The photograph above taken at 1937, captures Adolf Hitler’s visit to the “Entartete Kunst”, a travelling art exhibition of “Degenerate Art”. Adolf Ziegler, the official painter of Nazis is present next to Hitler. There writes on the walls “dada”, the modernist anti-art movement, which started at 1916 in Zurich. The name of the dada painter, George Grosz is painted on the walls. The painters whose works were exhibited as “degenerate art” includes the expressionist Paul Klee (a favourite of Benjamin, also worked at Bauhaus for some time before it was shut down by the Nazi’s), the dadaist and later the surrealist Max Ernst, the expressionist Russian Jew Marc Chagall, another expressionist and abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky, and other notable figures of modern art such as Emil Nolde, Max Beckmann, Kurt Schwitters and Piet Mondrian. Without knowing the story behind it, one gets probably surprised to see Hitler visiting a dada, surrealist, abstract, expressionist, in short, a modernist exhibition with his officials and specifically with his official painter, Ziegler who was in no way interested in modernist art movements of the century. Then, was Hitler a modernist in terms of art, championing the avant-gardists of the era? Why was he present there? The crucial question comes then; why were the Nazis were interested in art? Moreover, why were they interested in exhibiting an art form against which they insistently opposed? Why didn’t Nazis just destroy all the paintings that they thought to be un-German?
In this respect, Barron provides an explanation:
By staging the Entartete Kunst, they were able to the majority of the German people who must have considered most modern art incomprehensible and elitist. To all modernists, not just those represented in Entartete Kunst, the Nazis sent a message that such art would no longer be tolerated in Germany, an official position that, thanks to the cleverly manipulated complicity of the German people, had the force of popular mandate.[i]
Is it an adequate explanation to simply renounce that the Nazi exhibition of Degenerate Art was an act of propaganda, which would mobilize the masses against modern art? This paper will try to explore the significance of the exhibition of Degenerate Art and its relation to the fascist/Nazi ideals in terms of art, myth and politics in the following sections, concurrently interrogating the critical motives behind the exhibition of Degenerate Art.
Just after the exhibition of Degenerate Art was organized, Nazis undertook another exhibition, which would declare what “German true art” was, as opposed to the art that was “degenerated” at the hand of the modernists. The exhibition was called “Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung”
, “Great German Art Exhibition”. Strikingly, Degenerate Art exhibition attracted over two million visitors, which is three and a half times of the number of people who saw the Great German Art exhibition.[ii]
In this regard, one can conclude that people in Nazi Germany was interested in getting to know the ways in which “art was degenerated” by the avant-garde artists rather than witnessing what true German art is? This paper will reflect upon various issues regarding Nazi perception of art. In the meantime, “Fascist art” in general and specifically its Futurist and Romanesque forms will be interrogated. Rather, “art produced during the reign of fascism” will be a more appropriate expression since there is no particular fascist form of doing art; all art produced by the official artists of fascism either in Germany or in Italy, consists of the imitations of either Hellenistic or Roman art. This paper will also mention the significance of Futurist art, as a pre-fascist phenomenon; a modern art movement, and an avant-garde one indeed whose artists manifests destruction, annihilation of culture and history for the sake of an industrialized, mechanized, technologized, faster, dynamic future which they long for. We will try to investigate the path of art in general at the hands of fascism from Futurism to the Degenerate Art exhibition.
Ziegler & Breker: Heil Hellenism!
Thousands of the works of modernist art were held captive by Nazis so that they could be exhibited in the exhibition of Degenerate Art, in order to display how art became “degenerate” at the hands of the modernists. The tension between the surrealists, dadaists, abstract artists, expressionists and Adolf Hitler has already arisen when Hitler accused those modernists as “fools, liars, or criminals who belong in insane asylums or prisons.” Consequently, Hitler ordered Ziegler to prepare an exhibition in Munich, which would present the works of “true German art” in Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung. Regarding the relation of Ziegler with the Nazi regime, Petropulas states the following:
Both his career and art make Ziegler representative of Nazi Germany: his career serves as a prototypic case of finding accommodation with the new rulers, and his art captured in a difficult to describe way a mind-set and style so common at this time (Ziegler’s canvases have been included in nearly all exhibitions about Nazi, fascist, and totalitarian aesthetics).[iii]
Ziegler’s art was populated by ‘racially pure’ figures, thus celebrated. His works were reproduced in postcards and distributed nationwide by the Nazis.[iv] A 1937 painting by Adolf Ziegler can give us a hint on what “true German art” is.[v]
It is clear that true German art represents the so-called “Aryan beauty”. No doubt it has Ancient Greek connotations: it has partial sense of perspective, and it seems as if the figures were painted from the models of ancient statutes. Though mimetic in a technical sense, it doesn’t need a perspective; its aim is only to underscore the very physicality of “Aryan beauty” and its perfection. The space is not important in this painting. It is the same for time, which will be explained in more details in the following sections of this paper.
