notes and a supplement to the film
This film documents the Nazi movement against modern art which it regarded as degenerate. In order to ridicule this kind of art it mounted a traveling exhibit of Entartete Kunst which opened in Munich, 18. July 1937. The exhibit traveled for four years and was visited by 3 million people. Scenes from the reconstructed Los Angeles exhibit in Berlin with contemporary visitors. "These works are no longer threatening, but there was a time ...." cut to a scene from Triumph of the Will showing the Hitler Youth blowing the bugle, accompanied by drums.
"Nazi Germany was dominated by a single man ---- Adolf Hitler. ... He promised to make a "new Germany" built on the Master Race cleansed of degenerates. Modern Art was degenerate and the Degenerate Art exhibit was to be its funeral."
Testimony of an American tourist, Josephine Knapp, who visited had visited the exhibit in 1937: she recalled how the pictures were crowded together, many without frames, some hanging crooked on the wall or displayed on burlap. Also, Peter Günther, who was 17 years old at the time of the exhibit, remembers that the walls plastered with the "degenerate art" and smeared with grafitti ridiculing the art as the product of "sick minds" and an insult to German women. Art historian Sander Gilman says that the typical viewer saw the art as downgrading to the Volk --- the work of madmen out to destroy Germany and Germans. A former highschool pupil described his teacher who urged them to go and see what filth. The fact that the Nazis took this art seriously is evidence that it scared them. This exemplifies what was wrong with such a society.
Cut to paintings by Hitler. Hitler had been rejected as a student by the Vienna Akademie der bildenen Kunst and he scratched out a living painting landscapes and architecture. His paintings were realistic, simply representations of the way the world looked. In contrast, modernists painted the world beneath the superficial world as seen just by the eye. Their paintings were intended to explore what lay beneath the surface.
At the same time that the unknown Hitler was painting his picture postcards, a group of revolutionary young artists founded Die Brücke in Dresden in 1905. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner was one of its founders who pioneered the new movement known as Expressionism. The Expressionists were in revolt against impressionism and experimented with distorted forms and violent color.The fanciful painting to the right is of Kirchner's Bavarian mountain home "In den Lärchen." It was a significant departure from the realistic landscapes that favored by the "academicists" whose work Hitler admired and tried to copy.
Der Blaue Reiter ---was a circle of artists centered in Bavaria and which drew futuristic painters from abroad as well. One of the most famous was Vassili Kandinsky whose 1928 graphic, "Silence is shown below.
In Vienna, while Hitler was painting his postcards to be hawked to tourists on the streets, Oskar Kokoschka was shocking conventional arti critics. art criticized as "plague sores" of a morbid youth,. He painted "inner landscapes," i.e. psychological landscapes. Below is his "Die Windsbraut," 1914. He was seen as not normal.
World War I was a turning point for Hitler as it was for many of the Expressionists who served their country. Hitler found his destiny and artists the madness of the world. Both Kokoschka and Kirchner went crazy as is reflected in their paintings. Kirchner's "Self-portrait as a soldier" was painted in 1917 during a furlough caused by a nervous breakdown. Kirchner became a leading Expressionist during the 1920's but became so depressed at the growth of Nazism and their condemnation of his work that he comitted suicide in 1938. Otto Dix already had established himself as an outstanding German painter by 1914 when he volunteered to go to war which he saw as a "poetic initiative." He was transformed by his experiences in the trenches as a machine-gunner. His paintings of the trench warfare seem distorted until one compares them with photographs of the actual scenes. Dix's paintings are not in fact distortions, but reflect the brutal reality of the photographs with which the film compares them. sense.
After the war Dix became one of the most important German Expressionists and his portrayal of the "Seven Deadly Sins," shown to the right and other similar paintings proved prophetic.
In contrast to the horror that Kirchner, Dix, Max Beckmann and others, Hitler found his identity in war and hatred for the enemy --- miserable and degenerate criminals. Thus his quest to go into politics. He emerged from his experience with a deep hatred for the enemy, which he saw as miserable and degenerate criminals. He saw the purification of the German nation as essential for it revival. Not only did he build up the NSDAP as the vehicle for this transformation, but he personally sketched its symbols.
EMIL NOLDE joined the NSDAP, less than a year after Hitler, in 1920. He was also one of the Germany's most important Expressionists. .He was a loner, bound only to his nation and his art. He loved that which was peasant and instinctive. He was drawn to primitivism as and the art of Africa and the South Pacivic. He also did some of the most powerful religious paintings of the century which were at the same time reflected the essence of expressionism. He hoped that under Nazi rule his art would adorn the churches of the Third Reich.
