Degenerate
ART
Exhibition guide

1938


                This exhibition has been assembled by the Reich Propaganda Directorate, Culture Office. It will be shown in the larger cities of all regions. Responsible for the contents: Fritz Kaiser, Munich. Publisher: Publishing house for cultural and economic advertising, Berlin W 35, 59 Potsdamer Street.

What the Degenerate art exhibition means to do:

                It means to give, at the outset of a new age for the German people, a firsthand survey of the gruesome last chapter of those decades of cultural decadence that preceded the great change.

                It means to appeal to the sound judgement of the people, and thus to put an end to the drivel and claptrap of all those literary cliques and hangers-on, many of whom would still try to deny that we ever had such a thing as artistic degeneracy.

                It means to make clear that this degeneracy in art was something more than the sort of short-lived foolishness, idiocy and rash experimentation that might have spent itself and died even without the National Socialist movement.

                It means to show that this was no necessary ferment, but a deliberate and calculated onslaught upon the very essence and survival of art itself.

                It means to expose the common roots of political anarchy and cultural anarchy, and to unmask degenerate art as art-Bolshevism in every sense of the term.

                It means to reveal the philosophical political, racial and moral goals and purposes pursued by those who promoted subversion.

                It means to show, too, how these symptoms of degeneracy spread from the deliberate trouble-makers to infect those more or less unwitting acolytes who, in spite of previous -- and in some cases also subsequent -- evidence of artistic talent, were so lacking in scruple, character or common sense as to join in the general Jewish and Bolshevik furore.

                It means to reveal in this way the true peril of a trend that, steered by a few Jewish and openly Bolshevik ringleaders, could succeed in enlisting such individuals to work toward Bolshevik anarchy in cultural politics when those same individuals might well have indignantly denied any affiliation with Bolshevism in party politics.

                It means to prove above all that none of the men who were in any way involved in the degeneracy of art can now turn around and talk about harmless follies of youth.

                From all this emerges, finally, what the Degenerate art exhibition does not mean to do.

                It does not mean to assert that all the names that are emblazoned on the botched efforts shown here also appeared in the membership lists of the Communist party. As no such assertion is made, no refutation is called for.

                It does not mean to deny that one or another of those shown here has at some time -- before or since -- achieved something different. It is not the business of this exhibition, however, to gloss over the fact that in the years of the major Bolshevik-Jewish onslaught upon German art such men stood on the side of subversion.

                It does not mean to prevent those artists shown who are of German blood -- and who have not followed their former Jewish friends abroad -- from now honestly striving and fighting for the basis of a new and healthy creativity. It does and must mean to prevent, however, the jabbering cliques from that murky past from foisting any such men on the new state and on its forward-looking people as the natural standard-bearers of an art of the Third Reich.

The arrangement of the exhibition

                The sheer diversity of the manifestations of degenerate art, as the exhibition seeks to show them, is such as to stun and bewilder any visitor, so a clear organisational principle has been adopted whereby the works in each room are classified by tendency and form into a number of groups. A brief guide to the exhibition follows, treating the groups in the recommended sequence.

To become an art-Communist is to pass through two phases:

  1. To take one's place in the Communist party and assume the duties of solidarity in the struggle;
  2. To undertake the revolutionary transformation of production. -- The Jew Wieland Herzfelde in The opponent, 1920/21.











We would rather exist unclean than perish clean, we leave it to stubborn individualists and old maids to be inept but respectable; reputation is not our worry!

-- The opponent, 1920/21.





Constrained reality is split up and broken open to become a vessel for his accumulated burning sensual passion, which, once inflamed, is oblivious of all psychic depths and bursts out -- consuming, expanding, copulating with all its parts. There exist for him no resistance and no preordained limits.

-- Contemporary literary drivel on such formerly modern brothel art.





Group 1

                This affords an overall view of the barbarism of representation from the point of view of technique. This group exemplifies the progressive collapse of sensitivity to form and colour, the conscious disregard for the basics of technique that underlie fine art, the garish splattering of colour, the deliberate distortion of drawing, and the total stupidity of the choice of subject matter that developed by degrees into a blatant insult to any normal viewer with an interest in art.

Anyone who pursues the new for its own sake strays all too easily into the realm of folly. Of course, the more stupid a thing made from stone and materials, the more likely it is to be something really new, because earlier ages did not allow every fool to insult his contemporaries with the abortions of his sick brain.

-- The Leader, Reich Party congress, 1933.

A highly revealing racial cross section! Note also, in particular, the three portraits of painters shown below. They are, from left to right, the painter Morgner as seen by himself, the painter Radziwill as seen by Otto Dix, the painter Schlemmer as seen by E. L. Kirchner.













