Few museums in the world have endured such radical ideological transformations as the Haus der Kunst in Munich. Commissioned by Adolf Hitler in 1933, it was the first in a series of buildings intended to promote National Socialist ideals. Baptized “Haus der Deutschen Kunst” (House of German Art), it served as a propaganda tool to showcase “pure,” “Aryan” art. At the end of World War II, it was seized by U.S. troops, who removed most of the Nazi symbols, dropped the “German” from its name, and transformed it into a social club for military personnel, complete with interior basketball court. Before becoming Munich’s modern-art museum, it underwent several metamorphoses—including a stint as a trade-show venue—amid recurrent public calls for its demolition. Indeed, it was not until a significant renovation in the early 1990s and the arrival of non-German directors such as Christoph Vitali (1993–2003) and Chris Dercon (2003–11) that the Haus der Kunst finally evolved from an unwelcome reminder of a dreadful past into a forward-thinking hub for modern and contemporary art.
The Haus der Kunst’s architect was Paul Ludwig Troost, at the time the Führer’s favorite. Inside the forbidding, rigidly symmetrical exterior, Troost used copious amounts of Tegernsee marble—a bloodred, heavily veined limestone—to cover walls and floors to dramatic effect, as photographed here in the northeastern staircase. Since the building’s completion in 1937, everyone from Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels to Paul McCarthy and Gilbert & George has left their figurative footprints on this symbolically charged surface. Now in its seventy-fifth year, and under the new directorship of acclaimed Nigerian-born curator Okwui Enwezor, the Haus der Kunst is in the process of yet another exciting metamorphosis. And those bloodred limestone floors are still there to witness it.
Felix Burrichter is the founder and editor in chief of PIN-UP magazine.