Chronicle of "Haus der Kunst"

Chronicle of "Haus der Kunst"

Haus der Kunst has a variegated history and a lively and troubled one as well. It served as a vehicle for National Socialist propaganda, as an officer’s club for the American military government, and as a renowned postwar institution for art exhibitions. Today, Haus der Kunst is a key global center for comtemporary art. 

Chapter 1: 1931 - 1933

The history of Haus der Kunst begins with the Glass Palace in Munich’s Old Botanical Garden. In 1853-1854, August von Voit built a modern glass and steel construction for the first "Allgemeine Ausstellung deutscher Industrie- und Gewerbeerzeugnisse" [General German Industry Exhibition]. In 1858, the "Erste deutsche allgemeine und historische Kunstausstellung" [First German General and Historical Art Exhibition] was held there, followed in 1869 by the "I. Internationale Kunstausstellung" [First International Art Exhibition]. As of 1889, the Glass Palace was used almost exclusively for art exhibitions. The annual exhibitions of Munich's artists' associations took place here; the shows were commercial and often included as many as 3,000 exhibits. The Glass Palace evolved into the largest exhibition forum in Munich and into a significant hub of art trading. When the building was destroyed by fire on the night of June 6, 1931, a chapter in Munich's exhibition history came to an end. The cause of the fire was never exactly determined.

That same year, plans began on the construction of a new exhibition building. The Bavarian Ministry of Culture succeeded in pushing through architect Adolf Abel from the Technical University. In early 1933, work on Abel's design for a functionally-orientated structure made of reinforced concrete was about to begin. But the Nazis’ accession to power ultimately put an end to the project.

Chapter 2: 1933 - 1937

Hitler relocated the building plot to the southern edge of the English Garden, Munich’s large park. It was on his orders that Paul Ludwig Troost was given the contract for the first representational monumental building of the Third Reich, the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" [House of German Art]. Until that point, Troost had been known mainly for his outfitting of the luxury liners of the North German Lloyd line. After his early death in January 1934, he was posthumously elevated to the position of "first master builder to the Führer". His widow, Gerdy Troost, and his trusted employee, Leonhard Gall, continued the work. Troost’s neoclassical art shrine, which includes references to Leo von Klenze and Karl Friedrich Schinkel, consisted of a steel structure clad in Danube limestone and containing some modern engineering. Top officials from Germany’s economic and industrial sectors made significant donations to raise the 9 million Reichsmarks it cost to build this edifice. As a counterpart to the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst", the "Haus der Deutschen Architektur" [House of German Architecture] should have been constructed, an exhibition space for architecture and applied arts, designed by Leonhard Gall. But like most of the large-scale Nazi projects, these plans were never implemented.

The laying of the cornerstone of the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" on October 15, 1933, was also intended to signal a renewal of German artistic life and to expose National Socialist Germany as a peaceful nation of culture in the eyes of the rest of the world. Munich was elevated to the status of the "Capital of German Art" and correspondingly honored with an historic parade. As with the laying of the cornerstone, the opening of the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" on July 18, 1937, was a pompous spectacle. The "Day of German Art" was to be celebrated every year, but because of the war, 1939 was the last time it was held.

Chapter 3: 1937 - 1945

Following its opening, the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" served as a demonstration of Nazi art policy and became its chief institution. The annual "Großen Deutschen Kunstausstellungen" [Great German Art Exhibitions] staged here were considered the most important exhibition and sales events of German art. Adolf Hitler’s vote was decisive for the selection of works.  Each year he bought several hundred objects. From 1938 to 1942, some of the exhibits were presented to an international public at the Venice Biennales. Even though the exhibition of approved works only included a limited amount of obvious Nazi propaganda, they did suggest a value system that reflected the world view of the National Socialist regime. A large percentage of the works were landscapes and genre paintings. Beginning in 1939, depictions of war assumed a significant position. The "Großen Deutschen Kunstausstellungen" attracted several hundred thousand visitors annually. Even in February 1945, Hitler was ordering preparations for another "Große Deutsche Kunstausstellung".

