How authoritarians treat art

Somebody needs to grab Bill Donohue by the ear and drag him to the Neues Musem in Berlin — all the way to the airport, during the long transatlantic flight, and on the taxi ride to the museum. Pinch hard, too, and make him squeal all the way.

While digging a subway tunnel in Berlin, construction workers discovered a cache of buried expressionist sculptures, hidden survivors of the Nazi campaign to destroy what they considered “degenerate art”.

Researchers learned the bust was a portrait by Edwin Scharff, a nearly forgotten German modernist, from around 1920. It seemed anomalous until August, when more sculpture emerged nearby: “Standing Girl” by Otto Baum, “Dancer” by Marg Moll and the remains of a head by Otto Freundlich. Excavators also rescued another fragment, a different head, belonging to Emy Roeder’s “Pregnant Woman.” October produced yet a further batch.

The 11 sculptures proved to be survivors of Hitler’s campaign against what the Nazis notoriously called “degenerate art.” Several works, records showed, were seized from German museums in the 1930s, paraded in the fateful “Degenerate Art” show, and in a couple of cases also exploited for a 1941 Nazi film, an anti-Semitic comedy lambasting modern art. They were last known to have been stored in the depot of the Reichspropagandaministerium, which organized the “Degenerate” show.

I’ve found one small collection of photos of these works, and of the “Degenerate” show. They’re interesting, not great masterworks or anything, but it’s amazing how a touch of harsh history imbues them with much greater meaning.

Mr Donohue should contemplate how history regards people who try to dictate what art means, and that the person who is thought to have hidden these works from the hammers of the Nazis, Erhard Oewerdieck, is now considered heroic.