Description: This is a superb presentation of one of the lesser known aspects of the Third Reich. The Block Buster Degenerate Art Show in Germany, 1936, is detailed with actual footage from the original show along with excellent footage from the recent hanging of all the surviving work from that show back in Berlin. The documentary very effectivly details the history of the German Expressionists and Hitler's collision course with their work and it puts the work into the perspective of Hitler's "House of German Art," the invasion of Poland, and most importantly the liberation of the camps and the burial of the typhoid dead. Its presentation of book burning in Nazi Germany and the connection to the burning of people is profound.
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In 1991, curator Stephanie Barron organized L.A. County Museum of Art's "Degenerate Art" exhibit, which was a partial remounting of a 1937 Munich exhibition (blessed by Hitler) as an example what's wrong with modern art. Producer/director David Grubin has brought an extraordinary TV docu out of the exhibit and from archival films of the original showing. The documentary itself is a work of TV art.
In the skillfully assembled filmed segments, viewers see both the newness and the ugliness of the original anti-avant garde exhibit -- it was haphazardly mounted as a sign of the scorn Nazis held for the controversial works.
That first exhibit toured Germany for several years to enthusiastic response; modern art had been effectively blotted out in Nazi Germany.
The docu has witnesses who were there in 1937, art historians, art critic Robert Hughes, and relatives of banned artists, to help fill in the remarkable story.
The government, having pulled some 1,600 suspect works of art from German and Austrian museums, selected 650 of them to be shown as representatives of what the Nazis decided was dangerous art.
Grubin explains that non-representational art threatened the Third Reich politically, morally, socially and artistically.
The earlier book burnings signalled the closing down of literary freedom; the exhibition -- which opened in Munich the day after the new, coldly impressive House of German Art opened -- was Hitler's way of notifying the art world that Berlin, a 1920s art leader, was now following orders.
Samples of Hitler's own paintings have a sentimental, postcard dullness to them and are reflected in the works of approved artists represented in the German art hall.
Fascinating clips from the opening day at the hall, with Hitler attending, display startlingly bland, stiff heroic works with most of the figures nude and expressionless.
The artists' names, if known, aren't mentioned.
Not all of the pieces from the degenerate artists exhibit were in the 1991 show -- Barron and her team managed to gather together about a quarter of the earlier show -- and not all are masterworks by a long shot.
But Kirchner, Kokoschka, Beckmann and Nolde, a Nazi himself, are represented by particularly powerful, evocative works, and several unidentified pieces remain fresh and intriguing.
Inevitably the exhibits in 1937 and 1991 of expressionistic art warn about censorship, of state decisions about what's good for the people -- and what influences people for good or bad.
Thomas Mann is quoted at the end of the docu about there being no good Germans, no bad Germans -- only Germans.
The docu's a strong statement. - Variety