Degenerate Art

November 1, 2012 | By

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Under the Third Reich, as the situation for Jews in Germany worsened, the fate of German art and artists was also in danger.

Hitler, widely considered a failed artist himself, railed against art and artists he disliked, and he purged German museums of art deemed inconsistent with his philistine and puritanical aesthetic values.

Masters like Matisse, Van Gogh and Picasso were labeled “degenerate” and auctioned off at fire sale prices to benefit the Reich. In 1937, the Nazis also staged a large exhibit of “Degenerate Art” in Munich, where Modernist works were exhibited alongside text that derided them as “Nature as seen by sick minds” and “Revelation of the Jewish racial soul.” The exhibit traveled across Germany and Austria, aiming to demonstrate the “immoral” influence of Modernist art and the avant-garde to its more than three million visitors.

But this story has a somewhat happy ending. In 1991 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art put on its own Degenerate Art exhibit, featuring over 150 works from the original showing. The show was subtitled “The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany,” and was hailed as “one of the most important ever” by the Los Angeles Times, which lauded it for being a powerful lesson in the way that art and history intersect.

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