In November 1936, Nazi Minister of Education Bernhard Rust made the following remarks about Ziegler’s art: “Ziegler’s last work is an incomparably beautiful masterpiece of Classical Hellenism.”[vi] Ziegler was appointed as the president of the Reich Chamber for the Visual Arts in 1936, replacing Eugen Honig. Six months after his appointment, Hitler ordered him to organize a monumental project, “purging modern artworks from the galleries”[vii] which would pave the way for the exhibition of Degenerate Art. Eventually, Ziegler was at the leading charge of anti-modernist art movement of Hitler. Why was Ziegler, whose works inhabit the imitation of ancient Greek art, appointed as an official painter of the Nazis in 1937, with the claim that he represented the “true German art”? Did the “true German art” correspond the imitation of Ancient Greek art?
On the other hand, this is a sculpture made by the official sculptor of Nazi’s, Arno Breker.[viii]
Further heroic Aryan figures similar to those of Greek sculptures were what Breker produced during the Nazi regime. In explaining the importance of Breker in German art, Robert Scholz states the following:
sculpture stood at the beginning of a new politically determined epoch, because it could embody most immediately the intended rejuvenation of the world… Arno Breker’s sculptural works are symbols of the dignity and creative drive that is at the basis of the political idea of National Socialism.[ix]
According to another critic, his works “glorified the racial struggle, they were symbolic stone piles of Aryan beliefs.”[x] These examples shed light on the reasons why modernist art movements were called “degenerate”, while its practitioners were condemned as “fools” and “liars”. What Hitler longed for as the “true German art” was an art form, which would resemble the one of the Greeks and would represent the so-called “Aryan beauty”, as opposed to the distorted forms of human figures in expressionist painting, abstract art, surreal anti-mimetic paintings and dada. Hitler was also a fierce rival of Futurism, which will be investigated later in this paper in relation to Marinetti’s vision of art and literature. For the intentions of this section, let us investigate what Nazism could have championed in propagating the “true German art”. What was its relation to “myth”? And how can one interpret this relation by referring to the article, “The Nazi Myth” by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy?
Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy propose that since the collapse of Christianity in Europe, a specter appeared, that is, the specter of “imitation”. They suggest that the whole culture and art were dominated by this specter since the newly founded nation states were in need of “a subject of identification”. What Germany was missing was an identity by means of which the national whole would involve in a process of identification. Hence they explain the emergence of German nationalism as “the appropriation of the means of identification” on the basis of Greek antiquity, which was the sole model for the Nazis.[xi] Eventually this brings about what Walter Benjamin points out as the “will to art” that is, the endeavour to create a subject by which art would be practiced and consequently the politics will be harmonized by aesthetics in course of constituting a sense of “totality” within the national whole. Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy argue that this process altogether results in the establishment of the Nazi myth, which is a “living myth”.[xii]
What’s more, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy underscore the “double bind” that Nazis has found themselves trapped in creating this myth. The double bind of Nazis consists of the following: On the one hand they have no option other than imitating the Greeks since there is no other model. On the other hand, they cannot imitate since the Greek model were already used and appropriated by others and they needed the urge to be distinct and original as the Germans. In the end, what was embodied at the end of this process of double binding was a Nazi myth, that is, National Socialism itself as a myth, and a living one indeed. Interestingly, the Nazi myth corresponded to what German romantic Schelling call for as the “new mythology” in the end of 18th century.[xiii]
One might conclude, in the light of the art of Ziegler and Breker that the Nazi myth was unsuccessful in finding out a new way other than the Greek model within the endeavour of “will to art”. Yet one should better have a look at what Hitler proposes as the German art, and interpret it in the light of what Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy suggest. In his speech for the opening of Great Exhibition of German Art, Hitler complains: “Art, on the one hand, was defined as nothing but an international communal experience, thus killing altogether any understanding of its integral relationship with an ethnic group.”[xiv] He states the following regarding the modernist art forms:
Until the moment when National-Socialism took power, there existed in Germany a so-called ‘modern art’, that is, to be sure, almost every year another one, as the very meaning of this word indicates. National-Socialist Germany, however, wants again a ‘German Art’, and this art shall and will be of eternal value, as are all truly creative values of a people.[xv]
Hitler converts the understanding of art from universality to a central emphasis on the “people” who belong to a particular ethnicity. Moreover he calls for an eternality of art, which he founds in the true German art, which is at the same time the imitation of Greek art.
