Fascism & Art

Nazi exhibition of Degenerate art, Munich

Hitler set out to destroy ‘degenerate’ art.

In Munich, 1937, Hitler staged two exhibitions. The Great German Art show, displaying artists he approved off, and ‘Degenerate’ Art, a term made up by the Nazi’s showing artists Hitler despised. It was a battle between traditionalism and modernism, a battle of types of art still fought today.

The idea of these two exhibitions was for people to see both shows and to see how German art had been debased to modernist and then how Nazi’s had redeemed it to how German art should look. However, the show backfired because degenerate art seemed too popular. Half a million came to see the German Art Show yet 2 million saw the degenerate art show.

What was degenerate art?
– Modern art; anything that challenged the idyllic world view
– Banned because it was seen as un-German, Jewish or communist in nature
– Degenerate artists were subjected to sanctions

The German Art show was not all Fascistic as you would have expected it. It was art of conventional subjects: landscapes; wholesome nudes;… It was displayed in the Haus der Deutschen Kunst (House of German Art), a new gallery built by Hitlers favourite architect. The degenerate art show was crammed into an archeological institute. Despite this, the degenerate art show was the better show as the German Art show was disappointing – even Hitler was unimpressed.

Munich was heavily bombed in World War 2 but the galleries surved. The Haus der Deutschen Kunst was renamed Haus der Kunst and become a gallery for modern art. Though modernism was defeated in Munich in 1937, it now reigned and Munich returned to it’s centre of modern art around the world.

Though this was the work of Hitler, there was nothing unusual about the Nazi attitude towards modern art. The issues raised in the exhibition of ‘degenerate’ art have never gone away and there still remains a battle between what people think art should and shouldn’t look like.

Images of both exhibitions:

You can see a huge difference between what Hitler believed to be true art and the work of modernist artists. ‘German art’ was sculptures, true to real object where as ‘degenerate’ art wasn’t idyllic, it expressed hidden meanings and allowed expressism within art.

With the influence of Hitler wide spreading throughout Europe and especially onto Spain with the Fascist leader of Franco. With this, Hitler idealistic views and especially on art, I can image would have widespread through other Fascist leaders so right-wing art would not have been an influence of modernism. This in mind, for my zine (since Frank Thomas was a nationalist), the images I use – if used at all – will be as true as they can be.


Author: ellenreiddesign

First year Graphic Communication student at Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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