Adolf Hitler came out of Landsberg Prison at the end of 1924. He lashed out at Jews, Bolsheviks as degenerates. The film shows one of the famous skull studies which was central to the Social Darwinism that influenced Hitler and was central to biology and medicine as a means of identifying the mad. Deviations from the norm were considered to be signs of madness and biolotical degeneracy. The avant-garde Expressionists defined themselves as breaking the chains of conventional art, i.e. outside the norm. They called themselves mad, but of course in a metaphorical sense relative to traditional art. The Nazis itself as outside the norm, i.e. mad. They meant metaphoric madness. There was of course no reason to worry in the 1920's
Hot Berlin ---- That which was wild, tawdry, crazy, unconventional was "in. Berlin became the artistic capital of the world. "Expressionism was popular. Max Beckman, "a true German" before the war was transformed by the war ---mentally exhausted. This was reflected in his new, distorted art --- which expressed a disgust with war and a deep, inner pacifism.
His pre-war self-portrait on the left is executed in excellent, if conventional style. His post-war self portrait in the center shows him twisted and defiant. The painting to the right is Beckmann's "Descent from the Cross" completed during the war in 1917. It reflects his statement: "My pictures reproach god."
The depression gave Hitler a chance. He expressed his rage, indignation scapegoating relative to the infection of pure blood. The culture was likewise infected and Expression was symptomatic of the impurity. Expressing a Zivilisationskritik the NSDAP became the largest party through the protest vote and came to power 30. January 1933 when Hitler was named Chancellor by Hindenburg. The film shows a torchlight parade celebrating the "Seizure of Power" which segues into fires only five months later consuming the "degenerate" books of Thomas Mann, Freud, Einstein, Konrad Felixmüller.. Art confiscated --- Socialist Museum Directors were fired and the internationally famous Bauhaus was closed. Nazi Expressionist Nolde went along because Nazi ideas on blood, race, soil paralleled his own beliefs.
Göbbels on Art. He gained total power over all art, music, etc. Memories of a writer who had to write about the Exhibit of Degenerate Art, art which she loved, but couldn't say she did. Film: abstraction was strictly forbidden as was atonality in music. Hindemith, Berg, Schönberg, "Nigger jazz" all banned.
Nazi Art was to have purpose --- to educate the Volk as new National Socialist men and women. The poster for the National Socialist Womens' labor group shows a healthy, enthusiastic young woman stepping up to her tasks in building a modern society. Historic themes were also represented as shown in the film of the pageant for the opening of Haus der deutschen Kunst in July 1937. The parade and its floats conjured up links to an archaic past that had never existed.Its nudes emphasized beauty without sensuality. Every woman is a potential mother and vision of Nordic purity. In comparison, the Expressionist nude by Nolde (ironically a Nazi Party member) in the center is considered more sensual because it shows motion and joy of freedom in nature. The nude by Dix on the right clearly depicts the tawdry, naughty side of life in the Weimar Republic which the Nazis condemned at "decadent."
The art exhibited in the Exhibition of German Art that opened the Haus der deutschen Kunst was a pantheon of Hitler's tastes. In the huge, marble rooms were arranged equally huge sculptures like this monumental statue "Preparedness" by Arno Breker. Male nudes in the classical style represents an ideal German man, a future hero, the idealization of Nordic strength. While banning the nudism of "Free Body Movement: FKK." Nazi art glorified the nude male body --- idealized ---- smooth, muscled and hairless.
The Degenerate Art exhibit was put up across the street from the Haus der deutschen Kunst to subject Expressionist art to ridicule. It was dangerous in that it celebrated the innermost thoughts of the individual which the totalitarian Nazi state could not tolerate. There were actually few Jewish painters exhibited, only 6 out of 112, but Jewish was interchangeable with insanity and/or Bolshevism. Nolde's work was included. 27 pieces, more than any other artist--- His primitivism was rejected and he was forbidden to paint. He did tiny watercolors which were shown in the L.A. exhibition.
Official German Art declared war on cultural degeneration. Beckmann left. Kokoschka fled to Czechoslovakia. Dix stayed because he felt he couldn't paint outside Germany (Like Höfgen in Mephisto modeled after the real life Gustav Gründgens)- Instead, he painted landscapes which was "tantamount to immigration." Kirchner destroyed his work and committed suicide in 1938. Nolde particularly was singled out. He was forbidden to paint.
The regime sold much of the confiscated art at auction in Switzerland in 1939 with the profits going to the NSDAP. Much of what has survived was due to luck. Emanuel Fohn, a German artist who had close connections to a favored Nazi artist Adolf Ziegler, heard of the regime's intention to burn thousands of "decadent" paintings and drawings. He happened to have a modest collection of some 19th century Romantic paintings by one of Hitler's favorite artists. In exchange for a handful of relatively unimportant paintings, Fohn was able acquire a danzzling collection of work by Beckmann, Bracque, Chagall, Lovis Corinth, Dix, Feininger, Grosz, Heckel, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Klee, Kollwitz, Kokoschka, Kubin, Liebermann, Mackel, Marc, Modigliani, Nolde, Schmidt-Rottuff, Schiele, Schlemmer.
March of the Meistersänger ---
War --- Germany in ruins. Film of corpses --- a realization of the worst images of the Expressionists.
The film comments on the contemporary exhibit and on what happens in a society in which free expression is stifled. Quotation from Thomas Mann: "there are not two Germanies: a good one and a bad one --- there is just one."