Berlin to display art Nazis considered "degenerate"

Updated: Nov 09, 2010, 12:44 PM IST

Los Angeles: Eleven sculptures classified as "degenerate art" by Hitler`s Nazis more than 70 years ago will go on display at Berlin`s New Museum on Tuesday after being unearthed at a building site in the city centre.

Among the surprise finds which date from the early 20th century are bronzes created by Otto Baum, Marg Moll, Edwin Scharff, Gustav Heinrich Wolff, Naum Slutzky and Karl Knappe; remnants of ceramics by Otto Freundlich and Emy Roeder; and three unidentified sculptures.

They are just some of the 15,000 works the Nazis confiscated from museums and private collections because they were considered "degenerate" -- a term Hitler`s regime used to classify most modern art. Some of this art was sold abroad, but much of it was destroyed.

Of the six identified sculptures, four were featured replete with derisive captions in the notorious Nazi propaganda exhibition "Degenerate Art", which opened its doors in Munich in 1937 before touring Germany with the explicit aim of ridiculing modernism. The others were also banned by the Nazis.

Two of the works discovered -- Marg Moll`s sculpture entitled "Female Dancer" and Otto Freundlich`s terracotta "Head" were featured in the 1941 Nazi propaganda film "Venus on Trial", in which they served as an example of the kind of "degenerate art" Jewish art dealers sold.

Ursel Berger, director of Berlin`s Georg Kolbe Museum, told reporters on Monday that the reasons for which art was classified as "degenerate" were "completely arbitrary -- it may have been because the figures were too fat, too thin or because they had a bulbous nose".

The sensational finds were made near Berlin`s City Hall, where archaeologists began a dig in 2009 when the area was being excavated for the construction of a new metro line.

They hoped to find traces of the town`s medieval history but got more than they bargained for when they stumbled across a metal object that led to the discovery of art which had been lying in the cellar of a bombed-out house for over 60 years.

Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit said he did not expect archaeologists would find "anything much worth knowing about" when they began the dig but was "very excited" when they did.

He said unearthing works banned by the Nazis was "a reminder of the darkest chapter of German history", for which Berlin had a "special responsibility".

But Wowereit added that the discovery was not only a testament to the "Nazis` destructive mania", but also "a document of resistance" because it is believed the sculptures may have belonged to Erhard Oewerdieck, who owned a property on the site where the art was discovered and was known to have helped Jews.

Owerdieck and his wife were awarded the honorary title "Righteous among the Nations" by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs` and Heroes` Remembrance Authority, after the war.

Wowereit described the preservation of the banned artwork as a "late triumph" over the Nazis.

Archaeologist Matthias Wemhoff said a conscious decision had been made not to completely restore the sculptures, but rather to leave them covered in patinas "so that the fire`s effect on them is still visible -- that way they are testament to their own fate."

The sculptures will be on public display in Berlin`s New Museum.

Bureau Report