In 1937, the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment opened the "Degenerate Art" exhibition at the Archaeological Institute in Munich, Germany. Featuring about 650 sculptures, books, and paintings that party officials had removed from German public museums, the exhibition comprised materials that were considered to be in conflict with the Nazi vision of German culture: art linked to Jews, Bolshevism, modernism, and other works created during the Weimar Republic and in previous decades.1
By defining what artistic forms were considered unacceptable for the German nation, the exhibit worked to shape the public's taste.2 Establishing a clear break with the past, its curators hoped to show the Nazi regime as a departure from Weimar, its supposedly "decadent" culture, and a perceived deterioration of the German nation and people. The exhibition reflects various aspects of Nazi ideology, particularly a racialized worldview that demonized Jews and other racial "enemies."3
The featured film clip captures parts of the exhibition. Behind the camera was Ralph H. Major, an American doctor from Kansas City, Missouri who taught medicine at the University of Munich during the 1930s.4 Major films Germans walking through the exhibition and some stop to look at the objects and paintings. Other shots focus on individuals as they examine the art and read through the descriptions of the items. The artworks are arranged—perhaps purposefully—in a crowded and poorly-lit fashion.
About one million people attended the exhibition in the first six weeks after its opening. "Degenerate Art" proved more popular amongst the German public than another exhibition designed by the Ministry of Propaganda—the House of German Art in Munich, where "proper" German works were showcased. After visiting 12 other German cities, "Degenerate Art" was later closed for that reason. Following its closure, some of the paintings and sculptures were sold at auction—with the profits benefiting the Nazi Party—while the majority were burned in 1939.