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PRINT November 1986

DIAGNOSTIC MALPRACTICE: THE NAZIS ON MODERN ART

IN 1937, AT A TIME when Modern art seemed to have proven itself to the public at large—to have conquered a number of minds, if not won many hearts—the Nazis, in a notorious exhibition in Munich, labeled it “entartete Kunst,” “degenerate art.” The term has been understood as typically vicious, insulting, and self-evident; to call art “degenerate” is a smear, not a revelation. Indeed, with the “Entartete Kunst” exhibition Modern art was not only relegated once again to a ghetto of consciousness, but became the victim of a pogrom. Suppose, however, that behind this miserable, nightmarish concept the Nazis were horrified by even more than they suspected lurked in Modern art. Suppose the issue of degeneracy in fact haunts the reception of all of Modernism. Suppose, suppose, suppose—suppose that it is the Nazis’ concept of Modern art’s degeneracy, which in general has become a kind of closed

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