Art FocusDegenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany 1937

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This will be the first major U.S. museum exhibition devoted to the infamous display of modern art by the Nazis since the 1991 presentation at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The Neue Galerie show is organised by board member Dr. Olaf Peters, a Professor of Art History in Halle. Dr. Peters, a distinguished scholar and historian, curated the 2010 Neue Galerie exhibition on Otto Dix. “Degenerate Art’ will be shown on the second and third floor galleries of the museum, and will include approximately 50 paintings and sculptures, 30 works on paper and several posters, as well as photographs and other memorabilia.

One room will contrast so-called ‘Degenerate Art’ with officially sanctioned art of the period, including works shown at the 1937 ‘Great German Art Exhibition’ in Munich, such as Adolf Ziegler’s The Four Elements (1937), owned by Adolf Hitler. The Neue Galerie is the sole venue for this show, where it will be on view through June 30, 2014.

The term ‘degenerate’ was adopted by the National Socialist regime as part of its campaign against modern art. Many works branded as such by the Nazis were seized from museums and private collections. Following the showing of these works in a three-year traveling exhibition that criss-crossed Germany and Austria, most were sold, lost, or presumed destroyed.

In this light, the recent discovery in Munich of the Gurlitt trove of such artwork has attracted considerable attention. The film ‘The Monuments Men,’ directed by George Clooney and due to open in February 2014, suggests the level of popular interest in the subject.

Highlights of the show include a number of works shown in Munich in the summer of 1937, such as Max Beckmann’s Cattle in a Barn (1933); George Grosz’s Portrait of the Writer Hermann-Neisse (1925); Erich Heckel’s Barbershop (1913), Ernst Luwig Kirchner’s Winter Landscape in Moonlight (1919), The Painters of the Brücke (1925/26), Paul Klee’s The Angler (1921), The Twittering Machine (1922), and Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door (New Version) (1925), Oskar Kokoschka’s The Duchess of Montesquiou-Fezensac (1910), Ewald Matare’s Lurking Cat (1928), Karel Niestrath’s Hungry Girl (1925), Emil Nolde’s Still-Life with Carved Wooden Figure (1911), Red-Haired Girl (1919), and Milk Cows (1913), Christian Rohlf’s The Towers of Soest (ca. 1916) and Acrobats (ca. 1916), Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s Pharisees (1912), and Lasar Segall’s Eternal Wanderers (1919), amongst others.

The Neue Galerie exhibition is accompanied by a fully-illustrated catalogue published by Prestel Verlag. The publication provides a complete historical overview of the period and examines not only the genesis of the ‘Degenerate Art’ show but also the rise of the topic ‘degenerate’. Additional essays examine the National Socialist policy on art, the treatment of ‘Degenerate Art’  in film, and the impact of this campaign in post-war Germany, and the world at large, as the claims of restitution arose.

Dr. Olaf Peters serves as the catalogue editor, which features contributions from scholars Bernhard Fulda, Ruth Heftrig, Mario-Andreas von Lüttichau, Karsten Müller, Olaf Peters, Jonathan Petropoulos, Ernst Ploil, Ines Schlenker, Aya Soika, and Karl Stamm.

The exhibition will open on March 13, 2014.

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