Group 2

                The works assembled in these rooms are those concerned with religious themes. These horrific objects were once described in the Jewish press as revelations of German religious feeling. Any person of normal sensibilities will find, however, that these revelations put him more in mind of mumbo jumbo; whatever his own religious allegiance, he can only regard them as a shameless mockery of any religious idea. It is highly significant that painted and carved mockeries of Jewish Old testament legends are not to be found. The figures of Christian legend, on the other hand, leer out at us in a constant succession of devilish masks.

Until National Socialism came to power, there existed in Germany a so-called modern art, which is to say that, almost by the nature of the term, there was something new almost every year. National Socialist Germany, however, means to have a German art once again, and this, like all the creative values of a people, must and will be an eternal art. If art lacks an eternal value for our people, then even today it has no higher value.

-- The Leader, at the opening of the House of German art.

Manifestations of German religious feeling: This is how the press, which sold out to the Jewish art dealers, once referred to mumbo jumbo of this kind. The titles are: Christ and the adulteress, Death of Mary of Egypt, Deposition, and Christ. The artists are: Nolde, Morgner, and Kurth.









Group 3

                The graphic works shown in this exhibition are conclusive proof of the political basis of degenerate art. The methods of artistic anarchy are used to convey an incitement to political anarchy. Every single image in this group is an incitement to class struggle in the Bolshevik sense. The idea is to convince every productive person, by means of a crudely tendentious proletarian art, that he will remain a slave and languish in mental chains until the last property owner, the last non-proletarian has been swept away by the longed-for Bolshevik revolution. Workers, their wives, and their children stare out at the viewer with faces of utter misery in shades of grey and green. Capitalists and exploiters of every sort imaginable are shown sneering at the misery of the productive individual; the whole range of these slave drivers is depicted, from the butcher to the banker. And yet the Jewish art dealers, who were not exactly starving even then and who profited considerably from this same proletarian art, are conspicuously absent from the work of these painters of the class struggle.

In the field of culture, as elsewhere, the National Socialist movement and government must not permit incompetents and charlatans suddenly to change sides and enlist under the banner of the new state as if nothing had happened, so they can once again call all the shots in art and cultural policy.

-- The Leader, Reich Party Congress, 1933.

Art preaches class struggle!





Painter, you desire, you overturn the world, you are a politician! Or else you remain a private man ..... Painting for painting's sake is like having a rowing machine in your bedroom.

-- The anarchist Ludwig Rubiner in Painters build barricades (Action, 1914).





Group 4

                This section too has a marked political tendency. Here art enters the service of Marxist draft-dodging propaganda. The intention is manifest: the viewer is meant to see the soldier either as a murderer or a victim, senselessly immolated for something known to the Bolshevik class struggle as the capitalist world order. Above all, the people are to be deprived of their profound reverence for all the military virtues: valour, fortitude and readiness for combat. And so in the drawings in this section, alongside caricatures of war cripples expressly designed to arouse repulsion, and views of mass graves delineated with every refinement of detail, we see German soldiers represented as simpletons, vile erotic wastrels, and drunkards. That not just Jews but artists of German blood could produce such botched and contemptible works in which they gratuitously reaffirmed our enemies' war atrocity propaganda -- already unmasked at the time as a tissue of lies -- will forever remain a blot on the history of German culture.

Art that cannot rely on the joyous, heartfelt assent of the broad and healthy mass of the people, but depends on tiny cliques that are self-interested and blasé by turns, is intolerable. It seeks to confuse the sound instinct of the people instead of gladly confirming it.

-- The Leader, at the opening of the House of German art.

The artist as an artist must be an anarchist.

-- The Jew and Bolshevik Kurt Eisner, Munich, in Appeal for socialism.





Let us create an explosive atmosphere! Learn! Prepare! Exercise!

-- The Bolshevik Johann R. Becher in Appeal to all artists, 1919, Berlin.





Group 5

                This section of the exhibition affords a survey of the moral aspect of degeneracy in art. To those artists whom it presents, the entire world is clearly no more or less than a brothel, and the human race is exclusively composed of harlots and pimps. Among these works of painted and drawn pornography there are some that can no longer be displayed, even in the Degenerate art exhibition, in view of the fact that women will be among the visitors. To anyone in contemporary Germany it is wholly inconceivable that a few short years ago, in the period of centrist rule under Heinrich Brüning, such abysmal vulgarity, such utter decadence and such blatant criminality were still permitted to appeal to the basest human instincts under the slogan of artistic freedom. Nor must it be overlooked that this aspect of degenerate art, too, is ultimately political in intention. This is apparent from the fact that almost all of the filth reveals a clear Marxist message of class conflict. Again and again we come upon drawings in which wastrels of the property-owning classes and their harlots are contrasted with the emaciated proletarian figures who stumble wearily past in the background. In other drawings the harlot is held up as an ideal, in contrast to woman in bourgeois society, who in the view of the creators of this art is morally far more depraved than the prostitute. In short, in this section the moral program of Bolshevism shrieks out from every wall.

