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Film of "Degenerate Art" Exhibition

Degenerate Art
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

In 1937, the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment opened the so-called "Degenerate Art" exhibition at the Archaeological Institute in Munich, Germany. Featuring about 650 sculptures, books, and paintings that party officials had taken from German museums, the exhibition comprised materials that were considered to be in conflict with the Nazi vision of German culture. This included art that Nazi leaders in some way linked to Jews, Bolshevism, modernism, or the Weimar Republic.1

By defining what artistic forms were considered unacceptable for the German nation, the exhibition 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 the Weimar Republic and its supposedly "decadent" and "degenerate" culture. The exhibition reflects various aspects of Nazi ideology, particularly a racialized worldview that demonized Jewish people and other so-called "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. Major taught medicine at the University of Munich during the 1930s.4 He made several films during his time in Europe, including this one  showing Germans walking through the exhibition as some stop to look at the objects and paintings. Other shots focus on individuals as they examine the art and read the descriptions of the items. The artworks in the exhibition had been purposely arranged in a crowded and poorly-lit fashion.

About one million people attended the exhibition in the first six weeks after it opened. "Degenerate Art" proved more popular among the German public than another exhibition designed by the Ministry of Propaganda—the Great German Art Exhibition (Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung [GDK]) at the House of German Art in Munich—where officially supported German artworks were shown. After touring through 12 other German cities, "Degenerate Art" was later closed for that reason. Following its closure, many of the paintings and sculptures were sold at auction—with the profits benefiting the Nazi Party instead of the proper owners—while the rest were burned in 1939.

Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (London: Hutchinson Press, 2001), 151–152; and Michael Tymkiw, Nazi Exhibition Design and Modernism (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2018), 95–97.

Dana Arieli-Horowitz, "The Politics of Culture in Nazi Germany: Between Degeneration and Volkism," The European Legacy 6, no. 6 (2001): 753–754.

Neil Levi, "'Judge for Yourselves!'—The 'Degenerate Art' Exhibition as Political Spectacle," MIT Press 85 (1998): 52.

Major documents a number of other attractions and scenes of Germany in this reel. View the full film, which includes Major's visit to the pro-Nazi House of German Art, in the USHMM collections

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
RG Number 60.0181
Date Created
July 1937 to November 1937
Duration 00:01:02
Time Selection 02:28–3:30
Sound No
Videographer / Creator
Ralph H. Major
Moving Image Type Home Movie
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