Gallery Exhibit Showcases Modern Art Nazis Deemed Degenerate

By Lindsay Armstrong on March 3, 2014 12:15am 

UPPER EAST SIDE — Two major art exhibitions put on by the Nazis, including one that Adolf Hitler viewed as an attack on German decency, are the subject of a new show aimed at examining the fickle tastes of the Third Reich.

In 1937, the Nazis hosted a pair of major exhibits in Munich, the first of which showcased the classical-style approved by Hitler. 

The second, and much better attended, show called the Degenerate Art Exhibit, was designed to malign the modern art that Hitler saw as the work of "sick minds."

Now, a new exhibit at the Neue Galerie brings together pieces from both shows for the first time to highlight the contrast between the two.

“Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937,” opens March 13 and features paintings by Paul Klee, Max Beckmann and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, among others.

"It’s not a re-creation of the original exhibit, but rather an examination of it,” said Rebecca Lewis, a spokeswoman for the Neue Galerie.

One room of the exhibit will showcase two triptychs, the first of which is in the realistic style Hitler lauded. The other is by Max Beckmann, a German artist known for painting distorted, angular figures and for tackling dark subject matter such as poverty and violence in his work. Beckmann’s work was heavily featured in the original Degenerate exhibit.

The show will also explore the historical context of the art through artifacts such as the propaganda posters and postcards that were available at the 1937 shows.

The Nazis seized the pieces for the original exhibit, which included works by Chagall, Kandinsky and Klee, from museums and private collections.

More than 2 million people attended the Degenerate show, which was designed to cause a negative reaction among viewers, according to experts. Paintings were hung at odd angles on walls that were covered with slogans such as “Nature as seen by sick minds” and “Deliberate sabotage of national defense.”

After traveling through Germany and Austria, the Degenerate exhibit closed in 1941. Most of the works were sold, lost or presumed destroyed, according to the Neue Galerie.

In February 2012, officials discovered more than 1,200 works of art in a Munich apartment occupied by the son of a prominent Nazi-era art dealer. As many as 300 of the recovered pieces had appeared in the original Degenerate Art Exhibit.

The discovery of the Gurlitt trove has sparked a renewed interest in the fate of the art lost during this dark period in history.

“Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937,” will be on display through June 30 at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Ave.

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