Monday, June 16, 2014

Degenerates and Nazis

Adolph Ziegler    (1892-1959) , "The Four Elements" , 1937

About 15 years ago, the Art Institute of Chicago reprised the notorious "Entarte Kunst" exhibit of 1937, and now the Neue Galerie in New York is doing it again.

But with one major difference:  this time the show includes not only the "degenerate" modernists, but also some actual pieces of Nazi art, which is nearly impossible to find in  any other setting.

The highlight of the Nazi section has to be the above triptych by Nazi artist/apparachik  who organized the original Entarte Kunst exhibition.

Hitler liked it so much, he hung it above his fireplace - presumably as shown above.

Max Beckmann (1884-1950), "The Departure", 1933-35

By way of comparison, the above triptych hangs on the same wall, next to the "Four Elements" in this exhibition, and a wonderful comparison it makes.

The iconography of "The Four Elements" is a bit goofy.  It looks like four studio models whose only resemblances to earth/air/fire/water are the symbolic objects in their hands.  They're all young and  healthy --but they feel so uncomfortable and vulnerable, they are more like naked girls in a locker room than nude.goddesses in a pantheon.

Meanwhile, the iconography of "The Departure" is so  incomprehensible it must have been intentionally so.
Something terrible -- mutilations/torture -- appears to be happening -- but the overall feeling of the painting is upbeat and joyous.  By comparison, it really makes "The Four Elements" appear grim and depressing.

Udo Wendel, "The Art Magazine"

Also depressing is this depiction of dour art lovers.

The apparent level of technique is so high - while the total effect is so painfully ghoulish -- Wendel ought to be considered a pioneer in post-modernism.

But unfortunately he remains so obscure, there is practically nothing about him on the internet.

Richard Scheibe  (1879-1964)  "Decathalete"

Despite the tonnage of figure sculpture commissioned by the Third Reich, this is the first piece that I have actually seen - and as you might note from his dates, Scheibe was over 50 when the Nazis came to power, so he would have developed his style decades before they ever existed.

I wouldn't call it great -- I don't think he's the equal of Kolbe, much less Rodin -- but this would belong in future museums as much as similar examples of Hellenistic and Roman sculpture belong in ours.

There's a fine, sensitive feeling about the head - and the hands really express a lot of power.

BTW  - you might notice small differences between the two images shown above -- apparently he modeled more than one version.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff (1884-1976), "Life of Christ"

These stark, black-and-white woodblock prints were another highlight of the show for me.

They are far more impressive in their original size than as these tiny reproductions.

Since they actually do suggest a powerful, unworldly divine presence, I'd call them some of the best Christian art of the 20th C.


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