Modernist treasures from a bombed-out cellar
November 9, 2010 12:54 AM   Subscribe

Rediscovered in Berlin: Eleven modernist sculptures branded as "degenerate art" by the Nazis and thought to have been destroyed during WWII. The sculptures include works by Otto Freundlich, who was murdered at Majdanek; Naum Slutzky, a craftsman of both the Wiener Werkstätte and the Bauhaus; and Margarete Moll, who studied with Matisse.
posted by scody (18 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Freundlich could say as he approached the gallows: "well, at least I made the cover of something".
posted by telstar at 1:41 AM on November 9, 2010

Good to know that something can still be recovered, even now. And really, if anything could increase your contempt for the intellectual powers of Nazism, its response to these sculptures might do it.
posted by Segundus at 2:30 AM on November 9, 2010

I wonder if the patina on the Braun "Standing Girl" piece (slide show #13 of 14) was intended/achieved by Braun or is due to the treatment the piece endured since being lost. Either way, I totally want to know how to do that.
posted by jfuller at 3:43 AM on November 9, 2010

It was amazing to see modern art, from our own culture, as archaeological artifact - partially destroyed, decayed, corroded, yet still packing the power to move the observer, like Egyptian statuary or Mesopotamian stelles or Native American pottery.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:20 AM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sorry if this is offtopic: there is an exhibition at the NY Guggenheim right now called Chaos and Classicism (page with video) that includes some Entartete Kunst pieces. Seeing it I felt a strong negative reaction to the neo-classical, it's emphasis on form and structure. At times, I couldn't wait to get in the side galleries with the Bauhaus stuff and the Blue Riders, etc.
posted by acheekymonkey at 4:25 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Crap! When I lived in Berlin I'll bet I walked over that site a hundred times or more. Who knew?

posted by pjern at 4:50 AM on November 9, 2010

I really like the fact that they cleaned but didn't restore the pieces - seeing the marks of the bombing and destruction and fire adds to the experience of viewing them. Even among the cracks and breaks and dings and blackened patina, the fineness of the art shines through.
posted by julen at 4:59 AM on November 9, 2010

Thanks for the degenerate art link.
From The Guardian : Although the sculptures were found in the basement it is likely they had fallen through from a higher floor when the building collapsed.
On March 20th, 1939, the Degenerate Art Commission ordered over one thousand paintings and almost four thousand watercolors and drawings burned in the courtyard of a fire station in Berlin. Other works were auctioned off to the highest bidder.
One german commented on the Entartete Kunst
the Nazis, in spite of themselves, gave us the chance to become acquainted with the crème of modern art, all in one place.
posted by adamvasco at 5:41 AM on November 9, 2010

Really amazing. Wonderful how they have been reborn as relics of the Second World War, a great choice to not restore them fully.
posted by fire&wings at 7:04 AM on November 9, 2010

What was their pre-Nazi provenance?
posted by srboisvert at 7:27 AM on November 9, 2010

Thank you for the link. I was hoping that there would be some paintings in there, but the sculptures are beautiful. I researched Franz Marc for an art history paper and it broke my heart that such a patriotic person like himself was declared dengerate. Maybe they can find his missing paintings and others yet in my lifetime.
posted by Calzephyr at 7:44 AM on November 9, 2010

Thanks for this. Fascinating. And who knows? There may be more hiding somewhere. I had heard that Hermann Goering had stashed away some
important work, but I have never heard anything more -- whether it was
true or what or where the work ended up.
posted by donfactor at 7:47 AM on November 9, 2010

Goering´s looted art trasures have been catalogued in Beyond the Dreams of Avarice described as a a legacy of plunder (pdf)
posted by adamvasco at 9:06 AM on November 9, 2010

That was very interesting, thanks.
posted by ersatz at 9:06 AM on November 9, 2010

I wonder if the patina on the Braun "Standing Girl" piece (slide show #13 of 14) was intended/achieved by Braun or is due to the treatment the piece endured since being lost. Either way, I totally want to know how to do that.

I'd say being baked in a low oxygen brick oven fired with a B-17 worth of incendiary ordinance and then covered with caustic cement dust for 65 years should just about do the trick.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:37 AM on November 9, 2010

For anyone further interested in the looting/destruction of "degenerate art" (and persecution of "degenerate" artists), the catalogue for the LACMA re-creation of the Nazis' 1937 infamous exhibition is now online here, among other books the museum has published about German expressionism over the years (I didn't include it originally because I thought it might be too self-linky, since I work there and contributed a little to the project of getting these books online -- hope it's OK to include here).
posted by scody at 12:26 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lynn Nicholas' The Rape of Europa is another good book about art during the Nazi era. Very readable and informative - it covers the reinterpretation of good/bad (degenerate) art and the "Germanness" of art, the avarice of the Nazis and the people who cooperated with them, the efforts of museum personnel during the time, the Allie's attempts to rescue (or capture themselves, on the Russian side) or reclaim the art, and much more.
posted by julen at 2:10 PM on November 9, 2010

This is a pretty sweet find, even though I'm totally holding out hope for some paintings to have miraculously made it through (because I like painting more than sculpture) even though I know it's basically impossible.

I have often thought that the Degenerate Art shows would be a great place to pick up chicks, were one able to speak German and gain access to a time machine.

Also, anyone know the etymology of Entartung? I know entarten is "degenerate," but I'm just not a savvy enough German speaker to know what the roots are of the word, and I haven't been able to find anything poking around online for ten minutes. It's unfortunately beyond my, "Ich will Kartoffeln essen," level Deutsch.
posted by klangklangston at 2:50 PM on November 9, 2010

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