In the summer of 1937, Munich hosted two major art exhibitions. The Great German Art Exhibition (Grosse deutscher Kunstausstellung) opened on July 18, followed a day later by the exhibition of the so-called degenerate art (Entartete Kunst). These were contrasting shows – one presented works of what the official propaganda called German art, while the other showcased the avantgarde, works that were soon to be destroyed or sold and erased from the public memory. In line with the increasing radicalization of the German-speaking milieu, the Liberec daily Reichenberger Zeitung published an extensive report on Germany’s official cultural and political position [anonymous author 1937a]. Reviews of the degenerate art exhibition were, on the other hand, rather scarce, although the same daily wrote that the “exhibition contains works by outstanding and important German artists of the postwar period who were previously presented in leading German museums” [ibid.]
The Czechoslovak German milieu soon produced its own response to the official German art show. In Karlovy Vary, the local Bund der Deutschen organized an exhibition of official German art entitled Sudeten German Exhibition (Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung), which took place between August 1 and 25, 1937. The artworks were chosen by a jury that did not include “artists but only a number of experts familiar with organizing exhibitions and art issues in general” [Schaffer 1937]. This became a point of criticism because the exhibition “encompassed only some of the creative artistic forces and failed to present the announced cross-section of Sudeten German art, only focusing on the work of one small selected group” [ibid.].
Lidové noviny wrote that the show was highly politicized: “Their dependence on Third Reich ideology and manners found its newest manifestation in the exhibition of Sudeten German art in Karlovy Vary […]. This is a venture that can only be discussed in the sphere of politics – its character and tendencies completely exclude it from places devoted to true culture. It is a mere echo of another German exhibition which the Führer and Reich Chancellor recently opened in Munich.” The reviewer then went on to write: “There is no doubt that the organizers would not hesitate to hold an exhibition of “degenerate” art. Fortunately, in this country artists are still free to decide about their works” [ma 1937].
The catalogue of the Karlovy Vary show has yet to be found and so information about the exhibition and the circumstances around it comes in large part from Reichenberger Zeitung. Here, Frank Matzke reports that the exhibition included “about 120 works by 55 artists.” [Matzke 1937] His text also suggests that the show included Franz Gruß’s sketches for the new memorial hall which was being completed at the time in the Church of St. Clare in Cheb, and Paul Gebauer’s designs for the Church of St. Hedwig in Opava. Further on, Matzke focused on the individual artists, albeit without venturing into art-historical evaluations (except for Gruß). Avoiding any possible point of conflict, he noted the dominance of landscape paintings and drawings at the exhibition. Overall, the review just went through the list of artists and the regions they represented. The exhibition was in Matzke’s view “only a preliminary selection of Sudeten German art” [ibid.]. However, he did not say which artists he thought were missing from the exhibition, unlike the aforementioned reviewer for Lidové noviny who criticized the organizers for leaving out not only Jewish artists but also Franz Thiele and Willi Nowak, both professors at the Prague Academy, and members of Prager Secession [ma 1937]. The reviewer for Prager Presse, too, was bothered by the politicization of art and the way the whole show was organized.
The Liberec reprise of the Karlovy Vary exhibition contained 179 artworks by 81 painters and sculptors; the numbers were similar for each of the other reprises, none of which included Thiele and Nowak. But it would be wrong to conclude that all the participants in these shows sympathized with the emerging Nazi regime. Some of the artists were no longer alive, such as Franz Metzner, who should not be associated with the artistic propaganda. When Hitler came to power in Germany, German-speaking artists in Bohemia and Moravia did not necessarily play up to the regime. A number of the Metznerbund members, such as Richard Fleissner, actively resisted the Nazi ideology, while others saw their art labelled as “degenerate” (Otto Theodor W. Stein, Tina Pezellen and others) [Habánová 2013].
Apart from reviews and reports in German-language newspapers, it has not yet been possible to find more substantial information about the show in Czech newspapers. In all likelihood, Czech periodicals were not interested in reviewing it.
