Capricious American Immigration Policies and German Artists

By: James Arthur  

When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he dictated which artworks were acceptable. Many German artists attempted to leave Nazi Germany for a democratic country where they would have complete artistic freedom such as the United States. However in that troubled time, just as today, the U.S. immigration policies and practices did not and do not reflect the words on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your... masses yearning to breathe free… Send… the… tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” As German artists fleeing Hitler sought to enter the “golden door” they found U.S. immigration rules and procedures capricious, and full of national quota barriers that were unevenly applied due to American political pressures. Artists often publicly announced that they were not political, only wanting to produce their art. But their works might be undesirable in America, or they could have unacceptable art dealers, patrons or customers. My research focuses on how these complex, multi-level political currents resulted in the initially unfathomable denial of a visa to Germany’s most notable painter and graphic artist Max Beckmann (1894-1950). Beckmann was certainly “tempest-tossed” when his paintings were exhibited in the Nazi’s infamous 1937 Degenerate Art Exhibition in Munich. Exiled in the Netherlands, Beckmann’s denied visa illustrates how artists, like many other visa applicants, then as now, can be caught in unpredictably turbulent politically-created winds which can blow from even democratic nations like the United States of America.

Immigration, Policies, United States, Beckmann, Germany
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

James Arthur

Board Member, The Art Historians of Southern California

I was an aerospace executive for nearly 40 years. During those years it was still possible to read whatever one liked while on business travel. I read books on critical art theory and history on airplanes and in hotel rooms all over the world. My last working assignment was to dispose of my employer's corporate art collection prior to its merger with another firm. This allowed me to interract with art appraisers, art dealers, university art departments and museums. After retiring I went back to school to delve deeper into art history and criticism at the Museum Studies Department of the University of Leicester in England. ! am currently an art historian and lecturer in Southern California, a Getty Research Institute Reader, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Art Historians of Southern California.