Painted sabotage of national defence by the painter Otto Dix.





Group 6

                The many works shown here serve to demonstrate that degenerate art often lent its support to that segment of Marxist and Bolshevik ideology whose objective is the systematic eradication of the last vestige of racial consciousness. In the pictures in the previous section, the harlot was held up as a moral ideal. Here we are presented with the negro and the south sea islander as the evident racial ideal of modern art. It is hardly believable that the makers of these works are men whose homes are -- or at least were -- in Germany or Europe. It must be stressed that this nigger art is also so barbarous in technique that many a negro would justifiably refuse to see his own likeness in the figures depicted, still less acknowledge any part in the authorship of such works.

And what do you create? Misshapen cripples and cretins, women who can arouse only revulsion, men closer to beasts than to human beings, children who if they lived in such a shape would be taken for the curse of god! And this is what these cruel dabblers dare to serve up as the art of our time, that is, as the expression of all that moulds and sets its stamp on the present age.

-- The Leader, at the opening of the House of German art, on those responsible for the decadence of art.

The harlot as a moral ideal!



What the Bolshevik Jewess Rosa Luxemburg loved most about Russian literature: Russian literature ennobles the prostitute, makes amends to her for the crime that society has committed against her, lifts her out of the purgatory of corruption and mental torment to the heights of moral purity and female heroism.

-- Rosa Luxemburg in Action, 1921.





Group 7

                This section of the exhibition reveals that, alongside the negro as the racial ideal of what was then modern art, there was a highly specific intellectual ideal, namely, the idiot, the cretin, and the cripple. Even where these artists have portrayed themselves or each other, the resulting faces and figures are markedly cretinous. This may not -- to judge from the rest of the works -- invariably reflect a deliberate avoidance of likeness on their part. Be that as it may, one thing is certain: to the moderns represented here, a mindless, moronic face constituted a special creative stimulus. This is the only possible explanation for the sheer abundance of sculpture, graphic work, and painting contained in this section for the exhibition. Here are human figures that show more of a resemblance to gorillas than to men. Here are portraits that make the earliest known attempts at depicting the human form -- in stone-age caves -- look like mature masterworks. But even for such horrors as these, as the purchase prices show, the highest prices were still being demanded and paid a few years ago.

Works of art that are not capable of being understood in themselves but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence -- until at long last they find someone sufficiently browbeaten to endure such stupid or impudent twaddle with patience -- will never again find their way to the German people!

-- The Leader, at the opening of the House of German art, on degenerate art.

No comment is necessary here! These works are by Voll, Kirchner, Heckel, Hoffmann, and Schmidt-Rottluff.











Group 8

                In one small room, just for a change, all the artists represented are Jews. It must be pointed out, to obviate any misunderstanding, that this represents only a tiny selection of the numerous examples of Jewish trash that the exhibition as a whole has to show. The distinguished contributions to degenerate art clearly made by Jewish spokesmen, dealers, and patrons suffice in themselves to justify this special honour. Here, for example, we find the new man as imagined by the Jew Freundlich. Hanging or standing all around it are yet more dissolute dreams, both sculpted and painted, that beggar description.

Jewry was able, largely by exploiting its position in the press, to enlist the aid of so-called art criticism not only in gradually obscuring all normal ideas of the nature and function of art and its purpose, but also in destroying the general healthy response in this area.

-- The Leader, at the opening of the House of German art.

Three specimens of Jewish sculpture and painting. The titles are: Self-portrait, The new man, and Head. The Jews are: Meidner, Freundlich, and Haizmann.







