Underground art is getting new exposure in Berlin. A trove of sculptures labeled as “degenerate” by the Nazis — and buried after the Reich confiscated the offending work from galleries — will go on display this week after an excavation turned them up near Berlin’s city hall, the UK Guardian reports.
The collection of 10 terracotta and bronze statues were found during subway construction work in southwestern Berlin; diggers discovered twelve works, but two were too badly damaged to go on display, the Guardian said. Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, called the discovery a “small miracle” that “shows a lot about the dark times of the city”, the BBC reported — and described the works as “witnesses to Nazi lunacy,” according to the Guardian.
On view starting this week at Berlin’s Neues Museum, the collection includes works by modernist luminaries Edwin Scharff,Otto Baum, Naum Slutzky, Karl Knappe, Marg Moll, Gustav Heinrich Wolff, Otto Freundlich and Emy Roeder, according to Reuters. Although the Nazis associated “degenerate” art with the Jews, only two of the works found were created by Jewish artists — Freundlich and Slutsky — according to the Associated Press.
How the works ended up in what used to be an office block at what was then 50 Koenigsstrasse, remains a mystery, according to the Guardian. “But historians are researching the theory that the sculptures were salvaged by Erhard Oewerdieck, a stockbroker who had rented office space on the fourth floor in 1941.” Fire destroyed the building following a bombing raid; “although the sculptures were found in the basement it is likely they had fallen through from a higher floor when the building collapsed,” the Guardian said.
The list of works shunned by the Nazis for being “Jewish” or “un-German” is long, according to German news source SpiegelOnline, “and encompasses primarily early 20th century modern art including pieces by such luminaries as Emil Nolde, Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso and many others.” Some 20,000 such works were confiscated by the party, Spiegel said.