In relation to what Hitler suggests in terms of the perceived universality of art, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy state that for Nazis, “the power of myth must be reawakened, in opposition to the inconsistency of the abstract universals…”[xvi] Hitler further argues that every year, the modernist art proposes something new; and he suggests that art should in some way stabilized.[xvii] The possible way by which it needs to be stabilized is, again pointed out by Hitler himself, quoted by Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy: “Nazism is above all “construction and conformation of its vision of the world.”[xviii] Nazism wants art to be stabilized, on the road to eternalization of it. Art needs not to vibrate, not to proceed into becoming other forms, not to journey among the different genres of art in order for it to become eternal through stabilization and simplification. All in all what Nazis intended to actuate was nothing but a simplification of complexity in art. For this reason, Richard Burt defines Nazi exhibition of Degenerate Art as a postmodern performance and an avant-garde one indeed:
As a total work of art, the Nazi exhibition was itself already a postmodern performance its politics were negotiated as the audience moved through it, determining what and why certain kinds of “art” are degenerate. From this perspective, the Nazi exhibition may be regarded as itself avant-garde rather than as the antithesis to avant-garde. One might go so far as to say that the Nazis outstripped the avant-garde in mounting a postmodern performative exhibition.[xix]
Eternalization of Art
On the other hand for Hitler, “art is not founded on time, but only on peoples.”[xx] This explains well why Ziegler and Breker depict Ancient Greek figures as the perfection of German race in their separate works. By dismissing the element of “time” and merely relying on the “volk” through the intention of stabilizing art, Nazism intends to find a way out of the “double bind” in which they are trapped. Besides, it legitimizes its imitation of Ancient Greek art by projecting their ambitions on a timeless sphere. By removing “time” from its agenda, Nazism refuses to historicize art in terms of past, present and future; as Hitler remarks: “National-Socialist Germany, however, wants again a ‘German Art’, and this art shall and will be of eternal value, as are all truly creative values of people… … Art as an expression of the essence of this being, is an eternal monument.”[xxi] “Eternalization of art” was already present in Ancient Greeks, since as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy explain the Nazi interpretation of Ancient Greek art: “The great Aryans of antiquity are the Greeks, that is to say the people who produced myth as art.” And this constitutes another legitimate ground for the imitation of Ancient Greeks by Nazi artists. On the road to creation of myth as art, the artist gains a Romantic emphasis, when Hitler suggests: “For the artist does not create for the artist, but just like everyone else he creates for the people.”[xxii] The artist, for Hitler, marks the harbinger of an upcoming art which is mythical, and which derives among the people who are subjected by means of that myth and also who are expected to identify themselves with it. This aspect on the other hand brings Hitler and Vico together, since Vico suggests, mentioning Homer that his stories were made of “collective images of reality” rather than being the artistic creations, which derive out of the artist’s own imagination.[xxiii] For Vico, Homer represents people, whose representations have been models for the future, similar to what Hitler desires his artists to actualize.
