Hunting down Modernism. The Prohibited Arts in the Third Reich

19.10.2011 - 29.01.2012

Art is relative; it reflects the spirit of the age, creates opportunities for debate, is popular or provocative, conforms or resists. Irrespective of the reception of its innumerable forms and possibilities, art has always had its opponents, who would question new trends and attempt to enforce thought in line with an ideology. It has always been totalitarian systems that have felt most threatened by freedom of spirit and sought ways to stifle it. Public denunciations of artists and bans on their works are standard measures in the repertoire of such states. Campaigns vilifying artists and their works reached their apogee in the years 1933–1945, when National Socialist cultural policy enabled state instrumentalisation of all areas of art.

The period of the Third Reich was a time when people were hunted down like wild animals, humiliated, driven out and murdered. Among those who suffered in this way were artists both well known and unjustly forgotten today, representatives of all disciplines of art, who because of the modern means of expression they adopted, their aesthetic choices or their political views came into conflict with the aesthetic and ideological ideal of the “German” artist. This was sufficient reason for the National Socialist state to implement repressions against them. State-sanctioned persecution was made possible by new laws, and by the creation of a Third Reich Chamber of Culture, whose various departments engineered the subordination of art to the exclusive service of the state and its reputation.

Judith Schönwiesner, dr Monika Rydiger


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About the exhibition

Hunting down Modernism. The Prohibited Arts in the Third Reich

Collective work

With Adolf Hitler’s assumption of the office of German chancellor, the year 1933 opened up a new, ignominious and painful chapter in German history. Hitler’s vision held no room for independently thinking avant-garde painters, printmakers, poets, writers and composers. This unique exhibition – a joint project of the International Cultural Centre and Landschaftsverband Rheinland – presents works categorised by the Nazis as entartete Kunst  (degenerate art).

The artists whose work is displayed here – among whom are outstanding personalities such as Emil Nolde, Otto Freundlich, Rudolf  Belling, Anna Seghers and Lion Feuchtwanger, but also the forgotten Carl Rabus, Valentin Nagel, Julius Graumann and Irmgard Keun, were persecuted for their innovative artistic expression, their racial identity, and their political views. The “Polish annexe” that rounds off the exhibition, with works by Karol Hiller, Jankiel Adler, Władysław Strzemiński, Katarzyna Kobro, Jan Rubczak and Bruno Schulz, throws light on the tragic situation of Polish artists, who with the outbreak of World War II suddenly found themselves within the sphere of Nazi “cultural policy”.

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