THE world's first blockbuster art exhibition was an extraordinary show that toured for three years and was seen by almost 3 million people — many under duress. It was 1937 and the National Socialists, in a virulent attack on modern art, wanted to show the German people the kind of art that was unfit for their gaze.
The exhibition was called Entartete Kunst (degenerate art) and the catalogue left no doubt about how model citizens were to interpret the works. On the cover the word "kunst" was written crudely in red crayon and enclosed by quotation marks, making it abundantly clear that the Nazis mocked the very notion that this could be called "art" at all.
Sneering slogans and wall texts accompanied the works, including excerpts from the speeches of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and Hitler including this missive: "It is not the mission of art to wallow in filth for filth's sake, to paint the human being only in a state of putrefaction, to draw cretins as symbols of motherhood, or to present deformed idiots as representatives of manly strength."
From top: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Reclining woman in a white chemise, 1909; the cover of the Nazis' Entartete Kunst catalogue; August Macke, Little Walter's toys, 1912, (Walterchens Spielsachen); Max Beckmann, The synagogue in Frankfurt/Main 1919.