The Victoria and Albert Museum published a remarkable document online today: the Nazis’ inventory of “degenerate art” (entartete Kunst). The V&A owns the only known complete copy of the inventory, which was made around 1942 and catalogues more than 16,000 artworks in two books and 482 pages. Now it’s released digital copies of both volumes online under a Creative Commons license, making them freely available for anyone to download and peruse in all their fascinating detail.
The books are organized alphabetically by city, within which they’re further subdivided alphabetically by museum and then by artist’s name. The V&A describes the organization of the pages:
Each page gives the name of the city and museum at the top, followed by two groups of columns containing information about each artwork. The first columns provide a running number, the artist’s surname, the inventory number and a short title. The remaining columns provide additional details, and were evidently added later. The contents include information about the medium and the buyer or dealer (if any), a code indicating the exhibition history or fate of the work, and any payments made in foreign currency and/or Reichsmarks.
The museum offers some explanation of the code, noting that an “X” means an artwork was destroyed, while “V” shows a sale and “T,” an exchange. There’s also a key at the beginning of the first book that explains further abbreviations, some of which I was able to decipher with the help of Google Translate. There are three codes — “E,” “EK,” and “EZ” — that indicate a work was shown in the Nazis’ infamous Degenerate Art exhibition, while “EJ” means it was shown in the Wandering Jew exhibition. Others, like “NK” and “Sfr,” denote types of currency (Norwegian crowns and Swiss francs, respectively), and still others seems to indicate the medium of a work, with “A” standing for aquarell, or watercolor, and “G” standing for graphik, graphic art.
The Nazis are known for having been meticulous record keepers, and the inventory is no exception: although it’s not entirely complete (some works are listed as having been shown in an exhibition, beyond which there’s nothing), it is extremely extensive. The amount of art that passed through the Nazis’ hands is mind-boggling. Certain dealers’ names come up frequently, among them one Dr. Gurlitt, whose reclusive son was outed last year for having stashed a trove of artwork he inherited from his father in his Munich apartment.
“X” marks also appear quite often, and it’s hard to visualize just how much art the Nazis destroyed. As a micro example, a page in the first book shows a list of 34 artworks by Emil Nolde originally housed in Berlin’s National Gallery; 27 were destroyed.
The inventory is daunting in length and detail, and it’s challenging to know just what to do with a document that, while it contains a wealth of information, also feels difficult to fully unlock. I couldn’t help wanting to take the story further, to know where all those sold and traded artworks went once they passed out of the Nazis’ hands. Fortunately, there is a way to connect many of these pieces to the present day: an online database maintained by the Freie Universität Berlin. You can plug an artwork’s inventory number from the Nazi log books directly into their search engine, and it will pull up a record.
On a whim, I picked one of some two dozen Ernst Kirchners listed, like the Nolde, in the entry for the Berlin National Gallery. I went with “Strasse” (Street), sold by dealer Karl Buchholz for what looks like 160 Swiss francs, a relatively large sum compared to many of the others listed. I typed 16042 into the database, hit search, and there it appeared: “Street,” oil on canvas, painted by the artist in 1913. Where is it now? The Museum of Modern Art in New York, where — of course, because how else would these things go? — I’ve stood before it many times.
h/t Modern Art Notes
Let’s be honest: On a best bathrooms list, no one wants to be number two.
Advocacy groups are pushing for a 5% royalty in resales, which would pertain even after the artist dies, in which case the funds would go to their estate.
The Newark Museum of Art Presents Jazz Greats: Classic Photographs from the Bank of America Collection
Photographers Antony Armstrong Jones, Milt Hinton, Chuck Stewart, Barbara Morgan, and more capture a breadth of legendary and local musicians and performance artists. On view through August 21.
This week, the Getty Museum is returning ancient terracottas to Italy, parsing an antisemitic mural at Documenta, an ancient gold find in Denmark, a new puritanism, slavery in early Christianity, and much more.
The absence of an explicit framing of American art, in all of its diversity, as a visual culture of empire distorts and hampers our ability to understand — and reimagine — our social world.
Art and photographs, publications from the 19th and 20th centuries, manuscripts, posters and more are set to cross the auction block on August 18.
The gap between the material body and the psychological one, which we all too often take for granted, is one of the underlying themes of Hiro’s exhibition.
David Rios Ferreira and Denae Shanidiin join forces to bring awareness to the plight of Indigenous women and girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals.
Metrograph’s series The Process features films that were either directed by Robert M. Young or made with the help of Irving Young’s postproduction facility.
Memes depicting a sinister, all-powerful Joe Biden alter ego are sweeping the internet, and the Democratic establishment is loving it.
“She dug into what she was fascinated by and obsessed with: things that existed on the periphery, people who didn’t follow the rules,” said one of her friends.