Group 9

                This section can only be entitled Sheer insanity. It occupies the largest room in the exhibition, and contains a cross section of the abortions produced by all the isms thought up, promoted, and peddled over the years by Flechtheim, Wollheim, and their cohorts. In the case of most of the paintings and drawings in this particular chamber of horrors there is no telling what was in the sick brains of those who wielded the brush or the pencil. One of them ended up by painting with only the contents of garbage cans. Another was content with three black lines and a piece of wood on a large white ground. A third had the bright idea of painting a number of circles on two square metres of canvas. A fourth used a good two kilograms of paint in painting three successive self-portraits because he could not figure out whether his head was green or sulfurous yellow, round or angular, his eyes red or sky blue or whatever. In this insanity group, visitors to the exhibition usually just shake their heads and smile. Not without cause, certainly. But when we reflect that all these works of art have been removed, not from the dusty corners of deserted studios, but from the art collections and museums of the great German cities, where some of them still met the gaze of an astonished public during the first years that followed the Leader's assumption of power, then it is no laughing matter, then we can only choke back our fury that so decent a people as the Germans could ever have been so foully abused.

Even this was once taken seriously and bought for good money! The titles are: The god of the airmen, On the beach, Merz picture, and Family portrait. The artists are: Molzahn, Metzinger, and Schwitters.









An end to art Bolshevism

From the Leader's speech at the opening of the House of German art in Munich:

                In this hour I affirm my unalterable resolve here, as in the realm of political confusion, to clear out all the claptrap from the artistic life in Germany.

                Works of art that are not capable of being understood in themselves but need some pretentious instruction book to justify their existence -- until at long last they find someone sufficiently browbeaten to endure such stupid or impudent twaddle with patience -- will never again find their way to the German people!

                All those catchphrases, such as inner experience, a strong cast of mind, powerful will, prophetic emotion, heroic stance, meaningful empathy, experience of duration, archetypal primitivism and the like -- all those stupid, lying subterfuges, all that claptrap, all that drivel will no longer serve to excuse -- let alone to commend -- productions that are intrinsically worthless because they are plainly inept.

                If someone has a powerful impulse or an inner experience, let him prove it through his work, and not through foolish words. We are all far less interested, in any case, with any so-called impulse than we are in talent. In future, any artist who wants to be exhibited in this building or to present himself to the public anywhere in Germany, is going to need talent. The impulse we can surely take for granted! It would really by the limit if anyone were to inflict on his fellow citizens works that lacked even an impulse. If these fools now seek to make their works palatable by presenting them as the expression of a new age, then the only answer is this: it is not art that makes a new age, but the whole life of a nation that first reforms itself and then often seeks a new form of expression. The truth is that all the talk of a new art in Germany over the last few decades has sprung from a total failure to conceive what the new German age is. For a new epoch is not moulded by literary men but by warriors, that is, by the truly formative presences that lead nations and make history. But then that is a status to which these wretched, muddled daubers or scribblers can hardly be expected to aspire.

                Besides, only barefaced impudence or unfathomable stupidity could dare to offer to our present age, of all ages, works that might have been made ten or twenty thousand years ago by stone age man. They speak of the primitive in art, and they forget that it is not the purpose of art to move backward and away from the evolution of a nation, that its task can only be to symbolise that living evolution.

                Today the new age is shaping a new human type. In countless areas of life huge efforts are being made to exalt the people, to make our men, boys, and youths, our girls and women healthier and thus stronger and more beautiful. And from this strength and this beauty there springs a new lease on life, a new joy in life. Never has mankind been closer to antiquity, in appearance or in feeling, than it is today. Steeled by sport, by competition, and by mock combat, millions of young bodies now appear to us in a form and a condition that have not been seen and have scarcely been imagined for perhaps a thousand years. A glorious and beautiful type of human being is emerging: one who, after supreme achievement in work, honours that fine old saying: Work hard and play hard. This human type, as we saw him in last year's Olympic games, stepping out before the whole world in all the radiant pride of his bodily strength and health -- this human type, you gentlemen of the prehistoric, spluttering art brigade, is the type of the new age. And what do you create? Misshapen cripples and cretins, women who can arouse only revulsion, men closer to beasts than to human beings, children who if they lived in such a shape would be taken for the curse of god! And this is what these cruel dabblers dare to serve up as the art of our time, that is, as the expression of all that moulds and sets its stamp on the present age.

                Let no one try to say that such artists really see things this way. I have noticed among the works submitted many that compel the supposition that some people's eyes fail to show them things as they really are, that is, that there really exist men who see our people of the present day only as absolute cretins, and who, as a matter of principle, perceive -- or, as no doubt they would put it, experience -- meadows as blue, skies as green, clouds of sulfurous yellow, and so forth. I have no intention of entering into any argument as to whether these individuals really see and feel this way or not, but on behalf of the German people I would like to ban any such pitiful unfortunates -- evidently the victims of defective eyesight -- from attempting to bluff the public into accepting the products of their distorted vision as real, or even as art.

