How Modern Art Escaped Hitler: From the Holocaust to Houston

Along with a rare painting by Wassily Kandinsky, original works by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Josef Albers, Alexej von Jawlensky and many others are featured in Holocaust Museum Houston’s exhibition “How Modern Art Escaped Hitler: From the Holocaust to Houston.” The show details the Nazi persecution of avant-garde artists and includes 34 works of art representing the men and women hated by Hitler but revered the world over for their artistic talent.

Borrowing from local collectors, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection, the exhibit focuses on the fate of the artists and how hatred changed modern art in the 20th century. The Nazi party began its assault on the avant-garde almost immediately upon coming to power in 1933. Two months after Hitler took control, the German Parliament passed the Professional Civil Service Restoration Act, enabling the Nazis to dismiss modern art curators and museum directors. Targeted artists in Nazi Germany were expelled from their teaching posts and forbidden to exhibit their work. Their art was removed from galleries, confiscated, stolen, sold or destroyed. In 1937, Hitler staged an unprecedented exhibition called “Entartete Kunst” (Degenerate Art) in order to condemn artists, art dealers and museum directors and show the world what the Third Reich considered depraved. The assault reached its zenith in 1939 when the Nazis destroyed hundreds of works in an inferno staged in front of Berlin’s Central Fire Department.

Nazi hatred and oppression resulted in the shift of the art world from Europe to the United States. Many artists and intellectuals immigrated to America where they were able to continue their work, teach in art schools, and expand upon their ideas. “How Modern Art Escaped Hitler: From the Holocaust to Houston” chronicles the fate of the artists and tells the story of how their works landed not only on American soil, but also in Houston collections.

“Through landmark paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and historic film clips, “How Modern Art Escaped Hitler” traces a remarkable journey of freedom and the triumph of art,” said the exhibit’s guest curator, Ellen Orseck. Holocaust Museum Houston contracted with Orseck to bring this once-in-a-lifetime show into being. According to her, the show will not travel. All works will be returned to the lenders at the end of the exhibition.

“How Modern Art Escaped Hitler: From the Holocaust to Houston” is generously underwritten by Nina and Michael Zilkha, with additional support from The Houston Chronicle, KUHF; Houston Public Radio, and Texas Monthly. The Zilkhas have also underwritten a companion exhibit in HMH’s Central Gallery, “Varian Fry, Assignment: Rescue, 1940–1941.” This photographic exhibition, organized and circulated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, documents the role of Fry, the American relief worker who went to France and saved many of the artists included in the Modern Art show.

Admission to both exhibitions is free throughout their entire run from April 3 to July 27, 2003. Holocaust Museum Houston, located at 5401 Caroline St. in the Houston Museum District, is free and open to the public seven days a week.

April 3, 2003 - July 27, 2003

Mincberg Gallery

M: Closed
T-W: 10 am to 5 pm
Th: 10 am to 8 pm
F-Sa: 10 am to 5 pm
Su: Noon to 5 pm