My students are currently studying the Holocaust and WWII. Collaborating with social studies, students are reading in small groups a wide selection of historical fiction, nonfiction, and memoirs connected to this time period. In addition to the independent books, primary sources, propaganda posters, diaries, poems, and art work are presented to help students learn about this time period and from multiple perspectives.
A current exhibit at The Ronald S. Lauder Neue Galerie in New York City, Museum for German and Austrian Art foreshadows the atrocities of Germany in the 1930s. — Yes, this is the same Ronald S. Lauder who purchased Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) better know as the Woman in Gold also on permanent display at the museum.
Currently on exhibit is “Before the Fall: German and Austrian Art of the 1930s” an exhibition devoted to the development of the arts in Germany and Austria during a decade marked by economic crisis, political disintegration, and social chaos. The website states, “This exhibition, comprised of nearly 150 paintings and works on paper, will trace the many routes traveled by German and Austrian artists and will demonstrate the artistic developments that foreshadowed, reflected, and accompanied the beginning of World War II. Central topics of the exhibition will be the reaction of the artists towards their historical circumstances, the development of style with regard to the appropriation of various artistic idioms, the personal fate of artists, and major political events that shaped the era.” Works by Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Max Ernst, Oskar Kokoschka, and Alfred Kubin are presented alongside pieces by lesser-known artists such as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Albert Paris Gütersloh, Karl Hubbuch, Richard Oelze, Josef Scharl, Franz Sedlacek, and Rudolf Wacker.
This exhibit and the paintings are windows and doorways into artists premonitions and warnings that something terrible was brewing in Europe in the 1930s. Many of these artists were deemed “degenerate” by Nazis because of political and religious affiliations. As the The New York Times states, the art work on display is “more than mere evidence of barbarity.”
In order to help my students understand the events that occurred during this time period and understand the hatred and the horror in conjunction with the books they are reading, I created a virtual “degenerate” art exhibit. Upon entering the classroom, students were given a pamphlet with excerpts of Hitler’s Speech at the Opening of the House of German Art in Munich (July 18, 1937). Select paintings were posted around the room for students to view in a gallery format. I also included a QR Code to link to a slide show of the pictures on the art show pamphlet. Utilizing Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), students viewed the paintings. Together we viewed closely and discussed as a large class Felix Nussbaum’s Self Portrait [see above]. The next activity required students to complete the statements from the point of view of Hitler and the perspective of a modern artist deemed “degenerate.”
The closing quote at the bottom of the pamphlet poses a quote from the artist, Paul Klee, “Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.” Isn’t that what we want for our students, to make us see, provoke questions, make connections, and build empathy.