“Degenerate Art” scattered by Nazis back in German museum

Back in the 1920s and 30s, the Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany, had one of the best collections of contemporary art in the world. The Nazis didn’t like modernism, though, partially because they didn’t understand it, and partially because so many Jews, liberals, and homosexuals were prominent in the art scene. It didn’t help that modern art questioned values such as nationalism and militarism. So out went the art, scattered around the globe and into collections that put taste before politics.

Now it’s coming back. The Folkwang just finished a major redesign and to celebrate they’re collecting many of the old works that the Nazis had branded as “Degenerate Art.” The exhibition The Most Beautiful Museum in the World runs from March 20 to July 25 and includes 1,400 works taken from the museum in 1936. Works by such prominent artists as Chagall, Gauguin, and Kandinsky will hang next to lesser-known works that attracted the ire of the Nazis.

Yet the Nazi connection doesn’t stop there. The 55 million euro ($77 million) redesign was supplied by Berthold Beitz, a 96 year-old German industrialist. Back during WWII he ran several oil refineries in occupied Poland to supply the German army, but he also saved the lives of 800 Jews by convincing authorities he needed them to work in his refineries and offices. Yad Vashem includes him in the Righteous among the Nations.

Besides the museum, Essen offers lots of green space, a historic city center, an elegant cathedral, a tour of a massive coal mine, and a wide variety of cultural events.