(De)Mummification of Myth
Nazism predicted that the myth was mummified in a particular time at past. What they were trying to do with regard to art is the inclination toward the unfolding of what they supposed as the mummified myth. Nazis believed that myth was mummified because they believed it to be still alive somehow, somewhere waiting to be rediscovered. It was preserved at some secure place within humanity, and according to the Nazis, that secure place was the very regime of National-Socialism which was omnipresent throughout the ages. Indeed, that site of de-mummification and the rebirth of myth is merely an imaginative constitution. Yet they presumed that National-Socialism/Fascism was eternal. De-mummification of myth was to be handled through what Benjamin called as the “aestheticization of politics”. And for this reason, Nazism intended to constitute the feeling of “totality” in order to mobilize the masses for the “war”, which for Benjamin, is the sole activity in which “all efforts to render politics aesthetics culminate.”[xxiv]
Sense of Totality: A Futurist Perspective
While on the one hand rejecting the “universal”, how did Hitler aim to constitute a “totality” nationwide? Since, one should bear in mind what Bataille suggests: “A myth thus cannot be assimilated to the scattered fragments of a dissociated group. It is in solidarity with total existence, of which it is the tangible expression.”[xxv] As mentioned above, this question of totality is very much related to the “appropriation of the means of identification” which eventually brings about the need to create a subject as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy explained. Only then a feeling of totality would be gained among the nation. The moment when myth could be de-mummified, the sense of totality would appear. And this was the conflict not only of Nazism but also fascism in general. Was degenerate art exhibition a step toward achieving the feeling of totality?
Although Hitler surprisingly condemned them,[xxvi] Italian Futurists had a solution for achieving totality in art. On the contrary to Nazi reproduction of art, which solely relied on Hellenistic art, Italian Futurists most of whom later became fascists, were able to submit a formula of totality by means of art. In his technical manifesto, Umberto Boccioni remarks that “to paint a human figure your must not paint it, you must render the whole of its surrounding atmosphere.” Futurists’ intention aimed to reconcile Nietzschean opposition of the Apollonian and the Dionysian in course of achieving totality. In an environment where “all things move, all things run, all things are rapidly changing” (which introduces a Dionysian connotation), one should capture the whole of the movements of daily life and represent it in the painting (which eventually ends up with an Apollonian, -stable and beautiful- situation).[xxvii] In his manifesto of Futurist sculpture, Boccioni once again stresses the importance of environment, calls for the production of “sculpture of environment”.[xxviii] To illustrate the intentions mentioned, Boccioni produces the sculpture shown below.[xxix]
Furthermore according to Boccioni, “in order to conceive and understand the novel beauties of a Futurist picture, the soul must be purified; the eye must be freed from its veil of atavism and culture, so that it may at last look upon Nature and not upon museum as the one and only standard.”[xxx] Unlike most of the futurists, Boccioni was not a fascist activist (died in 1918); yet his terminology pertained to that of Nazis in terms of propagating a goal of “purification”. His art too tended to be mythical although he never mentioned it; due to his emphasis of nature rather than culture, his refusal of the institutions and his will to “re-enter into life”[xxxi] by means of that very purification. Here is a painting of Boccioni, with all its collectivism, totality of experience and destructive emphasis.[xxxii]
Marinetti and the “War”: Toward Aestheticization of Politics
Boccioni stressed the “death of space” whereas Italian poet Marinetti, a lifelong fascist influenced by Mussolini, was the first one to declare the death of what Nazis and Boccioni suggested afterwards, that is, the death of time.[xxxiii] For him, “art can be nothing but violence, cruelty, and injustice.” Marinetti calls for a total destruction when he declares: “Come on! Set fire to the library shelves! Turn aside the canals to flood the museums!” Marinetti thinks that there is no beauty except in struggle and war. He is a total enemy of what is at past. He wanted to destroy the libraries, that is, the archives. He wanted to destroy the history. His main contemplation was to concentrate on the future. Yet he celebrated the “war” for that reason. Benjamin refers to Marinetti’s “war cries” in his essay in order to illustrate the ways in which politics was aestheticized at the hands of fascism by means of “war”:
For twenty seven years we Futurists have rebelled against the branding of war as antiaesthetic …. Accordingly we state: … War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others …. Poets and artists of Futurism! … remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art … may be illumined by them![xxxiv]
In Marinetti’s manifesto of Futurism, cruelty, violence, death and destruction are imminent to daily life; Futurism gains a ritualistic status. It only looks to the future as a result of the rejection of the past, while it takes the Romantic’s wish to create “a myth of the future” to the extreme. Again, he doesn’t refer to the word “myth” itself, nevertheless in his description of the future, every single individual stands for an artist who only destruct as people altogether experience the sense of totality by means of which myth can be realized accordingly for Bataille.[xxxv] Marinetti rejects history, not because of a Benjaminian sense, which regards history as the history of the perpetrator,[xxxvi] but because his main goal is to replace history with the idea of a future that is mythically constituted and which will later become the history for the generations to come. On the other hand, he is the very perpetrator since he calls for war in course of achieving a totally new understanding of history. He perpetrates the death of the past, history in order to embrace a future to come. He rejects history for the sake of a new pathway, which would lead to a particular historicization in accordance with the Futurist ideals.