At the same time, on July 19, 1937, confiscated works of modern art were being displayed in a defamatory manner in the exhibition "Entartete Kunst" [Degenerate Art] in the nearby gallery building of the Hofgarten. Artists like Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Oscar Schlemmer, who were members of the avant-garde during the Weimar Republic, were forced to flee or go into internal exile. Their works were removed from collections, sold abroad, or burned. The exhibition "Degenerate Art" was presented in various cities in Germany and Austria. In Munich alone, more than two million individuals are said to have seen it.

Chapter 4: 1945 - 1949

When American troops marched into Munich on April 30, 1945, they found a largely destroyed city. Although most of the museums and exhibition houses were severely damaged, the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" remained virtually unscathed. Since September 1942, camouflage netting had been used to protect the building from air raids. Because the building contained cooking facilities and had ample space, the American military government used it to house an officers’ club with a restaurant, a dance hall and several shops. Basketball court lines and markings were painted in oil paint on the stone floors of the exhibition halls.

From 1946 until the end of 1948, the "Bavarian Export Show" in the East Wing presented industrial and commercial goods, art and craft, and fashion.

The West Wing was also used as an exhibition space. In January 1946, works from the destroyed Pinakotheks were exhibited there, including Dürer’s "Apostel" and Altdorfer's "The Battle of Alexander at Issus". In the context of this exhibition, the institution’s original name, "Haus der Deutschen Kunst", was changed to "Haus der Kunst". In July 1946, "The Youth Book" was shown, an exhibition which presented over 4,000 books for children and young people published in 14 countries, the first international event in post-war Germany.

In September 1949 Ludwig Grote organized the exhibition "Der Blaue Reiter" [The Blue Rider], featuring formerly ostracized works by Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee among others. With this commemorative exhibition, which attracted considerable international attention, the former "House of German Art" was denazified, an observation articulated by Dieter Sattler, the then-secretary of state, in the opening speech."Der Blaue Reiter" was the first in a series of exhibitions with which Haus der Kunst opened itself to Modernism; in contrast, during the Third Reich, Haus der Kunst had been used to defame the avant-garde.

Chapter 5: 1949 - 1992

In order to provide artists with the opportunity to present and sell their works on their own again , in 1948 the newly formed artist’s associations – Secession, the New Group, and the New Munich Artists Cooperative – founded the "Ausstellungsleitung Haus der Kunst München e.V." [Exhibition Administration Haus der Kunst Munich; since 2014: Artists Association Haus der Kunst München e.V.]] Since 1949 they have organized the annual "Große Kunstausstellung München" [Great Art Exhibition Munich] for this purpose as well. In the same year, the association celebrated for the first time one of the now legendary carnival parties, for which Munich artists did the decorations, that turned Haus der Kunst into a bastion of mardi gras celebration for the next 25 years.

Under the directorship of Peter A. Ade, whose reputation and vision influenced Haus der Kunst’s trajectory for more than three decades, the exhibition administration organized over hundred exhibitions in the east wing in collaboration with international art historians and curators. Haus der Kunst became a renowned station on the international exhibition circuit. Major solo exhibitions were dedicated to artists such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Le Corbusier, Oskar Kokoschka, Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. A milestone was the Picasso retrospective in 1955 in which - for the first time in Germany – "Guernica", an icon of anti-fascist and modern art, was on view. International group exhibitions like “Brazilian Artists” (1959) and “Art USA Now” (1963) were also on show as well as cultural and historical themes, from "Kultur und Mode" [Culture and Fashion] (1950) to "Nofretete – Echnaton" (1976) and "Tutanchamun" (1980). For the exhibition "Weltkulturen und Moderne Kunst" [World Cultures and Modern Art], which was organized on the occasion of the 1972 Olympics, Paolo Nestler created a special transparent extension on the garden terrace.

