Monday, March 24, 2014

Degenerates on Display

We popped over to the Neue Gallerie today to take in the new show on "Degenerate Art" under the Nazis--which was not the best ever but good enough--and also the goulash, which was up to par.

The show builds on a defensible premise: to show some comparisons/contrasts between the art of which the Nazis approved and the dreadful modern stuff that came before.  By "dreadful modern," I mean the stuff you will have seen and enjoyed at--and will cherish from--your previous forays to the Neue.  By "Nazi," think Hitler, or Mussolini or Stalin, except in various ways I think maybe the competitor-scoundrels came up with a more interesting and varied product than the little man in the mustache itself.  Mussolini, after all, fancied himself a sort of modernist, at least in his early days, at least as long as there were lots of choo-choos and suchlike.  Stalin's contributions to the arts may be regarded as slender but the Soviets did keep grinding out those gloriously, yet oddly compelling, posters, right on into the post-War period (statement of interest: at Chez Buce, there is a Soviet kitsch poster on the bedroom wall, along with an array of mama in a selection of hats, and a photo  of bedful of babies).

Worth the price, as I say, and it seems to have found its audience:  at 11 am, the line ran around the corner onto Fifth Avenue and I tell you it was pretty chilly.  Someone in the line said something about their being extra security, so I guess the anti-degenerate party lives.

Still, I'm not sure the project works as a museum show.  Most of the goers will have seen the degenerate part--mostly right here at the Neue-- and the Nazi art doesn't deserve a second look (which is the point, of course, but still).  The comparisons themselves aren't immediately enlightening.   I suspect maybe the trouble here is that the real story is in the back-story: the particular machinations that led the Nazis (or really, Goebbels) to crack down on the degenerates as hard as he did.  Did Goebbels, or Hitler (or anyone) really care?  Or was this just posturing on the path to power?  The point is, perhaps, that I should have done my homework, or at least that I wish I had.  I suppose there was good stuff available on topic in that lovely museum shop.  But the stack is already high and other topics press their demands.  And, of course, as the Jews are said to say of any major holiday: we won, they lost, let's eat.

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