Yet, Futurism does not merely replace history with the very ideas and acts of Futuristic drives. In their sense, history and the future converge, they become one, constitute a whole, the distinction between the history and the future diminishes, the perception of “time” becomes obsolete. Marinetti rejects the archive and the library, since they are the mere representatives of historicity and of the finitude of time for they address and convey time as organized and as fragmented in accordance with the perception of the past. He rather forefronts the idea of eternalization by means of art just as Hitler did; eternalization out of which the myth grows, by the help of which myth is de-mummified. The only condition for the constitution of a living myth relies on the act of eternalization of art. Yet Nazis and Futurists head different directions for this purpose. On the one hand, Nazis imitated Hellenistic forms of art in due course of eternalization, while Futurists maintained a distinct form of art, the Futurist art, and took steps towards eternalization within the original genre of art they created. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Futurism was a better or a more successful movement than the art of Nazis for the ways in which Futurism doesn’t imitate the ancient. Interestingly, Futurist painting came to an end when the First World War was over and after a few years when Mussolini came to power. It was transformed into a Roman imitation, as most of the Futurists became fascists and abandoned their style.
From Futurism to Romanesque Imitation
Futurist painter Mario Sironi, who devoted himself to fascism after the First World War, was among the artists who insistently turned to Ancient Roman motives in his paintings. He introduced the concept of “mural painting” which is according to Sironi, “a social painting par excellence.” Sironi states that, “fascism is a style of life; it is life itself for Italians.” He emphasizes the omnipresence of fascism, and its very immanence to the Italian “volk” which would witness the process of de-mummification of myth by means of his mural paintings. Consequently one is reminded of what Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy said in their article in describing myth as a “living” entity. Sironi, like Hitler, also underlines that “the individualist conception of ‘art for art’s sake’ is dead.” Besides, what is crucial in Sironi’s manifesto is that his understanding of art gains a religious value when he declares: “Thus art will once again become what it was in the greatest of times and at the heart of the greatest civilizations: a perfect instrument of spiritual direction.” Hence, Sironi insists that by means of mural painting, a “Fascist style” will arise “with which the new civilization will be able to identify.”[xxxvii] The endeavour to constitute a subject for identification as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy suggested already exists in the champions of Italian fascist art. Yet, eventually what Sironi produces as “authentic fascist art” is an imitation of Romans; instead of de-mummifying myth, he revives the sense of the Ancient Rome, which manifests nothing but the desire to revive the Romanic ideals concurrently projecting it onto fascist Italy. Nonetheless Sironi is well aware of his imitation when he says, “the art of pagan and Christian Rome is closer to us than the Greek.”[xxxviii] Sironi emphasizes that it is as if fascism was an eternal feeling, kind of an omnipresent entity, which binds Romans to Mussolini’s fascist regime. Therefore, though he doesn’t explicitly claim to remove “time” from the painting like Marinetti, Boccioni and Hitler do, he comes to insist that fascist art is on the same plane with Roman art; and that the future of fascism lies in the living myth of Ancient Rome which has to depicted on the walls of every street in Italy, as seen in this work of Sironi below.[xxxix] Sironi believes ancient Rome to be imbued with the sense of the mythical, indeed his re-articulation of mural painting in fascist Italy corresponds to his will to aestheticize politics in course of eternalization of art. Sironi’s mural painting manifests the unfolding of a tendency toward a de-mummified myth, which was omnipresent since the Romans until the fascist Italy. Mural painting transmits myth into the public sphere. It intends to make it available for the “volk”.
