People queueing for the Degenerate Art (Entartete Kunst) exhibition in Munich, which opened on July 19, 1937. © The Image Works

This digital exhibition highlights a selection of works in MoMA's collection that were deemed Entartete Kunst (“degenerate art”) and ultimately removed from German state-owned museums by the Nazi government.

In the first decades of the 20th century, radical new art flourished in Germany. Established museums collected and exhibited contemporary work by Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, and others, introducing them to a wide international audience that included Alfred H. Barr, Jr., MoMA’s founding director. After Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933, Nazi agencies began to dismantle this progressive collection policy. In the years that followed, the Nazis removed more than 20,000 artworks from state-owned museums. In 1937, 740 modern works were exhibited in the defamatory show Degenerate Art in Munich in order to “educate” the public on the “art of decay.” The exhibition purported to demonstrate that modernist tendencies, such as abstraction, are the result of genetic inferiority and society’s moral decline. An explicit parallel, for example, was drawn between modernism and mental illness. Some of those works were later destroyed; others, officially declared “internationally marketable,” were sold through art dealers acting on behalf of the German government. Many, including the works presented here, ultimately found new homes in museum collections abroad.

This digital exhibition is part of MoMA’s Provenance Research Project. Since 2003, MoMA’s provenance initiative has explored the ownership history, or provenance, of works created before 1946 and acquired after 1932 that were or could have been in Continental Europe during the Nazi era in order to identify any unlawfully appropriated works in the Museum's collection.

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