From 1980 to 2000, the West Wing was used by the Bayerischen Staatsgemäldesammlungen [Bavarian State Painting Collections] as the Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst [State Gallery of Modern Art]. It is here, in 1984, that Joseph Beuys installed his famous floor sculpture "The End of the 20th Century".

Chapter 6: 1992 - 2003

In 1992, Haus der Kunst was turned into a foundation, the "Stiftung Haus der Kunst München gGmbH", which was based on a model of public and private support. Up to this point, there had been controversial public debates about whether the building, as a relic of the Third Reich, should be demolished or not.

Entrepreneur and art collector Josef Schörghuber promised to provide generous support to Haus der Kunst for at least ten years allowing it to remain a cultural institution in Munich. In addition to the Schörghuber Group and the State of Bavaria, the Gesellschaft der Freunde der Stiftung Haus der Kunst München e.V. and the Ausstellungsleitung Grosse Kunstausstellung im Haus der Kunst e.V. were founding shareholders.  Christoph Vitali became the first director in 1993. His opening exhibition, "Elan vital oder das Auge des Eros" [Elan vital. The Eye of Eros], was a good example of a program that focused attention on the classical modern while at the same time taking into account certain positions in contemporary art. He set up certain thematic shows as sensuous experiences, like "Ernste Spiele. 

Der Geist der Romantik in der deutschen Kunst" [Serious games. The Spirit of the Romantic Age in German Art] in 1995, or "Die Nacht" [The Night] in 1998. The winter of 1993/94 saw an exhibition curated in cooperation with the Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst entitled "Widerstand – Denkbilder für die Zukunft" [Resistance - Thought Pictures for the Future], for which contemporary artists expressed their views  about the institution’s Nazi past.

Chapter 7: 2003 - today

Chris Dercon,  director of Haus der Kunst from 2003 to 2011, placed even greater emphasis on a commitment to contemporary positions. His programmatic idea was that architecture serves as a most congenial environment for contemporary art. This was a conviction he shared with the artists he invited to exhibit at Haus der Kunst, including Ydessa Hendeles, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Paul McCarthy, Herzog & de Meuron, Christoph Schlingensief, and Ai Weiwei.

With the project "Critical Reconstruction", initiated in 2003, the investigation of the structure's architecture and history experienced a deliberate new orientation. Transformations to the interior that passed for "architectural denazification" of the building after the war, intended to cover up the unpleasant legacy, were largely undone in order to open a view onto the origins of the erstwhile National Socialist temple of art and allow an open examination of the space and its history. Since then, the Middle Hall, used as the "Hall of Honor" by the Nazis as a backdrop of power, has also been used for international art projects. Since 2012, the Middle Hall has been the venue for a new series of commissioned works: "DER ÖFFENTLICHKEIT – VON DEN FREUNDEN HAUS DER KUNST" [To the Public - from the Friends of Haus der Kunst].

Reflecting on the complex development that has shaped Haus der Kunst into what it is today is a process that has received new momentum under Okwui Enwezor, director of Haus der Kunst since October 2011. With its interdisciplinary programming, which is not restricted by geographic, conceptual or cultural boundaries, Haus der Kunst has been able to create an additional critical context in which to examine, define, and convey both general history and the history of contemporary art anew. In 2016 the Alexander Tutsek-Stiftung was gained as a new main sponsor of Haus der Kunst. This support is designed to enable Haus der Kunst to further engage and expand its innovative approach.

Under the banner of “Renovate/Innovate” Haus der Kunst is currently undergoing the planning phase of the comprehensive renovation of the 24,000 square meters building. The forthcoming renovation and restoration, of which has been awarded to the internationally renowned architects David Chipperfield Architects, will include the integration of the west wing, thereby increasing the functional space to approximately 8,000 square meters. This will open up new perspectives for Haus der Kunst and its program, thereby increasing its regional, national and international appeal. The construction work is due to begin in 2020.