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Nazi Suppression of the German Avant-Garde Research Paper

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The innovation in the concepts and ideas that have been established in history, mostly find rejection by the masses. The idea of bringing new ideas in art, science, or architecture always has been the progress maker and inventor of unusual concepts. In this paper, the topic of the Avant-Garde will be covered. The connection with the architecture and its modernist move in Germany is going to be discussed. The influence of the Nazi regime on the Avant-Guarde art in general and on architecture in particular with the style of the architecture the Third Reich implemented that distanced itself from the modern style that became so popular at that time will be part of this paper along with the way that the mentioned regime suppressed this form of art.

Avant-Guarde is a French word which is used to describe a category that contains in its meaning a set of all the innovative, revolutionary, rebellious movements and directions in modern aesthetics and art in the first half of the twentieth century, which marked the end of centuries of the old period in which the European-Mediterranean art culture existed and the beginning of its global transition into other quality.

In general, the Avant-Garde phenomena are characteristic for all transitive stages in the history of the art culture, and separate kinds of art. In the XX century, however, the concept of Avant-Garde has got the definition as a term that designates a powerful phenomenon of the art culture which has captured practically all of its significant phenomena. At all the variety and diversity of these art directions which can be contained under this concept, they all have mutual cultural-historical roots and mutual atmosphere which has generated them. The Avant-Garde is, first of all, a reaction of the art-aesthetic consciousness on the global crisis in cultural processes, caused by scientific and technical progress in the last century. The essence and the value of this avalanche process in culture are not completely understood for mankind and not comprehended by adequate scientifically philosophical thinking, but already with sufficient completeness, it has found its expression in art culture in the Avant-Garde, modernism, and postmodernism. In addition, Avant-Garde sometimes can be considered inconsistent, even in some ways contradictory. In some ways, we can relate Avant-Garde with modernism as both terms can explain similar meanings which can be interpreted as the accepting of new styles and as opposite of classical points of view or in other words traditional.

At the beginning of the last century, Germany saw the Avant-Guarde as the development of modern painting, sculpture, and architecture, and motion picture arts. After Hitler’s arrival to authority, many modern architects and artists have been compelled to emigrate. Living and working abroad, they promoted the development of cosmopolitan style in modern art and architecture. Although this style rather has been willingly accepted and has got accustomed in Western Germany after the Second World War, only a few German architects or artists, both from the west or east Germany, have got wide international popularity.

The Avant-Garde style in architecture can be considered as an innovation for that time in Germany in building constructions. One of the first modernist pioneers in that direction was the school of Bauhaus.

Bauhaus –“House of Building’ or “Building school” is a high school of construction and art design, an educational institution that existed in Germany from 1919 to 1933, and also it is an Art association, established within the frames of this institution, and a corresponding direction in architecture. Bauhaus style became one of the most influential currents in Modernist architecture and modern design. The school was active in three German cities (Weimar from 1919 to 1925, Dessau from 1925 to 1932, and Berlin from 1932 to 1933), under three different architect-directors: Walter Gropius from 1919 to 1927, Hannes Meyer from 1927 to 1930, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe from 1930 to 1933. The creation of the Bauhaus School was at the time of the political and cultural rise in Germany. The most important idea that Bauhaus School brought was modernism,

In Germany in the early 20th century, many artists were producing innovative works which were both avant-garde and critical of the social and political circumstances of Weimar Germany. With the coming to power of the Nationalist Socialist Party, in 1933, Avant-Garde work was no longer allowed to be displayed in German public museums and galleries, and the artists were put under surveillance, which later developed into persecution.

Under the Nazi regime, multiple suppressions were culminated in an exhibition, held in Munich in 1937, entitled Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) of artworks by painters whom the Nazis considered decadent. In some cases, this degeneracy mark was a result of political views that rejected the Nazi regime. Some of the Nazi ideologically-based disapproval was of the modernity and innovative features which expressed many of the artworks.

As the general idea of the Avant-Garde was the innovation in the representation of art forms, the Nazi regime considered that distancing from the classical style is not to be used even in architecture. One of the Avant-Garde principals in architecture was

The Bauhaus style can be identified as modernism. In addition, we can say that there was a style that is relevantly connected to Bauhaus which is the international style.

The International style was the main architectural style of the 1920s and 1930s. This style mostly refers to the buildings and architects of the decades of forming Modernism. As a result, the focus was more on the stylistic aspects of Modernism. This style can be identified with three different principles: the expression of volume rather than mass, balance rather than preconceived symmetry, and the expulsion of applied ornament.

The rejection in Germany for the Avant-Guarde and the modernism in the architecture can be noticed in the directions that the architecture of the Third Reich accepted. This can be explained by taking into consideration different factors.

Hitler was interested in art his whole life. His failures in being rejected from painter’s class and architecture class made him try to prove throughout his whole life his talent in architecture and transform his ideas to life. Modern architecture during the Nazi authority was declared un-German because of Hitler’s hate for modern architecture.

The Avant-Gardism, in general, influenced the Bauhaus, therefore when Hitler came to power in 1933; the Bauhaus was closed as the style it was teaching was distanced from the classical style. Many artists, designers, and architects who had been on its faculty left Germany, including Albers, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe and others.

