Nazi 'degenerate art' show to be reconstructed in LA

An irony that the American art world will enjoy after the Mapplethorpe censorship row: the N.E.A. is sponsoring a partial replay of the Nazi “Entartete Kunst” exhibition of 1937


“‘Degenerate Art’: the Fate of the Avant-garde in Nazi Germany”, is the title of an exhibition currently being prepared for its opening at Los Angeles County Museum of Art on 17 February. (The exhibition runs until 12 May in Los Angeles and then opens at the Art Institute of Chicago on 22 June where it is on until 8 September next year).

Los Angeles has borrowed approximately 100 paintings and pieces of sculpture and seventy-five graphic works displayed in the 1937 “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) exhibition put on by the Nazis in Munich to educate the German public in what they considered unacceptable. In all, 16,000 works of art were confiscated from thirty-two public art collections and of the 650 works of art selected for the original show many were subsequently lost or destroyed. These 650 examples of “degenerate” art were grouped by theme: religious subjects; works by Jewish artists; abstract art; and art displaying African or primitive influences.

The works that will be on show in Los Angeles belong to the Expressionist School (Beckmann, Dix, Grosz, Kirchner, Kokoschka, Nolde and Schmidt-Rottluff), Bauhaus abstraction (Feininger, Kandinsky and Klee) and non-German artists such as Chagall and Jawlensky. The aim of the exhibition is to put them into the historical context in which the Nazi campaign against these artists was carried out. Seven rooms of the 1937 exhibition are being reconstructed by Frank O. Gehry and Associates, based on eighty newly discovered installation photos found in archives in Germany and California and will be accompanied by the first public showing of the only extant film footage documenting the event. Visitors will also be able to view news-reel coverage of the “Grosse Deutsche Kunstaustellung”, an exhibition of more than 600 Nazi-approved art works which was held concurrently at the newly-built Haus der Deutschen Kunst in Munich.

Sponsorship is by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, which came under savage attack this year from the right-wing in the U.S. for having supported, among other contentious exhibitions, the Mapplethorpe photographs show. There have been moves at the Capitol to cut off funding to the N.E.A. and the spectre of censorship has been raised.

In a move also heavy with significance, the “Degenerate Art” exhibition is receiving additional support from the Federal Republic of Germany and Lufthansa Airlines. The fully-illustrated catalogue is copublished by the Los Angeles County Museum and Harry W. Abrams. The introductory essay is by Stephanie Barron, curator of the exhibition and the Museum’s curator of twentieth-century art.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Degenerate art' show to be reconstructed'