“Degenerate Art”

WHEN I WENT TO SEE “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937” at the Neue Galerie in New York, I found a line snaking from the museum’s Eighty-Sixth Street entrance and around the corner onto Fifth Avenue. I joked to my neighbor that it was like waiting to see the enormously popular, Nazi-organized namesake exhibition. Crass humor aside, I expected to enjoy the show, which featured National Socialist art alongside the “degenerate” work of such artists as Max Beckmann and George Grosz. But I came away unsettled. I was prepared for an exploration of Nazi aesthetic politics, not for a presentation geared to elicit sympathy for German museums.

As the opening wall text explained, the National Socialists removed more than twenty thousand artworks from state-owned museums. “The altered and even distorted faces of important museum collections, the irretrievable losses of art,

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