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Emma Kearney ’13, an art-history and English major from Peachtree City, Georgia, presented on the topic of degenerate art in the era of the Nazis.  An exhibit at the Modern Museum of Art brought art the Nazi’s seized from museums in Germany to New York City.  Emma explored why.

Degeneracy is defined as a decline from a previous peak.  The Nazis cast off art from different periods, especially the Weimar period in German art — “Basically anything Hitler didn’t like!” Emma said.

The Nazis used propaganda for everything, but because degeneracy could be applied to many things, they were able to put a non-Nazi label on art in order to divert attention from the artists labeled “degenerate.”  Artists falling under this label were French impressionists and Picasso, but also German artists who had recently been installed in German museums.  The label of degeneracy negatively changed the reputation of artists during the Nazi era, but almost strengthened their art legacy after WWII.

Goebbels, the German minister of propaganda, a German who collected progressive/degenerate art privately, associated with Adolf Ziegler (The German Master of Pubic Hair) in order to elevate Nazi art propaganda.  The degenerate art show was a collection of seized degenerate art; many Germans enjoyed going to see it.

Many examples of degenerate art were thrown into bonfires, destroying them and making them useless for research.  Many Nazis took art for themselves to decorate their country homes.  Also, private non-German collectors purchased this art, adding to the wealth of the Nazi party, even though their funds were never the reason for selling this art as much as the motivation to destroy it.

Kearney explores the relationship between the Nazis, degenerate art, and the MoMA, to add to the understanding of this period in art history as a complicated and nuanced.

According to Kearney, “Hitler has bad taste in art.  Barr has great taste in art.  New York prevails.”

Great job Emma!


Karl Schmidt-Rottluff’s “Woman With a Bag”