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Degenerate Art: What Hitler dismissed as ‘filth’

Exhibition revisits Germany’s Degenerate Art show that destroyed so many careers, and the rhetoric that made the exhibition possible, writes Jason Farago. Read more

Pictured: Adolf Hitler and other Nazi officials at the Dada wall at the Degenerate Art exhibition, July 16, 1937.  Photograph: bpk, Berlin, Art Resource, NY/bpk / Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin

Adolf Hitler and Adolf Ziegler visit the Degenerate Art exhibition, 1937
The Degenerate Art Exhibition (German: Die Ausstellung “Entartete Kunst”) was an art exhibition organised by Adolf Ziegler and the Nazi Party in Munich from 19 July to 30 November 1937. The exhibition presented 650 works of art, confiscated from German museums, and was staged in counterpoint to the concurrent Great German Art Exhibition The day before the exhibition started, Hitler delivered a speech declaring “merciless war” on cultural disintegration, attacking “chatterboxes, dilettantes and art swindlers”. Degenerate art was defined as works that “insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill”. One million people attended the exhibition in its first six weeks. A U.S. critic commented “there are probably plenty of people - art lovers - in Boston, who will side with Hitler in this particular purge”.