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Guide to the "Degenerate Art" Exhibition (1937)

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On the Organization of the Exhibition

Since the sheer abundance of the diverse symptoms of degeneracy shown in the exhibition make an almost crushing impression on the visitor, a clear [exhibition] organization ensures that works similar in tendency and form are clearly grouped together in each room. A brief description of the guiding principles follows below.

Group 1
This room gives a general overview of representational barbarism from the point of view of craftsmanship. This group illustrates the progressive degradation of the sense for form and color, the deliberate contempt for all of the technical foundations of the visual arts, the garish blurring of color combined with the deliberate distortion of drawing, the absolute stupidity of subject choice – all of them things that gradually assumed the character of an impertinent provocation to any normal viewer interested in the arts.

Group 2
This room brings together pictorial works that deal with religious content. In the Jewish press, these horrors were once described as “revelations of German religiosity.” To a person of normal sense, however, these “revelations” rather seem like witchcraft, which he, regardless of the religious denomination to which he belongs, perceives as an impertinent of subject mockery of all religious ideas.
Especially noteworthy is the fact that painted and carved mockeries of Jewish Old Testament legends are not to be found. By contrast, the figures of Christian legends grin at us with ever new and diabolic grimaces.

Group 3
The graphic works shown in this section are conclusive evidence for the political roots of degenerate art. Using the expressive devices of artistic anarchy, these works preach political anarchy as a demand. Every single picture in this group calls for class warfare in the Bolshevist sense. By means of a coarsely tendentious proletarian art, the creative human being is supposed to be confirmed in his conviction that he will remain a slave languishing in spiritual chains until the very last property owner, the very last non-proletarian has been removed by the hoped-for Bolshevist revolution. Workers, workers’ wives, and workers’ children with the grey and green faces of misery stare out at the viewer. The drawings depict all imaginable kinds of “capitalists” and “exploiters” who mockingly disregard the misery of working people. From butcher to banker, all of these “slaveholders” are depicted. Noticeably overlooked by the painters of class warfare were certain Jewish art dealers, who certainly weren’t starving at the time and who enriched themselves significantly by this proletarian art.

Group 4
This section, too, is of a marked political tendentiousness. Here, “art” is put into the service of Marxist propaganda for conscientious objection. The intention is clear: the viewer is meant to recognize the soldier as a murderer or as the pointlessly butchered victim of a “capitalist world order” in the sense of Bolshevist class warfare. Most of all, the intention is to eradicate the populace’s deeply rooted respect for all soldierly virtues, namely courage, bravery, and the willingness to fight. Thus, in addition to distorted images of crippled veterans designed to evoke disgust and views into mass graves painted with great sophistication, the drawings in this section depict German soldiers as fools, common erotic lechers, and drunkards. The fact that, with their base efforts, not only Jews but also “artists” of German blood thus retroactively once again reinforce, without being asked, enemy propaganda about wartime atrocities, propaganda that had already been exposed as a web of lies at the time – this fact will forever remain a blot on German cultural history.

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