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Haus der Kunst marks its 75th anniversary
Haus der Kunst, 2007, mit Sprachskulptur von Lawrence Weiner / with Lettering Sculpture by Lawrence Weiner. Foto: Jens Weber, München.

MUNICH.- In 2012 Haus der Kunst will mark the 75th anniversary of its public inauguration in the summer of 1937. It will do so with an exhibition that will present an extensive reflection on and overview of the legacy of Haus der Kunst drawn directly from documents, objects, and images in its archive and from historical collections in Germany.

The precursor of the architecture of Haus der Kunst was the Glass Palace, built in 1853/54 by August von Voit for the First General German Industry Exhibition. The Glass Palace was a large, open modern structure constructed in glass and iron. It had developed into the largest exhibition forum in Munich, when in the night of the 6th of June 1931 it was destroyed by fire. After the fire, the Bavarian Ministry of Culture planned its replacement, a new stone-built edifice for exhibitions as the successor.

When the National Socialists came to power, the architect Paul Ludwig Troost received the commission to design the "Haus der Deutschen Kunst". Until then Troost had been known particularly for his décor of the luxury liners Lloyds in northern Germany. The building he designed is slightly antithetical to the Glass Palace: A columned neoclassical temple for art from the outside, which behind its natural stone facade hid a modern skeletal steel construction and innovative building services.

After its opening in 1937, Haus der Deutschen Kunst became an instrument of the National Socialists' propaganda and the presentation of their cultural politics. The Große Deutsche Kunstausstellungen (Great German Art Exhibition) were staged annually from 1937 through 1944, as sale exhibitions which were regarded as the most important shows for "proper" German art.

After the Second World War, Haus der Kunst like much of the German cultural sphere was reconstituted under its present name and committed to reestablish a connection to international Modernism. Under the umbrella term "re-education", it staged exhibitions such as "Old German Masters" (with works from the destroyed Pinakothek museums), "The Young Adult's Book" (the first international event in post-war Germany) and "French Painting from Impressionism to the Present". A milestone was the Pablo Picasso retrospective of 1955 in which "Guernica", an icon of antifascist and modern art, was shown. In the same year, Arnold Bode's "documenta 1" opened in Kassel. Thus the connection to international Modernism was made by showing artists from the exhibition "Degenerate Art", which took place in 1937 in the Hofgarten galleries a short, walking distance from Haus der Kunst.

In 1992 the charter of Haus der Kunst was reorganized into a non-profit limited liability company (Stiftung Haus der Kunst München, gemeinnützige Betriebsgesellschaft mbH), based on a model of public and private support with Christoph Vitali as its first director. Before Vitali became director in 1993, demolishing Haus der Kunst as a relic of the Third Reich was still an option. Vitali himself was convinced that "walls are not burdened with guilt". His first project "Elan vital. Das Auge des Eros" (Elan vital. The eye of eros) was exemplary of a program which focused on modern art, taking at the same time into account selected positions of contemporary art. The commitment to contemporary art was stressed even more by Vitali's successor, Chris Dercon, who created a program with works by artists who exhibited at Haus der Kunst, with the understanding that the building's architecture enabled a close complicity with contemporary art. Rem Koolhaas described Haus der Kunst in a number of publications and talks as an "aura machine".

Today, the process of reflecting on the complex and complicated historical process from which Haus der Kunst emerged continues, beginning with the opening of its historical archives in 2005 under the banner of "critical reconstruction" by Chris Dercon, the predecessor of the current director, Okwui Enwezor. This interrogation of both the architecture and the legacy of the institution, will take a dramatically new orientation in the summer of 2012, with a comprehensive exhibition of material drawn from the archive, and beginning in 2013, with the establishment of a permanent exhibition of the archive.

In 2012, Haus der Kunst marks 75/20, a double anniversary that highlights the important transitions from which the museum has evolved. From Vitali's "Elan vital" to Dercon's "critical reconstruction" the 75/20 anniversary will become an occasion to explore Haus der Kunst as what Okwui Enwezor calls "a reflexive museum."

As Okwui Enwezor says: "I am of the opinion - as my predecessors Christoph Vitali and Chris Dercon were -, that we absolutely have to not only show this material, we also have to properly contextualize it, we have to work towards defetishizing it, we have to work towards demystifying it."

The presentation of the archive within a broader exhibition will deal with what Enwezor terms "histories in conflict" amongst the interplay of tradition and avant-garde. A core part of the exhibition "75/20" (June 10, 2012 - January 2013) revolves around the Große Kunstausstellungen (Great Art Exhibitions), an annual exhibition which till today takes place in Haus der Kunst and was developed by the Munich's Artist Association which was formed in 1948. Haus der Kunst's archive and those of the Munich Artist Association will be connected in the presentation as part of the museum's postwar history.

In addition, "75/20" will also include works and material which were shown in the "Degenerate Art" exhibition which was presented in 1937 in contrast to the works of the Great German Art Exhibitions.

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