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Haus der Kunst

The Haus der Kunst currently celebrates its 75th anniversary. Learn more about this
former monument of Nazi ideology that houses temporary exhibitions of groundbreaking international art today.

Against the lush backdrop of the English Garden, the harsh cement angles of the Haus der Kunst seem imposing and slightly ominous. Indeed, the museum has overcome a dark history that still seems to lurk at its foundations.

Although 19th-century Munich was home to a vibrant creative community, it offered few exhibition spaces in which artists could show or sell their works. Shared spaces in ateliers and the occasional academy showing were the only options for the city’s many painters and sculptors. In 1853, however, Maximilian II opened a huge glass and iron structure known as the Glaspalast (glass palace) to host the First Public German Industry Exhibition. The 391,950 cubic meter space quickly came to serve as the premier exhibition space for local artists. On the night of June 6, 1931, however, a mysterious fire destroyed the building and damaged more than 1,000 paintings and sculptures inside. (Later investigations proved the cause to be arson.)
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Since many other crystal palaces had shared a similar fiery fate, the Bavarian Cultural Ministry decided to construct the Glaspalast’s successor from stone, and hired local favorite Adolf Abel to draw up designs. When the Nazis came to power in 1933, however, they took control of this and other civic projects. Art was hugely important to Nazi ideology, and so the project retained its place of importance on the docket of city planning. Hitler hired architect Paul Ludwig Troost to build the first representative Nazi building: the Haus der deutschen Kunst (House of German Art). Troost died just after the beginning of construction in 1934, but work continued according to his plan, which referenced Neoclassical structures by Klenze and others. One distinctly modern touch, hinting at the Nazi’s more dastardly ideals, was an air raid shelter built into the foundation. German quarries provided natural stone for the monolith’s construction.

The 1937 opening was a bombastic affair that coincided with the opening of a “Great German Art Exhibition” featuring “Blut und Boden” (Blood and Soil) works of party artists. These naturalistic pieces reflected an aesthetic common to other fascist societies. At the same time, Hofgarten gallery across the street showed the infamous “Degenerate Art” show, featuring work by avant-garde artists such as Max Beckmann and Oskar Schlemmer alongside derisive commentary. Such paintings had been removed from museums and ateliers upon the Nazi seizure of power for being “un-German” or “Bolshevist.” Most were burned or sold to foreign collectors, but the few remaining in Germany were intended to be used as frightening evidence of society’s supposed decay during the Weimar period. The exhibition toured Germany, and was viewed by huNindreds of thousands. In the meantime, the Haus der deutschen Kunst continued to host yearly exhibits of “Great German Art” until 1944.

The next year, the American army reached Munich to find the Haus der deutschen Kunst hidden under camouflage netting. It had survived the war largely intact and the Americans quickly moved in to make use of the large structure. Parts were used for administrative offices and for a mess hall. The former Ehrenhalle (hall of honor) in the building’s center was converted into an officers’ club. Since the party-friendly American officers had trouble wrapping their tongues around its address—Prinzregentenstrasse 1—the spot became known in shorthand as “P1.” (Now located in the building’s west wing, the famous nightclub did not reach the height of its popularity until the 1980s, when restaurateur Michael Käfer brought a Studio 54 sensibility back to Germany.)

As early as 1946, exhibitions came back to the building, now known simply as the Haus der Kunst (House of Art). In 1949, it hosted a huge show featuring formerly banned works by Kandinsky, Matisse, Picasso, Braque and others. Art critics and the public alike were delighted at the building’s re-appropriation. Under the leadership of Peter A. Ade, the building continued to house groundbreaking international modern art throughout the 1950s: Frank Lloyd Wright, Cezanne, Nolde, Le Corbusier, and Chagall were among the many who showed their work there. It also housed the modern art collection of the State of Bavaria until the Pinakothek der Moderne opened in 2000. Since then, directors Ade, Vitali, and Dercron have brought dynamic temporary exhibitions of groundbreaking international modern art, defying the building’s original purpose as a monument to Nazi ideology.

For a list of current and upcoming exhibitions, visit or

© MF Nicholson/March 07

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