Toward a Conclusion: Nazism as a Dadaist Experiment
From Marinetti and onwards, to Boccioni, Sironi, Ziegler and Hitler, fascist intention in art was to produce a “living myth” by means of its constant projection onto and reproduction in the public sphere. It reinforced the idea of eternalization of art through aestheticization of politics in Benjaminian sense. It aimed at de-historicization through the removal of the perception of time in art, yet as Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy suggests, it was caught in a “double bind” which eventually necessitated imitation. Nevertheless fascist intention on art found a solution in eternalizing art while imitating it. It eternalized art in order to claim that the art they produced is not an imitation but a representation of an omnipresent myth existent throughout the ages from Homer, ancient Greek and Rome, to 20th century Germany and Italy.
Futurists, before they became fascists, were among the ones who undertook the mission of eternalization of art by means of the refusal of history, the archive, and the perception of time. They were not imitating, indeed Boccioni’s art was an avant-garde one which was afterwards condemned by Hitler. It was ultimately modern; it was a way of manifesting an aestheticized politics by means of the very form of art. It signified the condemnation of history, by the very means of art. What they replaced within the process of de-historicization was a feeling of mythical omnipresence, which was later elaborated by fascist art. The new art they proposed was unique in form, yet still modern. They couldn’t escape the modern while they were condemning it. And Hitler couldn’t escape the avant-garde while exhibiting it in the exhibition of Degenerate Art.
How so? Hitler was very much an avant-gardist when he decided to counter modern art by the very tools of it. Indeed he was a dadaist; he used the very tools of an art exhibition in order to make an anti-art-exhibition. In this regard, Burt proposes the provoking idea, which can lead one to consider Hitler as a dadaist:
One might try to differentiate between dada’s desire to turn art into politics and the Nazis’ attempt to aestheticize politics. Dada seeks to break down bourgeois institutions of art and thus might be seen as the radical antithesis of the Nazis.[xl]
Dada movement claims to be political and it claims to perform art for the sake of making a political statement about art and about humanity in general. Although the works of dadaists doesn’t abide the norms of a particular aesthetic art form due to their rejection of the conventional apparatuses by which contemporary art is produced, nevertheless their anti-artistic works inhabit aesthetization of politics, whose aesthetic content is radically de-aestheticized. Yet de-astheticization doesn’t mean that dada doesn’t operate on the realm of the aestheticization of politics since Dada still deals with aesthetics although it maintains a problematic relationship with it. Fascism’s contention to aestheticized politics and Dada’s “desire to turn art into politics” position the two seemingly distinct phenomenon of the modern age dialectically to each other. Nonetheless, they constitute the two sides of a coin. They are no matter what on the same plane. Indeed, Dada influence on Nazi’s is visible in the following two posters: the one being a design of Kandinsky for Bauhaus, and the other being the Nazi official poster design for degenerate art exhibition.[xli]
The similarity between Nazi poster and Kandinsky’s illustration proves that, Nazis are in need of modern art in order to exhibit their own work of art. Their art’s very means of survival rests on the existence of modern art. In order to make a statement about their art, they should rely on the discourse of modern art. Without modern art, there can be no Nazi art. Just like without modern art, there cannot be any dada movement, since dada relies on a criticism of modern art, an idea, which embraces the ideals of overthrowing modern art. Yet, Dada was nevertheless a modern phenomenon, just like Hitler was. That makes Hitler a dadaist of his own times. And the whole project of his National-Socialism a dadaist experiment.
Degenerate Art as the Camp
Then we come to the point of degenerate art. Hitler made a recollection of modern art since he needed modern art to manifest his own ideals on art, which inhabited the ideas of “aestheticization of politics” by means of the eternalization of art. His cause was not solely conducted against Judaism; only six of the 112 painters whose works were seized for the degenerate art exhibitions were Jewish. Among the painters, there was Emil Nolde, whose expressionist representations of Jesus with distorted, disfigured, monstrous faces were condemned since it misrepresented the Aryan beauty as Hitler remarked in 1921: “I can imagine Christ as nothing other than blonde and with blue eyes, the devil however only with a Jewish grimace.”[xlii] His endeavour to eternalize exceeds till Christianity, as if according to Hitler Jesus was already a National/Socialist.
