Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 5-7 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard-copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

June 14, 2014

Tags: Adolf Ziegler, Max Beckmann, Paul Klee

Paul Klee. b. 1879 d. 1940. The Angler, 1921. Watercolor, transfer drawing and ink on paper. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, John S. Newberry Collection. Digital Image © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource, NY © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Suppose the Neue Galerie decided to stage an exhibition of German and Austrian Expressionism, the Bauhaus and Die Neue Sachlichkeit, and call it something like, “The Avant-Garde in Germany & Austria, 1907 to 1937.” Who would come? I might be moderately interested (although this is the kind of art that Die Neue Galerie usually shows, and they not infrequently exhibit the same works in different shows).

No doubt such a title would also attract some courageous souls who consider their tastes catholic, and would be willing to see painting & sculpture less familiar than the avant-garde French & American art of that same period. But I wouldn’t expect such a show to be mobbed.

On the other hand, suppose the museum decided to display the same art, but title it instead “Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937.” Not only does this promise the heady spice of politics (which, as Ai Weiwei also knows) is of far wider interest than art—but, in addition, that magical word, “degenerate” promises all sorts of sin and evil. It is not unlike what Professor Higgins found so "irresistible" about Liza Doolittle, the fact that she was "so deliciously low, so horribly dirty!” (more…)