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Histories in Conflict: Haus der Kunst and the Ideological Uses of Art, 1937-1955
Haus der Kunst, installation view. Photo: Maximilian Geuter.

MUNICH.- 2012 marks the 75th anniversary of Haus der Kunst. At the same time Haus der Kunst looks back on 20 years as a non-profit limited liability company (Stiftung Haus der Kunst München, gemeinnützige Betriebsgesellschaft mbH). In recognition of these two milestones, Haus der Kunst is pleased to announce Histories in Conflict: Haus der Kunst and the Ideological Uses of Art, 1937-1955.

This comprehensive exhibition, spanning the pre-war and post-war periods explores the historical legacy of the museum both in German and international contexts. The exhibition proposes an encounter with two competing perspectives: On the one hand the National Socialist promotion of a pure German art through the annual exhibitions Grosse Deutsche Kunstausstellung ("Great German Art Exhibition") from 1937-1944, and the denigration of the artistic avant-gardes in the Entartete Kunst ("Degenerate Art" exhibition) of 1937 on the other.

As a prelude to this exhibition, Haus der Kunst began dealing with its past early on. Since 1995 it has been systematically investigating this past and has presented its research results to visitors not only on a temporary basis, but permanently – as historic documentation in the building's hallways (since 1996), through publications (in 1997, 2000 and 2007), with the opening of its Historical Archives (2005) and most recently in the establishment of the Internet database (2011).

Until now this research primarily focused on the period before and during the Second World War. Haus der Kunst will now turn its attention to the period between 1937 and 1955. In the first 18 years of its history, decisive political and social changes took place in Germany, and the groundwork was laid for the present orientation of Haus der Kunst.

The contrasting conceptions of art during this period were both represented in major international shows: a model of the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" was exhibited in the German pavilion at the World's Fair in Paris in 1937, and at documenta 1 in 1955 Arnold Bode established the connection to international Modernism by showing artists whose works had been presented in the exhibition "Degenerate Art". The exhibition traces this development in its international context, conveying in exemplary form what Okwui Enwezor means by a "reflexive museum": dedicated to the exploration of contemporary art, it is simultaneously investigating the historical dimension of contemporaneity.

Since its earliest planning stages starting in 1933, "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" was a symbol for the assertion of National Socialist art policy, and the annual "Great German Art Exhibition", were held in its exhibition halls from 1937 to 1944. What was considered exemplary German art in these years, is presented in Histories in Conflict through a series of representational selection of art works, documents, architectural plans, photographs, films, and audio recordings. Included in the exhibition are the seascape Battle Area Atlantic by Claus Bergen, the allegorical representation Nightfall by Rudolf Hermann Eisenmenger, and the genre painting Farmers in a Storm by Hans Schmitz-Wiedenbrück. For a broader public it might be surprising that these works were selected not only for the Great German Art Exhibitions, but were also presented to an international public from 1936 to 1942 at the Venice Biennales as official artworks of National Socialist Germany.

One important criteria for the selected works presented in Histories in Conflict is that the paintings and sculptures had been exhibited between 1937 and 1955 in Haus der Kunst or in the 1937 exhibition Degenerate Art, organized by Joseph Goebbels, and presented in the nearby gallery building in Munich's Hofgarten. Exhibited, and for this purpose confiscated from public museums, were works by Max Beckmann, Rudolf Belling, Otto Dix, Karl Hofer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and others. The denunciation of these names, which at the time were already among the most important artists in modern art in the international context, led The New York Times to comment, on July 25, 1937: "Modernism is now verboten."

In the same year, the German, Soviet, Spanish pavilions stood in immediate proximity at the Paris World's Fair. In the German pavilion, a model of the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" which was installed as part of the exhibit, served as an advertising vehicle of the National Socialist regime. It was situated as a brilliant focal point and earned Gerdy Troost, the widow of architect Paul Ludwig Troost, the Grand Prix. Next door, Picasso's Guernica made its debut in the Pavilion of the Spanish Republic, a marked contrast. The painting was regarded as an anti-war icon and a sign of protest against the destruction of the eponymous Basque town by German aerial bombs.

After the war, between 1949 and 1955, attempts were made to reinstate the art and artists that were excluded and dismissed by the National Socialist, thus reengaging the interrupted presence of the historical avant-garde in the exhibition program of Haus der Kunst. During this period Haus der Kunst served as a counterreflection, one opposed to its previous hostility to the historical avant-garde. The return of Modernism to the very place where the denigration of artists had begun served as part of a larger post-war and historical contemplation. Some of the most important exhibitions during this period were The Blue Rider (1949), Painters at the Bauhaus (1950), Max Beckmann (1951), Frank Lloyd Wright (1952), Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee (1954), and the Pablo Picasso retrospective in 1955, in which Guernica was a centrepiece.

The exhibition program from this period is represented with exemplary works by Max Beckmann, Edgar Ende, Rupprecht Geiger, Karl Hofer, Paul Klee, Gabriele Münter, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Toni Stadler, Fritz Winter, and Mac Zimmermann. Following their presentation in Haus der Kunst, some of these works were on view either at the Venice Biennales after 1948 or at the first documenta in 1955, with which Arnold Bode sought to establish a new intellectual and moral beginning.

Works such as Kneeling Woman by Wilhelm Lehmbruck (1911), Bathing Cabin (Green) by Max Beckmann (1928), Wild Pigs (Boar and Sow) by Franz Marc (1913) and the graphic Figure Design K 1 by Oskar Schlemmer (1922), all of which were branded as "degenerate" in the 1937 exhibition, were presented to a post-war public in Haus der Kunst as representatives of Modernism. They will return a second time to Haus der Kunst for the exhibition Histories in Conflict.

Surprise footnotes to the well-known histories will be present in the exhibition, too: Probably due to an oversight, two abstract sculptures by Rudolf Belling were presented in the Degenerate Art show, while his realistic representation of the boxer Max Schmeling was simultaneously exhibited in the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst". The three have now been united in Haus der Kunst.

For the exhibition Histories in Conflict, Haus der Kunst invited the Swiss conceptual artist Christian Philipp Müller to develop a dramaturgy which traces the building's history. This dramaturgy consists of six parts and starts immediately on the façade of the architecture, guides then into the central hall of the museum, and in the staircase leading to the North Gallery of the museum. For the National Socialist propaganda machine the building was a precious commodity that was to be protected from war damages. It was defended against bomb attacks by placing dark green camouflage nets and artificial treetops on its roof, and thus managed to survive the war virtually unscathed. In response to this, Christian Philipp Müller devised a series of strategically installed nets like those used during the war to camouflage the building. However, the bold colours of the nets are intended to heighten perception of the architectural object rather than render the structure invisible.

Another chapter of Christian Philipp Müller's intervention is a model of the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst", made of white chocolate and created expressly for this show. The tempting material establishes a connection to the seductive powers that unfolded in the ideology of the 1930s. By this time, the model of the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst" was used as a fetish object on occasions like the "Glanzzeiten deutscher Kultur" (Glory Days of German Culture) pageant on the day its foundation stone was laid in 1933, and at performances on the annual "Day of German Art". A new model was constructed for each of these occasions, and Hermann Göring gave a gold version to Adolf Hitler on his fiftieth birthday. The model made of chocolate thus alludes to the "beautiful appearance of the Third Reich" (Peter Reichel, political scientist and historian).

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