Fascism and in particular Nazism seized history by eternalizing art. They engaged in a process of de-historicization for the sake of accomplishing the convergence of history and myth. They intended to sacrifice history for de-mummification of myth. Yet according to them, history would not disappear, it was imbued with the de-mummified myth. However, this whole process resulted in a catastrophe, as Baeumler’s apologia declares: “The activity of the historian should never be the activity of a creator of myths.”[xliii] The exhibition of Degenerate art was essential and necessary in the course of de-mummification of myth (creation of myth with Baeumler’s use of the term) since the only phenomenon Nazism couldn’t imitate was modernist art because they were already modernists. Without modern art, there is no Nazi art, and Nazi art is dadaist due to the shared interrelation of dada and the perception of art of Nazis in terms of aesthetics and politics. Therefore Nazism desired the seizure of modern art, whose ownership made them feel “whole” (due to their dependence of modern art) on the road to de-mummification of myth. They felt “whole”, following Lacan, a feeling of gestalt[xliv]; Nazism resembles the baby in the mirror stage, which encounters his/her image on the mirror and sees more than him/herself. Yet, the whole process resulted in a catastrophe; and in the case of art, it brought about the catastrophe of art via degenerate art exhibition which was the concentration camp of modern art.
Approximately 5000 works have been seized for the exhibition; including 1,052 by Nolde, 759 by Heckel, 639 by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and 508 by Max Beckmann, as well as smaller numbers of works by such artists as Alexander Archipenko, Marc Chagall, James Ensor, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.[xlv] The total number of works seized during the reign of Nazis was 16558.[xlvi] In 1938, the artists whose works were held captive were forbidden to paint. Some good works among the paintings were sold to German art dealers who then exported the works. A good deal of the paintings was destructed or went missing. Yet the exhibition travelled many German and Austrian cities throughout 1938. Most artists went exile either outside or in Germany. In 1939, 4000 of these works were burned.[xlvii] It was a catastrophic event. And it marked the catastrophe of art whose perpetrators were Nazis. Degenerate art was the concentration camp of modern art. Modern art, without which Nazism couldn’t exist, was camped. The art of Nazis witnessed its own catastrophe. Yet their art needed to commit suicide in order to fulfil its existence.
Breker’s work, thrown in a backyard, 1945.
Stephanie Barron. ed. ‘Degenerate Art:’ The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany
. New York: Harry N. Abrams. 1991. p. 22.
Peter Adam. Art of the Third Reich
. New York. Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1992. pp. 124-125.
[iii] Jonathan Petropulos. Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2000. p. 256.
[v] A. Ziegler (1892-1959). The Judgment of Paris, 1937.
[vi] Jonathan Petropulos. Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2000. p. 257.
[viii] Arno Breker (1900-91). On the left, Apollo and Daphne, 1940. On the right, Prometheus II, 1936-37. Pictures retrieved from: B. John Zavrel. Arno Breker: His Art and Life. West-Art. New York. 1985.
[ix] Jonathan Petropulos. Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2000. p. 225.
[xi] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth”. in Critical Inquiry, vol. 16, no. 2 (Winter 1990). University of Chicago Press. pp. 299-300.
[xiv] Adolf Hitler. “Speech Inaugrating the ‘Great Exhibiton of German Art’” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 424.
[xvi] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth”. in Critical Inquiry, vol. 16, no.2 (Winter 1990). University of Chicago Press. p. 307.
[xvii] Adolf Hitler. “Speech Inaugrating the ‘Great Exhibiton of German Art’” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 424.
[xviii] Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Nazi Myth”. in Critical Inquiry, vol. 16, no.2 (Winter 1990). University of Chicago Press. p. 311.
[xix] Richard Burt. The Administration of Aesthetics: Censorship, Poltical Criticism and the Public Sphere. University of Minnesota Press. 1994. p. 232.
[xx] Adolf Hitler. “Speech Inaugrating the ‘Great Exhibiton of German Art’” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 424.
