the works on show had a price tag to indicate how much the museum had paid for it. The aim was to incite the public by showing them how, in times of economic hardship, taxpayers' money was spent. Stuttgart followed with an equally critical show of the works of Marc Chagall, Max Beckmann, and Otto Dix. As soon as the Dresden Museum was cleared of its modern art, the city hall put on a show of the confiscated works entitled "Mirrors of the Decadence in Art." The Nuremberg and Dessau museums also opened their own "Chambers of Horrors," displaying modern art.
The National Socialist commissar Gebele von Waldstein wasted no time. In the Spring of 1933 he opened an exhibition of "Cultural Bolshevism" in the Kunsthalle in Mannheim; the show then traveled to Munich and Nuremberg. The painter Hans Adolf Bühler, the director of the School of Fine Arts in Karlsruhe, quickly followed with an exhibition caricaturing the art sponsored by the previous government: "Official Art from 1918 to 1933." All these defamatory exhibitions were widely publicized and attracted many visitors. In Munich, "The Eternal Jew," an exhibition of Jewish history in theater, film, painting, and sculpture, attracted 150,000 visitors.
In 1936, Hitler decided to stage his own show of the hated modern art. An official exhibition of "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate Art) opened in Munich on July 19, 1937, a day after the opening of the first "Great German Art Exhibition," to which it was a pendant. With great satisfaction, Goebbels announced:

How deeply the perverse Jewish spirit has penetrated German cultural life is shown in the frightening and horrifying forms of the "Exhibition of Degenerate Art" in Munich. . .. This has nothing at all to do with the suppression of artistic freedom and modern progress. On the contrary, the botched art works which were exhibited there and their creators are of yesterday and before yesterday. They are the senile representatives, no longer to be taken seriously, of a period that we have intellectually and politically overcome and whose monstrous, degenerate creations still haunt the field of the plastic arts in our time. (5)


The exhibition of "Degenerate Art" was installed in the old gallery in the Hofgarten. In his opening speech Adolf Ziegler announced: "Our patience with all those who have not been able to fall in line with National Socialist reconstruction during the last four years is at an end. The German people will judge them. We are not scared. The people trust, as in all things, the judgment of one man, our Führer. He knows which way German art must go in order to fulfill its task as the expression of German character, . . . What you are seeing here are the crippled products of madness, impertinence, and lack of talent : would need several freight trains to clear our galleries of this rubbish." He added proudly, to thundering applause, "This will happen soon," (6)

The "Degenerate Art" show in Munich was the most radical and most vicious of its kind. The pictures were jammed together with labels so insulting that even Hitler thought some of them too strong. In its arrangement the directors, strangely enough, borrowed from the much despised Dadaists. The way of hanging the pictures, the aggressive slogans resembling graffiti on the walls, the whole idea of wanting to shock had all been done years before by the Dadaists. Hitler and Goebbels came to look at the cream of Cubism, Dadaism, and Expressionism: approximately 650 works by 112 artists, among them Barlach, Beckmann, Corinth, Grosz, Heckel, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Klee, Kokoschka, Nolde, and Pechstein.


Young people were barred from the show so that the organizers could underline the obscenity of the exhibits from which decent German youth had to be protected. They even wanted to go so far as to place museum directors and artists next to the work "so that the public could spit at them."

But the apparently chaotic display had a kind of order built into it. The exhibits were classified by subject just as in the other official exhibition. Only the themes here were "Farmers Seen by Jews," "Insult to German Womanhood," "Mockery of God." The spectacular and sensational way in which the art was displayed was aimed at mobilizing vigorous popular protest. It was meant to be the last chapter of a barbaric age, while the official show signaled the dawn of a new one. Over two million visitors came, nearly three and a half times as many as attended the official art exhibition. "Does this not sufficiently prove the necessity for such an education through the horror chambers of degenerate art?" boasted one of the prominent members of the League for the Defense of German Culture. (7)

There is little consolation in the fact that many people came to say good-bye to the art they liked. And the press joined in the tirades against the modern artists and announced proudly that the "cleansing of the temple of German (art) was complete." The aim of the show was to kill off modern art, and for most people it succeeded. Goebbels had achieved his aim of making it appear that the public was the true judge of art:


Had the representatives of decadence and decline turned their attention to the masses of the people, they would have come up against icy contempt and cold mockery. For the people have no fear of being scorned as out of step with the times and as reactionary by enraged Jewish literati. Only the wealthy classes have this fear. . . . They succumb all too easily to that kind of demi-culture which is coupled with intellectual pride and conceited arrogance. These defects are familiar to us under the label "snobbism."... Snobbism is sick and wormeaten. . . . We have had the courage to reject the products of its insolent arrogance. Today they are assembled in the "Exhibition of Degenerate Art," and the people, by the million, walk by this blooming nonsense, stoking their heads angrily. . . . In fact, the Führer had acted in the fulfillment of a national duty when he interfered here and again established order and a sure footing in this chaos. (8)


There were suggestions that the remaining works be burned, and on March 20, 1939, 1,004 paintings and : 525 watercolors, drawings, and graphic works were burned in the courtyard of the fire station in Berlin. The confiscation of the moderns from the museums also provoked hectic activity among national and international art dealers. The Berlin art dealer Karl Buchholz "offered his services" in the cleansing action r order to take over some works. Karl Haberstock, a Munich art dealer who organized an auction of banned art in Lucerne in 1939, is said to have proposed a "further cleansing action." Dr. Franz Hofmann of the Degenerate Art Commission proposed to sell these "unsalable" works. Goebbels hesitated, but Hitler, realizing that this art could be a source of considerable income, decided to sell it.


Soon the London dealer P. D. Colnaghi, trying to outbid the two Jewish dealers from Paris, Wildenstein and Seligmann, offered to take over the entire stock of the "Degenerate Art" exhibition, referring to the fact that he was the only prominent English art dealer never to have offered degenerate art from any country for sale. (9)

Ultimately it fell to the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne to organize the sale, in June 1939.


NOTES:
THE EXHIBITION OF "DEGENERATE ART" For additional information on the subject dealt with in this chapter, see "Degenerate Art": The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, Los Angeles, 1990, exhibition catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
1. Hitler, Mein Kampf, p. 354.,
2. Hitler at Nuremberg, September 11, 1935, in DAZ, September 13, 1935.
3. From Der SA-Mann, September 18, 1937. Translation in Mosse, p. 48.
4. Professor Bruno Goldschmitt, in Das Bild, 1935, p. 32.
5. Goebbels, November 26, 1937, in Von der Grossmacht zur Weltmacht. Translation in Mosse, pp. 152-53.
6. Ziegler, July 19, 1937, Mitteilungsblatt der RKdbK, August 1, 1937.
7. Dr. Walter Hansen, Judenkunst in Deutschland, Berlin, 1942, p. 197.
8. Goebbels, November 26, 1937, in Von der Grossmacht zur Weltmacht. Translation in Mosse, pp. 156-57.
9. Letter from P. D. Colnaghi, October 19, 1938, cited in Reinhard Mueller-Mehlis, Die Kunst im Dritten Reich, Munich, 1976, p. 164.


In: Art of the Third Reich. New York,  Harry N Abrams, 1992. pp. 120-127.

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