The Karlovy Vary exhibition had an impressive epilogue: the politicized reprises took place in Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne, Dresden and Wroclaw. The show was even supposed to travel to Riga, the capital of then pro-Hitler Latvia on the traditionally German territory of Eastern Prussia, but it likely never made it.
Anonymous author 1937a: Anonymous author, Die Münchener Kunstausstellung. „Entartete Kunst.“, Reichenberger Zeitung LXXVIII, 1937, no. 169, supplement, evening edition, 20. 7., p. 5
Anonymous author 1937b: Anonymous author, Adolf Hitler über die deutsche Kunst, Reichenberger Zeitung LXXVIII, 1937, no. 168, supplement, evening edition, 19. 7., p. 6
Habánová 2013: Anna Habánová, Za hranice republiky – Vídeň, Mnichov, Štrasburk. Přehlídky německočeského výtvarného umění v zahraničí, in: Anna Habánová (ed.), Mladí lvi v kleci. Umělecké skupiny německy hovořících výtvarníků z Čech, Moravy a Slezska v meziválečném období (exh. cat.), Oblastní galerie v Liberci, Řevnice – Liberec 2013, pp. 176–189, here p. 183
ma 1937: ma, Napodobený Mnichov. Politická výstava sudetoněmeckého umění, Lidové noviny VL, 1937, no. 412, morning edition, 18. 8., p. 2
Matzke 1937: [Frank Matzke], Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung in Karlsbad, Reichenberger Zeitung LXXVIII, 1937, no. 180, 3. 8., pp. 4–5
Schaffer 1937: Xaver Schaffer, Die Kunstausstellung des Jeschken-Isergaues in Gablonz a. N, Kunst und Handwerk I, 1937, pp. 156–163, here p. 157
Jana Velechovská, Výstavy německočeského výtvarného umění v Liberci mezi roky 1937–1945, bachelor thesis, Department of History FPTU, Liberec 2012
Anna Habánová, Dějiny uměleckého spolku Metznerbund 1920–1945, Liberec 2016
Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung 1937
Publisher: Bund der Deutschen
Place and year of publication: Liberec 1937
Anonymous author, Die Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung in Karlsbad, Neues Tagblatt für Schlesien und Nordmähren IV, 1937, no. 178, 31. 7., p. 10pdf
Anonymous author, Fehlende Namen, Prager Presse XVII, 1937, no. 211, 4. 8., p. 4pdf
Anonymous author, Gegen die Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung 1937, Prager Presse XVII, 1937, no. 198, 22. 7., pp. 4–5pdf
G. R., Bundesführer Wehrenfennig eröffnet die Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung in Reichenberg, Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia CX, 1937, no. 222, 21. 9., p. 5pdf
K., Eröffnung der Sudetendeutschen Kunstausstellung, Deutsche Zeitung Bohemia CX, 1937, no. 180, 3. 8., p. 5pdf
Fra-Ma [Frank Matzke], Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung in Karlsbad, Reichenberger Zeitung LXXVIII, 1937, no. 180, 3. 8., pp. 4–5pdf
Anonymous author, Eröffnung der Sudetendeutschen Kunstausstellung in Reichenberg, Neues Tagblatt für Schlesien und Nordmähren IV, 1937, no. 223, 22. 9., p. 8
Anonymous author, Gleich am ersten Tag 1000 Besucher, Neues Tagblatt für Schlesien und Nordmähren IV, 1937, no. 224, 23. 9., p. 7
Anonymous author, Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung, Pilsner Tagblatt XXXVIII, 1937, no. 178, 4. 8., p. 2
Anonymous author, Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung besetzt, Neues Tagblatt für Schlesien und Nordmähren IV, 1937, no. 144, 20. 6., p. 12
Anonymous author, Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung in Reichenberg, Reichenberger Zeitung LXXVIII, 1937, no. 215, 12. 9., p. 6
Anonymous author, Sudetendeutsche Kunstausstellung in den Messehallen in Reichenberg, Reichenberger Zeitung LXXVIII, 1937, no. 221, 18. 9., p. 4