[xxiii] Joseph Mali. The Rehabilitation of Myth: Vico’s New Science. Cambridge University Press. p. 198.
[xxiv] Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Illuminations. Schocken Books. New York. 2007. p. 241.
[xxv] Georges Bataille, “Visions of excess: selected writings, 1927-1939”. University of Minnesota Press. 1985. p..232.
[xxvi] Hitler states that, “Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, Impressionism, etc has nothing to do with our German people.” Adolf Hitler. “Speech Inaugrating the ‘Great Exhibiton of German Art’” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 424.
[xxvii] Umberto Boccioni. “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 150.
[xxviii] Umberto Boccini. “Futurist Sculpture” in Futurism: An Anthology. Yale University Press, New Haven & London. 2009. p. 116.
[xxix] Umberto Boccioni, Unique forms of continuity in space, 1913.
[xxx] Umberto Boccioni. “Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 151.
[xxxii] U. Boccioni. Riot in a Gallery, 1910 – right: U. Boccioni. The City Rises, 1910.
[xxxiii] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 148.
[xxxiv] Walter Benjamin. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” in Illuminations. Schocken Books. New York. 2007. pp. 241-242.
[xxxv] Bataille was experimenting something like Marinetti’s in the group, “Headless”.
[xxxvi] Walter Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” sets forth the idea that the history is eventually written on the basis of documents, thereof not by the victim but by the oppressor since the oppressor is the sole triumphant. Walter Benjamin, “Thesis on the Philosophy of History” in Illuminations, Schocken Books. New York. 2007. p. 256.
[xxxvii] Mario Sironi. “Manifesto of Mural Painting” in Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Eds. C. Harrison & P. Wood. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992. p. 408.
[xxxix] Mario Sironi Justice, Law and Truth, 1936-7.
[xl] Richard Burt. The Administration of Aesthetics: Censorship, Poltical Criticism and the Public Sphere. University of Minnesota Press. 1994. p. 234.
[xli] Poster on the left belongs to Nazis. Poster on the right is W. Kandinsky’s own work at Bauhaus.
[xlii] Richard Steigmann-Gall. The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003. p. 96.
[xliii] Alfred Baeumler. Das Mythische Weltaalter: Bachofens romantische Deutung des Altertums, Munich: Verlag, C. H. Beck. pp. 344-352.
[xliv] Jacques Lacan. Ecrits: A Selection. W.W. Norton & Co. 2004. p.4.
[xlv] Peter Adam. Art of the Third Reich. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1992. pp. 121-122.
Stephanie Barron. ed. (1991). ‘Degenerate Art:’ The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany
. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 47-48.
Henry Grosshans. Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer. 1983. p. 113.
Adam, Peter. Art of the Third Reich. New York. Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1992.
Baeumler, Alfred. Das Mythische Weltaalter: Bachofens romantische Deutung des Altertums, Munich: Verlag, C. H. Beck. pp. 344-352.
Barron, Stephanie (eds). ‘Degenerate Art:’ The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. New York: Harry N. Abrams. 1991.
Bataille, Georges. “Visions of excess: selected writings, 1927-1939”. University of Minnesota Press. 1985.
Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Eds. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. Schocken Books. New York. 2007.
Burt, Richard. The Administration of Aesthetics: Censorship, Poltical Criticism and the Public Sphere. University of Minnesota Press. 1994.
Grosshans, H. Hitler and the Artists. New York: Holmes & Meyer. 1983.
Harrison, Charles & Wood, Paul. (eds.). Art in Theory 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Blackwell. Oxford. 1992.
Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe and Nancy, Jean-Luc. “The Nazi Myth”. in Critical Inquiry, vol. 16, no. 2 (Winter 1990). University of Chicago Press.
Mali, Joseph. The Rehabilitation of Myth: Vico’s New Science. Cambridge University Press.
Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits: A Selection. W.W. Norton & Co. 2004.
Lawrance, R. & Poggi, C., Wittman, L. (eds.) Futurism: An Anthology. Yale University Press, New Haven & London. 2009.
Petropulos, Jonathan. Faustian Bargain: The Art World in Nazi Germany. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 2000.
Steigmann-Gall, Richard. The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003.
Zavrel, B. John. Arno Breker: His Art and Life. West-Art. New York. 1985.