The Armory Show and Hitler’s Degenerate Art Show

1 January 2017

Art Show From paintings to sculptures, both realistic and modern, the International Exhibition of Modern Art at the 69th Infantry Regiment Armory was the first modern art show to arrive in America to exhibit works by Americans and Europeans alike. Opening its doors on February 17 of 1913, the exhibit astonished many New Yorkers with the modern style coming out of Europe. As many as 88,000 people attended the Armory Show, the most to ever attend an art show in New York.

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Fast-forward 24 years to a country struggling to identify itself after losing a World War, Germany needed guidance to run a successful country and win its people’s approval. As Adolf Hitler gained power in Germany, he needed the country to back him in his beliefs, and he did so through propaganda. One of Hitler’s propaganda ploys was an art show exhibiting art by “leftists,” and their rejection of traditional and their willingness to “taint” art, the Modernists. Hitler called this art exhibit The Degenerate Art Show, opening on July 19 of 1937.

Both exhibits were showing works of art that today are in art history books and are known worldwide, but both shows had different agendas. People attending the Armory Show saw over 1,300 pieces by over 300 artists including Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet, and Duchamp. Many other Americans and Europeans were represented in the exhibit and most had spent a lot of time in Europe, exposing them to the avant-garde art of Europe. Many pieces were bought by collectors and gave a push for the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art to purchase works.

News reports and reviews were filled with accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality, and anarchy, and even a condemning statement from the President of the United States at the time, Theodore Roosevelt, stating that “this was not art! ” Paintings like Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp was a example of people misinterpretation of the modern art movement. The Armory Show was a display of American and European avant-garde art and a way of thinking that expanded the United States understanding of art.

But, another art display that happened 24 years after the Armory Show was showing Germany the same style of art, modernism, but in a different way, a negative way. Adolf Hitler’s hatred for anything not nationally traditional paved way for a new type of art exhibition, a degenerate show. As virtually all avant-garde artists were removed from teaching positions in Germany and their works confiscated, the art was displayed at the exhibition of Degenerate Art in Munich. This exhibition was to demonstrate to the German people the mental and moral degeneracy of modernistic art.

Over 600 works were displayed, or in this case dismayed, and over 2 million people visited the show at about 20,000 citizens a day. After the exhibit, many high valued pieces were sold at an international art auction in Switzerland, but the rest of the art, almost 5,000 pieces, were burned in the yard of the Berlin Fire Brigade in 1939. The Degenerate Art show was conceived to create public outrage and control culture by controlling what people saw, as well as heard. And in doing so, destroyed priceless works of art and exiled thousands of artists if they were not captured and later executed.

America’s ideology of art and free expression is the structure the country was built on and was trying not to hide expression in the Armory Show of 1913 but show a country new ways of art and the art of expression. The Nazis were all about being on the opposite side of the spectrum and controlling its people’s way of thought and expression. In turn, all the hatred that came out of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s was an exhibition of its own, the Degenerate Country show.

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