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IXD102- WW2 and Modernism

Degenerate Art

During Adolf Hitlers rule, modernist art, many from internationally renound artists, were taken down from museums and galleries around Germany as they were believed to be an ‘insult to German ways.’ Many of these pieces were described as un-German or Jewish. The artists that created these modernist pieces were labelled as ‘degenerate artists’ and were forced to obey sanctions such as being dismissed from teaching, exhibiting and selling their art and even banned from creating art altogether.¬† In 1937, the Nazis held an exhibition titled ‘Degenerate Art’ which showcased art from many highly influential artists of the time displayed in order to be shamed and an example was made out of their work as being ‘un-german’ or ‘jewish’ in nature, many hung without frames.

Dr. Olaf Peters, curator of Neue Galerie in New York believes that those persecuted artists camouflaged their beliefs using conventional forms, like portraits and still life’s, with heavy symbolism being apparent. Landscape paintings such as ‘Expectation’ by Richard Oelza, depicted a foreboding scene that looks almost apocalyptic, with dark figures shadowing one another looking forward into the unknown.


This imagery conveys what many felt at the time of Hitlers regime and those who could escaped Germany and headed for a new life in America. Elsewhere in Europe, such as Paris, which was once the capital of the art world was now in disarray as the climate for art had been destroyed. Surrealist and modern artists, to designers and architects alike migrated to the United States and this had a profound impact on the way design developed after World War 2. Many artists that had become multidiscipline and moved to America caused a huge cultural shift in places such as New York which where transformed into design centres. The works of these artist went on to inspire infamous American designers such as Paul Rand and Saul Bass who were considered massively important in the world of corporate design during the 60’s. Paul Rand had created logos for car company Ford and others such as Kleenex and IBM while Saul Bass produced film posters that featured illustration and photography featuring motion picture.


Modernism began to grow even further from the displacement of these artists postwar. Design had become about functionality with how it looks should lending to how it works, form following function. This was following the integration of the new industrial world with everyday life the world was now experiencing. Modernism encompasses a number of different styles but can be defined by its principles such as the emphasis on the processes techniques and materials used in creating something, innovating and experimenting and with forms and the rejection of conservative values, like the realistic depictions of forms in art. In my opinion as modernism came off the back of the First World War and developed further during the Second World War, designers were trying to rebuild the world that had been lost postwar and they did this through their modernist ideals of creating the most efficient and supreme version of life and society.




WWII & the Spread of Modernism

Published in IXD102


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