V022: Degenerate Art

Produced by David Grubin Productions, Inc. in association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Based on the exhibition: "Degenerate Art": The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Broadcast on KCET 15 April 1993, in English and German (with subtitles). Videocassette available to schools and libraries (1-800-343-4727).
VHS (NTSC), color, 57:30.

Narrator: David McCullough
Senior producers: David Grubin and Stephanie Barron
Written, produced, and directed by David Grubin

Time Description
0:00 Credits
1:00 Beginning of program; scenes from Berlin; narrator describes the Nazi party's ascent to power and the art exhibition they held in Munich in 1937.
1:45 Interviews with Robert Hughes, art critic, and Peter Guenther, art historian.
3:00 "Degenerate Art" exhibit held in Berlin (1992)
3:45 Footage of Hitler rally (from Leni Riefenstahl film). Photos and footage from 1937 Munich exhibition.
4:50 Interview with Josephine Knapp, an American who attended the 1937 exhibition
5:45 Peter Guenther describes the setting: paintings badly lit and badly displayed
6:20 Interview with Sander Gilman, cultural historian
6:50 Interview with Kurt Assize, who saw the exhibit as 16-year-old
7:30 Gilman describes the power of modern art that the Nazis so feared.
7:50 Wagner (music from Tannhäuser) accompanies an example of "acceptable" painting. Narrator describes Hitler's artistic aspirations.
8:30 Gilman describes Hitler's artistic style and opposes it to the contemporary avant-garde style.
9:30 Interview with Bernard Schutlze, painter, who was a student at the time of the Munich exhibit
11:00 Narrator introduces Expressionism and describes the contributions of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner.
11:20 Interview with Peter Selz, art historian
11:35 Narrator describes the work of another Expressionist painter, Oskar Kokoschka
12:10 Interview with Olda Kokoschka, Kokoschka's widow
12:35 Selz describes Kokoschka's violent reception in Vienna
13:15 Hitler cut off the careers of the most promising Expressionists
14:10 Hughes describes the effect of WWI trench warfare on modern artists (Kokoschka, Kirchner, Dix)
16:00 Hitler also fought in WWI, an event that contributed to his decision to enter politics. Footage of post-war Germany.
17:30 Emil Nolde was one of few Expressionist painters to join the Nazi party.
19:00 Hitler was released from prison in 1924 and began immediately to attack "those who had lost the war": Jews, Communists, Bolsheviks, "degenerates".
19:30 Gilman explains the history of the term "degenerate".
21:00     Footage from 1920s Germany, paintings from that era. Narrator describes the successful career of Max Beckmann before WWI and the change in his style following that experience.
24:00 Footage of food lines and Nazi parades and rallies. Gilman explains the way Hitler not only manipulated the population into blaming Jews and "degenerates" for their economic woes but also into regarding works of modern art as symbolic of that very degeneracy.
26:00 Footage of rallies during 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany; Goebbels addresses the crowd during a book-burning.
27:30 Titus Felixmüller, son of artist Conrad Felixmüller (whose works were displayed at the Munich exhibition), describes the terrorism the Nazis carried out against his father. Felixmüller had already burned much "incriminating" evidence: letters, paintings, sketches.
29:10 More Nazi footage. Narrator describes the actions against modern art taken by the Nazis: closing museum wings devoted to modern art, firing museum directors, closing the Bauhaus. Despite these extreme measures, Emil Nolde remained a loyal party member. Hughes points out that "there's no contradiction between being a fascist and being an artist."
30:20 Goebbels addresses a gathering praising the Führer's artistic taste.
31:00 Interview with Karla Eckert, former reporter for Nazi party newspaper. She describes the difficult task of covering the Munich exhibit, paintings she loved, for the party paper.
32:30 Films and music also were affected. Works by László Moholy-Nagy, Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, and Arnold Schoenberg were ridiculed (background music: Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra, op. 31). Jazz was also attacked.
34:00 One of the first Nazi buildings was the House of German Art, completed in Munich, 1937. Hughes describes the classicist Nazi art aesthetic. Peter Guenther describes the frightening impact of the Haus der deutschen Kunst.
39:00 Across the park from the Haus der deutschen Kunst, the "Degenerate Art" exhibit was mounted, including works by Kandinsky, Mondrian and Klee. Hughes, Knapp, and Selz describe various aspects of the exhibit. The narrator points out that although 112 artists had been singled out as degenerate, only 6 were Jewish.
42:00 The Nazi leadership turned on their loyal party member, Emil Nolde – 27 of his paintings were hung in the Degenerate Art show. Many artists began to flee Germany.
43:50 Olda Kokoschka comments on Oskar K.'s experience.
45:00 Ursus Dix, Otto Dix's son, describes why Dix felt he could not leave Germany.
45:45 The Degenerate Art exhibit toured Germany and Austria for more than 4 years and was seen by more than 3 million people. Kirchner committed suicide in June 1938. The Nazis put a constant watch on Nolde.
48:10 In 1938, the Nazis put much of their plundered art up for auction. Gert Werneberg cataloged much of that art.
48:30 Interview with Werneberg, who describes the occasion when Nolde came to her asking for help.
49:15 The auction was held in Switzerland in June 1939. Works sold included those by van Gogh, Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, along with those by German artists.
50:30 New exhibitions were mounted yearly at the Haus der deutschen Kunst, and Hitler was always the largest buyer.
52:00 Footage of bulldozer rolling bodies into mass graves. Hughes points out the eerie similarity between the elongated, emaciated corpses and the very figures in Expressionist art that the Nazis had hoped to eradicate.
53:30 Selz, Gilman, and Hughes remark on the continuing impact that art once designated as degenerate exercises upon contemporary viewers.
54:40 Film concludes with a voice recording of Thomas Mann speaking at the Library of Congress.
55:00 Credits
57:00 Information on how to order VHS cassette and transcripts.
57:30 End