Teaching Tools, 17 April 2007
In Germany in the early 20th century, artists such as Otto Dix and George Grosz were producing works which were both avant-garde and also critical of the social and political circumstances of Weimar Germany. With the coming to power of the Nationalist Socialist Party, in 1933, avant-garde work was no longer allowed to be displayed in German public museums and galleries, and the artists were put under surveillance, which later developed into persecution. Many artists, including Paul Klee and Wasily Kandinsky, went into exile, while others, such as Kurt Schwitters, escaped Germany, but were interned, during World War II, because of their nationality.
This unit can be taught in sequence after treatment of the Art movements Expressionism, Surrealism and Dadaism, and provides an introduction to the fate of avant-garde work in Nazi Germany. Under the Nazi regime, systematic cultural suppression culminated in an exhibition, held in Munich in 1937, entitled Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) of over confiscated 650 works, produced by 112 artists, whom the Nazis considered decadent. This alleged degeneracy owed its label in some cases to the left-wing, or simply anti-Nazi political views of the artists. Other artists were so designated because of their Jewish origins. These factors were often associated with an ideologically-based disapproval of the modernity and abstraction which characterized many of the "degenerate" artworks. At the same time, officially sanctioned art was displayed at the Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung (Great German Art Exhibition).
Partly in response to Nazi atrocities before and during World War II, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a statement of fundamental human rights principles, in 1948. If the Universal Declaration had existed in the 1930's, the confiscation of the artworks and the persecution of the artists for their expression of their viewpoints through their art would have flouted Articles 18 and 19. (See lessons 4 and 5.)