Tuesday, November 9, 2010
BERLIN – Nearly a dozen sculptures considered by the Nazis to be "degenerate" artwork and believed to have been lost or destroyed after World War II have been unearthed during construction near Berlin's city hall and were shown to reporters Monday.
The terra-cotta and bronze statues were found during a dig to lay down a new subway line. They belonged to a collection of 15,000 works condemned by Hitler's regime for containing "deviant" sexual elements, anti-nationalistic themes or criticizing Nazi ideology.
The sculptures mainly depict women — a woman holding grapes, a mother and her child, a full-figured woman stretching — the other three are of males.
Ten of the pieces will go on display Tuesday in Berlin's Neues Museum. One, a male terra-cotta head, is too fragile for display.
Construction workers found the art on the site of an office building that burned down in the summer of 1944, Museum Director Matthias Wemhoff told reporters Monday. The fire started in the roof, burning the building from the top down.
"Each floor fell onto the next and everything that couldn't be burnt collected at the bottom in the basement," including the sculptures, he said. Judging from the placement and damage of the works, they had been stored in an office before the fire, Wemhoff said. Whether the collection also included wooden or canvas works is anyone's guess, he said.
One of the pieces, an Edwin Scharff statue of the actress Anni Mewes, was found in January but thought to be unique. Subsequent digs in August and October, however, turned up the remaining pieces.
While Nazi's often attributed the "deviant" characteristics of degenerate art to Jewish corruption, only two Jews were among the avant-garde artists who created the sculptures on display.
Otto Freundlich, whose large, elongated 1925 terra-cotta statue of a man's head was left partially standing, was murdered in the concentration camp Lublin-Maidanek in 1943. Naum Slutzky, a member of the Bauhaus school, fled to England in 1933, where he taught art and lived until his death in 1965. His work "Female Bust," was originally a glinting bronze, but has been left only partially restored to reflect the damage of time and fire.
Berlin's Mayor Klaus Wowereit, said that finding the sculptures is a "small miracle" for the German capital that "shows a lot about the dark times of the city."