Nazi Art in the Museum?

Nazi Art in the Museum?

Nazi Art in the Museum?

The Room "Panoptikum" in the exhibition MIX & MATCH

Pinakothek der Moderne | Modern Art Collection | Room 4

Marking the 20th anniversary of the Pinakothek der Moderne, the Modern Art Collection presents itself anew on 3,600 square metres of exhibition space with around 350 works by more than 150 artists. The new presentation no longer follows the principle of chronological grouping. Under the programmatic exhibition title MIX & MATCH, painting, sculpture, graphic art, photography and video art meet for the first time in thematic spaces that transcend epochs and media. 

The room titled "Panoptikum" (Panopticon) after Josef Scharl's painting features artists of the modern avant-garde such as Otto Freundlich, Pablo Picasso and Josef Scharl alongside Francis Bacon and contemporary artist Thomas Helbig. On the opposite side of Bacon's triptych "Crucifixion" hung the triptych by Nazi artist Adolf Ziegler "The Four Elements: Fire, Earth and Water, Air" until September 2023.

The triptych "The Four Elements" by Adolf Ziegler is on loan from 11 November 2023 to 24 March 2024 in the special exhibition "Art in the Third Reich. Seduction and Distraction" at the Arnhem Museum in the Netherlands.

Read here why the triptych by Adolf Ziegler - a work of National Socialist art - was shown in the room "Panoptikum" on the subject of body, norm and criticism in the representation of the body:


Every person is different! Every society consists of many individual personalities, each with different preconditions, individual biographies and their own concepts of living.

Until today, one of the greatest challenges of a state is to meet the needs of all people equally. In dictatorial systems such as National Socialism, ideals of the body and gender were ideologically defined, standardised and propagated by artists who conformed to the system. Critical artists have consciously developed open perspectives against such simplistic and manipulative role models as well as against one-sided clichés and moral concepts. They reflect the diversity and beauty of different possible identities and set an example for solidarity and tolerance.

Exhibition view: Room Panoptikum in the Pinakothek der Moderne with works by Adolf Ziegler ("The Four Elements", before 1937), Thomas Helbig ("Machine", 2004) and Josef Scharl ("Dirne" (Harlot), 1931), Photo: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Margarita Platis

Adolf Ziegler, The Four Elements

The triptych "The Four Elements" is one of the best-known works of art produced under National Socialism. The four stylised female nudes represent racist body ideals of National Socialist ideology. The painting was reproduced en masse on postcards and in magazines until 1945. The largely unknown artist Adolf Ziegler had been appointed professor at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts in 1934 due to his personal relationship with Adolf Hitler and rose to become president of the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts in 1936. In this capacity, Ziegler carried out nationwide confiscations of modern art in German museums in 1937 for the Feme exhibition "Degenerate Art" and opened the show with a defamatory diatribe. In 1953, as part of the confiscated NDSAP assets, the painting became the property of the Free State of Bavaria on the basis of Allied directives and was selected for the inventory of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen.

We, the curators of the Sammlung Moderne Kunst (Modern Art Collection), have consciously decided to show "The Four Elements" as part of the collection. We are not doing this in order to relativise or even establish works of art of National Socialism with their inhuman ideologies. Rather, we want to confront their normative aesthetics with modern positions and stimulate a discussion about Nazi art in art museums.

The Curators of the Sammlung Moderne Kunst

Further Information:

  • Blog post Diskussion um Raum "Panoptikum" | MIX & MATCH
  • Letter by Georg Baselitz (September 2022) with a critique of the display of Adolf Zieger
  • Arte feature "Streit um NS-Kunst" (Controversy over Nazi Art) on Georg Baselitz's incendiary letter (September 2022).
  • Lecture by Christian Fuhrmeister on "Adolf Ziegler's Works. Art or Historical Testimony?" (9 July 2015) available on our YouTube channel.
  • Article by Johannes Gramlich and Jochen Meister on "The Four Elements" by Adolf Ziegler on our blog.
  • Brochure with explanations of the works exhibited in 2016 at the Pinakothek der Moderne "Artists under National Socialism" available for download |PDF.
  • All works exhibited in 2016 listed in our Online Collection and in the overview here for download | PDF.
  • A detailed account of the exhibition concept is provided by Oliver Kase in his essay „Die Ausstellung 'GegenKunst' in der Pinakothek der Moderne. Konzept - Reaktionen - Konsequenzen.“ Download | PDF.
    (Published 2017 in the exhibition catalogue of the Städtische Galerie Rosenheim "vermacht. verfallen. verdrängt. Art and National Socialism", available via Michael Imhof Verlag).
  • The exhibition flyer for GegenKunst (OpposingArt) (2015) Download | PDF.
  • Panel discussion and lectures of the symposium GegenKunst (2 July 2015) are available on our YouTube channel.