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WHEN HITLER WAS CURATOR
The "Degenerate Art" exhibition at the Neue Galerie is full of easy truths. But let the disquiet emerge.

By Morgan Meis

Hitler loved art. His taste tended toward classicism. The Greek ideal of beauty was his general standard in aesthetics. He once wrote the following memorandum about how he guaranteed that he would get “good” art for the Munich Museum. “I have inexorably adhered to the following principle,” Hitler wrote.

If some self-styled artist submits trash for the Munich exhibition, then he is a swindler, in which case he should be put in prison; or he is a madman, in which case he should be in an asylum; or he is a degenerate, in which case he must be sent to a concentration camp to be “reeducated” and taught the dignity of honest labor. In this way I have ensured that the Munich exhibition is avoided like the plague by the inefficient.

And it was. I suspect a number of contemporary curators and museum directors feel roughly the same way Hitler did about artists who “submit trash.” But what made Hitler, Hitler — and not just your average Museum Director — was that he was willing to go that extra mile. He did, actually, send artists to prison, the asylum, and the concentration camp.

The current show at the Neue Galerie in New York City (“Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937”) mostly displays art that appeared in the now-infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibits organized by the Nazis in Munich and then taken to other cities around Nazi Germany.



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