Undergraduate Seminar: Nazis and Art
This course investigates the Nazis and the art they promoted, demeaned, and plundered. We will investigate Nazi theories of art in relation to issues of race, gender, and politics. Of particular interest are the idealized images of Aryan men and women promoted by the Third Reich in the Great German Art Exhibition in Munich in 1937, which was intended to contrast with figures represented in art works in the Degenerate Art Exhibition of the same year. The course will study examples of art endorsed by the Nazis in painting, sculpture, architecture, and film. Of particular interest are the architectural plans of Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, and the buildings of Paul Ludwig Troost; sculpture and paintings by Arno Breker, Joseph Thorak, and Adolf Ziegler; the films of Leni Riefenstahl and others.
A main focus of the course is the Degenerate Art exhibition organized by the Nazis to mock modern art as "insane," "Jewish," "perverted," and "Negro." We will examine the installation of the works, as well as the statements written on the walls, in order to determine how Nazi ideologies of race, gender, and nationalism were conveyed through the public display of art as a tool of propaganda. We will study works of modern art demeaned by the Nazis including those of the German Expressionists Kirchner, Nolde, Mueller, Heckel, and Dix, and others.
Another area of considerable interest will be the Nazi collecting and plundering of art, and Hitler's project to set up a museum in Linz of works confiscated during the war. The last part of the course will be devoted to the role of the "Monuments Men" and others in rescuing plundered art. The ethical issues surrounding the restitution of art to the families of survivors will be discussed through the study of the Adele Bloch Bauer/Klimt case, the more recent Gurlitt case, and others. A field trip to the University of Michigan Museum of Art will be arranged.
HISTART category for concentration distributions: D. Europe and the US, 4. Modern and Contemporary