Hitler’s attraction to the classical architecture of the Roman Empire was a result of his belief that the Romans served as models for the Germans and because he believed in the ethnical connection that links the Greeks and Romans with the Nordic race of Germans. He admired the neoclassical style for the House of German Art in Munich, which met his ideas about representative architecture. At the end of 1933, Hitler had confirmed neoclassicism as the appropriate style for the architecture intended to represent the Nazi State. Neoclassical buildings were to substitute the ideas of modernism and would represent physically the great strength and will of the party of the Third Reich.

The Nazis and Hitler in particular took every chance to interfere in the building and the design process and participated in the whole planning to put his notes and control the process.

Neoclassicism was popular at this time. In Germany, there were examples from earlier regimes. Moreover, monumental neoclassicism was not unique in Germany. One could find neoclassical government buildings, exhibition halls, museums, schools, banks, and theaters all over Europe and America as well. At the same time that Hitler planned to embellish the capital city of the Third Reich with neoclassical monuments. Buildings, at the same time, were not to be only symbols of Nazism. Individual buildings and complexes of buildings were to be functional, serving multiple purposes.

The architecture of Nazism had implemented the concept of everything large and impressive and took as inspiration Rome’s coliseum, the basilica of Saint Peter, and Pantheon that were the best examples of monumental buildings, and architecture produced by the community. These along with the Madeleine in Paris, and in particular the dome of Lev Invalides, inspired his building plans for Berlin.

The plans for large national buildings dating from the early twenties and Hitler began to realize these plans as soon as he was in power in 1933.

House of German Art
Architect: Paul Ludwig Troost, House of German Art. (Adam. 1992)

In the 1934 Reich bank competition, which invited designers from all points in the architectural groups for the new Reich bank headquarters, the end of the architectural competitions coincided with the rise of the Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture), the party responsible for all the arts. As Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels explained that only members of this chamber could take part in the cultural life of Germany and only members can use the title of architect, this fact can be interpreted as a political suppression, the acceptance of the Nazi ideology including the cultural and stylistic issues was the key to participate in the process of building the Reich empire.

With absolute power over the architectural profession focused at the center, it could be expected that there could emerge a clear design style. In contrast, the National Socialist ideas about architecture, like those about the visual arts, were contradictory.

In this context, oppositions such as Modernist had no impact, as both sides were constantly present in the party ideology as essential counterweights in the balancing act performed by Hitler. As research has indicated, some of the leading figures in the party were modern in their thinking and their policies.

Soon united views of the National Socialist on architecture were on the rejection of the modern style. “In the future, there will be no more ‘boxes for a living,’ no churches that look like greenhouses. No glass house on top of columns… built as a result of professional incompetence. No prison camps parading as workers’ homes subsidized by public money. Get compensation money from those criminals who enriched themselves with these crimes against national culture,” wrote the infamous Bettina Feistel-Rohmeder, criticizing the modern Siedlungen (multiple-dwelling complexes) of Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Bruno Taut, and other representations of the modern movement.

When the Nazis came to power, they began the task of reshaping Berlin in a form more convenient to the new regime; a form that considering the general idea of modernism as inappropriate, more of a classical style.

Of the architecture of the Third Reich it can only be noticed that just a minor part of what was planned was realized, and most of what was realized were destroyed again during the war.

What all these notes seem to suggest is that the suppression of modern art in the Nazi regime differed according to the various policies of the criminal state. Only in Germany, however, did the suppression of modern art transformed from its cultural-political mission into a propaganda device for emphasizing ideology. On November 23, 1937, the Degenerate Art show took place to be shown along with the propagandistic touring shows The Eternal Jew and Great Anti-Bolshevik Exhibition. Now the ideological component of the attack on modern art – was along with degeneracy, Jewishness, and Bolshevism united as a propaganda device.

We can see from the various topics covered in this report that the architectural style in Germany had started to establish itself as an innovative style. The rise of the Avant-Guarde move along with the overall search for innovations and technological progress has been convenient until the Nazi regime came to power. The rejection of modernism in architecture and Avant-Guarde artworks approximately at the same time is an evident mark of the era of suppression in Germany in the twentieth century.

Works cited

Curtis, William J. R. 1996. Modern Architecture since 1900. 3rd ed.. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Conrads, Ulrich, ed. 1971. Programs and Manifestos on 20th-Century Architecture. Cambridge, Ma.: MIT.

Frampton, Kenneth. 1992. Modern Architecture: A Critical History. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Hitchcock, Henry. 1977.Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. 4th ed. Yale Press.

Adam , Peter. 1992.Art of the Third Reich.(New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc Publishers.

James-Chakraborty, Kathleen. 2000. German Architecture for a Mass Audience. London: Routledge.

Werckmeister O.K. 1997. ‘Degenerate Art’: The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany. Art Bulletin.

Bayer, Herbert, Walter Gropius, and Ise Gropius, eds. 1938. Bauhaus, 1919-1928. new York: Museum of Modern Art.

Lehmann, Haupt.1954.Art under a Dictatorship. New York: Oxford University Press.

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