Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Marly Hammer ’05 (Colts Neck, N.J.) is seeking fresh insights into a historical event that epitomizes the often tenuous relationship between politics and modern art.

An art history major with a focus on art history, Hammer is exploring how the Degenerate Art Exhibit of 1937, an extreme example of government censorship, affected lives and redefined the roles of three artists. She is conducting a yearlong honors thesis on the topic with guidance from Robert Mattison, Metzgar Professor and head of art.

The exhibit, created in the midst of Hitler-controlled Germany, was an attempt to mock any art deemed unorthodox or shameful by the Nazis. The works of more than 120 contemporary artists were included in what was reportedly the most highly attended exhibit in history.

“The Nazis created committees that took artwork from museums they termed degenerate, which was whatever they thought to be unacceptable,” says Hammer.

In some cases, the art was distorted and displayed next to photographs of deformed men and women, Mattison adds.

“I hope to show that the exhibit had a profound effect on these artists,” Hammer says. “In many cases they were forced to emigrate, but it further made them want to [emphasize] what they were being censored for. Take Max Beckmann, who never thought of his own work as being political and degenerate. For [Nazis] to tell him that his art was political, he thought it gave him the right to make it political.”

While the research deals with censorship from 70 years ago, some of the issues are just as relevant today. In Cleveland during the 1990s, for example, the curator of a museum exhibiting Robert Mapplethorpe’s work, which had been deemed by some as pornographic, was jailed for refusing to halt the exhibit, Mattison explains.

“I’m not equating shutting down shows with what the Nazis did, but it’s the idea of modern art pushing the envelope in the face of modern politics,” he says. “Censorship is all around us; sometimes it’s even stronger today.”

Hammer chose her topic because she has always been interested in censorship of the arts.

“This exhibition was really the beginning of all modern censorship of art,” she explains. “I have never researched this particular time period, but have always loved modern art, and in my mind the [Degenerate Art] exhibition encompasses all modern art as we know it today.”

Hammer adds that she has always been interested in the controversy modern art creates. Her time at Lafayette and the ability her major gives her to glimpse a variety of artistic arenas has fueled that interest.

“I wanted to do a longer research project to really delve into some of this controversy and how it affects the arts today,” she adds.

Mattison says Hammer’s thesis will give her a unique perspective as she pursues her post-graduation goals.

“Marly is a bright kid; she’s got an interesting career ahead of her,” he notes.

Hammer hopes to attend graduate school for curatorial studies and to one day operate an experimental arts gallery. Although her research topic might not specifically help her pursue a career in the contemporary arts, the broad-based education she’s received at Lafayette certainly will, she says.

“I’ve taken a wide range of classes here that have helped me to think in a more interdisciplinary way,” she explains. “This will help me when I have to think about a way to present something that would help people who aren’t necessarily art majors recognize things as art as well.”

Hammer says she believes Lafayette is a good environment for studying art history and completing projects like hers because it allows her sufficient one-on-one time with professors, who are knowledgeable and want to share as much as possible with students.

“They are always available whenever you need them,” she adds. “I believe that the art department is one of the strongest and fastest-growing departments here at Lafayette.”

Hammer has participated in intramural sports and Alternative Spring Break Club. She is a member of the Visual Arts Committee and works in the Williams Center Art Gallery and the art slide room.

The summer before her sophomore year, she served an internship at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J., under the curator of education. She researched all of the artists represented in the park and put together a guide to give volunteers helpful facts about the artists at their fingertips. She also helped with the organization of special events.

This past summer she worked at Art Horizons International in New York City with Nancy Rothberg ’97. Hammer helped organize customized and educational cultural excursions, providing in-depth art and architectural tours with special features including access to corporate and private collections and behind-the-scenes visits to auction houses.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at last year’s annual conference.

Categorized in: Academic News