                No, there are only two possible alternatives. Either these so-called artists really see things this way and therefore believe in what they represent, in which case we would simply have to investigate whether their visual defects spring from a mechanical or a congenital cause. If the former, this would be a matter for deep regret on behalf of these unfortunates themselves. If the latter, then it would be a matter for the Reich Ministry of the Interior, which would make it its business at least to forestall any further hereditary transmission of such appalling visual defects. Or else even they do not believe in the reality of such impressions, but seek to foist their humbug on the people for other reasons, then such behaviour falls within the scope of criminal law.

                It is of no concern to me whether or not these amateur artists fall to clucking over each other's eggs and giving each other testimonials. For the artist does not work for the artist, but, like everyone else, he works for the people. And we shall take good care that from now on the people will be the judges of his art.

Two saints!! The one above is called The saint of the inner light, and is by Paul Klee. The one below is by a schizophrenic from a lunatic asylum. That this Saint Mary Magdalene and child nevertheless looks more human than Paul Klee's botched effort, which was intended to be taken entirely seriously, is highly revealing.



Ethics of mental illness:

The crazy talk of obsessives is the higher wisdom, for it is human ..... Why have we yet to gain this insight into the world of the free will? Because, superficially, we are in command of insanity, because we do violence to the mentally ill and prevent them from living in accordance with their own ethical laws ..... Now we must seek to overcome the blind spot in our relationship with mental illness.

-- The Jew Wieland Herzfelde in Action, 1914.



This head of a girl is the work of an incurably insane man in the psychiatric clinic in Heidelberg. That insane non-artists should produce such works is understandable:



This abortion was, on the other hand, seriously discussed as a work of art and included in many exhibitions in the past as a masterwork by E. Hoffmann. The title of the monstrosity is Girl with blue hair; indeed, its coiffure is a resplendent pure sky blue:



Our resolve was firm that the drivelling dadaist-cubist and futuristic experience-mongers and objectivity-mongers would never under any circumstances be allowed any part in our cultural rebirth. This will be the most effective consequence of our realising the true nature of the cultural decadence that lies behind us.

-- The Leader, Reich Party congress, 1935.

When as incurable lunatic, and an amateur into the bargain, models a cat, this is how it looks:



But when the Jew Haizmann, praised in his own day as a sculptor of genius, takes it into his head to create a fabulous beast to adorn a fountain, the resulting monstrosity looks like this picture. The Jew creature weighs several hundred kilograms, by the way:



To draw attention to oneself by deliberate lunacies is not only a sign of artistic failure but of moral defect.

-- The Leader, Reich Party congress, 1933.

Which of these three drawings below is the work of an amateur, an inmate of a lunatic asylum? You will be surprised, the centre one! The other two used to be regarded as master drawings by Kokoschka.







The ultimate in stupidity or impudence -- or both!

A valuable admission: We can bluff like the most hardened poker players. We act as if we were painters, poets, or whatever, but what we are is simply and ecstatically impudent. In our impudence we take the world for a ride, and train snobs to lick our boots, because it is our pleasure. We raise the wind, raise the storm with our impudence.

-- From the manifesto by A. Undo in Action, 1915.








A selection of pertinent descriptive headings correctly supplied for groupings of paintings in the exhibition:

  • Insolent mockery of the divine, under centrist rule!
  • Revelation of the Jewish racial soul!
  • The cultural Bolshevik's order of battle!
  • An insult to German womanhood!
  • The ideal -- cretin and whore!
  • Deliberate sabotage of national defence!
  • German farmers -- a Yiddish view!
  • The Jewish longing for wilderness reveals itself -- in Germany the negro becomes the racial ideal of a degenerate art!
  • Madness becomes method!
  • Crazy at any price!
  • Nature as seen by sick minds!
  • Even museum bigwigs called this art of the German people!
It is not the mission of art to wallow in filth for filth's sake, to paint the human being only in a state of putrefaction, to draw cretins as symbols of motherhood, or to present deformed idiots as representatives of manly strength.

-- Adolf Hitler, excepted from a speech made at a National Socialist Party rally, Nuremberg, September 11, 1935.

Spontaneous comments of ordinary people who visited the exhibition were generally of the kind: The artists ought to be tied up next to their paintings, so that every German can spit in their faces -- not only the artists, also the museum directors who, at a time of mass unemployment, poured vast sums into the ever open jaws of the perpetrators of these atrocities!




Compare the above trash art with the following paintings. The first is by war painter Ernst Vollbehr (1876-1960): Reich Party Day At Nürnberg -- The NSDAP And The SA Parade, 1933, Gouache technique, 39 x 57.7 cm:


Adolf Wissel -- Farming Family In The Third Reich -- Great German Art Exhibition, Munich: