Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Painting, Mixed Media
Artist: Expressionist, Futurist, Constructivist, Dadaist and New Objectivity artists including August Macke, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, George Grosz.
Confronting Bodies: Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, specifically Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, and Adolf Ziegler, president of the Reich Chamber of Visual Arts.
Dates of Action: 1937-1938
Location: Munich, Germany
Description of Artwork: Hitler used the word "degenerate" to describe any art that was modern, expressionist, or non-objective. He also condemned work done Jews, homosexuals, or people he believed to be mentally retarded. Works that went against Nazi ideas--feminist art, anti militarist art, internationalist art, or "Bolshevik" art were also degenerate.
In Mein Kampf Hitler promised that once in power "Theater, art, literature, cinema, press...must be cleansed of all manifestations of our rotting world and placed in the service of a moral, political, and cultural idea."
In 1933 the attack began with the Professional Civil Service Restoration Act which enabled officials to dismiss non-Aryan practitioners of the arts and confiscate their art in order to "purify" German culture. It was during 1933 that the first exhibitions of degenerate art were held to highlight the "cultural collapse" that the Nazis were going to free Germany from. Hitler saw this attack on modern art as a way of building on the average German's suspicions of the avant-garde to further Nazi objectives against non-Aryans and communists.
The Incident: In 1937 Joseph Goebbels made a decree giving Adolf Ziegler and a five man commission the authority to visit all major German art museums and select works for an exhibition of degenerate art in Munich. They originally selected 700 works from 28 different cities and 32 different museums. The commission then revisited the museums and selected more works to make the total 16,000 works from 1,400 different artists which were shipped to Berlin. This plunder continued until 1938 and was legalized in May of 1938.
The Entartete Kunst exhibit of degenerate art opened in July of 1937, the day after the opening of the Grosse deutsche Kunstaustellung, which brought together art that was supposed to demonstrate the triumph of German art in the Third Reich. The art in this exhibition was mainly mediocre genre paintings. The degenerate art not included in Entartete Kunst were stored in a warehouse in Berlin. Those works which could be sold outside Germany for substantial sums were sent to another warehouse where the price was set for the sale of the works. The Entartete Kunst was a chaotic exhibit where the works were vaguely organized into thematic groupings such as religion, Jewish artists, and the vilification of women. Under each work were labels saying how much money the museums had spent to acquire the piece. Quotes and slogans by Nazi critics were written across the walls. During the four months the exhibit was in Munich it attracted more than 2 million visitors and during the next three years it traveled throughout Germany and Austria and attracted more than one million visitors.
Results of Incident: Every piece of art from Germany done before 1933 was censored. The censorship only ended with the collapse of the Nazi regime.
Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia