Speech at the Opening of the Great German Art Exhibition in Munich

Speech at the Opening of the Great German Art Exhibition in Munich

July 19, 1937

Thus, at this time I would like to make the following observation: Before National Socialism acceded to power, there was a so-called “modern” art in Germany, i.e., just as the word itself indicates, a new art every year. National Socialist Germany, in contrast, wishes to re-establish a “German art,” and this art shall and will be eternal, just as is every other creative merit of a people. If it lacks such eternal merit for our Volk, then it is today without significant merit as well.

When the cornerstone was laid for this building, it marked the beginning of construction of a temple not for a so-called modern, but for a genuine and eternal German art-or better: a building for the art of the German Volk and not for some international art of 1937, ’40, ’50, or ’60. For art is not established in terms of a time, but only in terms of peoples. Thus the artist does not so much erect a memorial to a time, but rather to his people. For time is something changeable: the years come and go. Whatever would exist only within a certain time would have to be as transient as time itself. And not only what was accomplished before our time would fall prey to this transience; it would also encompass what is being accomplished today or will be shaped at some future time.

We National Socialists acknowledge only one type of transience, and that is the transience of the Volk itself. We know the reasons. As long as a Volk prevails, it constitutes the calming influence in the world of fleeting phenomena. It is that which is abiding and permanent! And hence art, too, as the characteristic feature of this abiding, constitutes an immortal monument, itself abiding and permanent, and thus there is no such criterion as yesterday and today, or modern and out of date; instead, there is but the single criterion of “worthless” or “valuable,” and hence “immortal” or “transient.” And this immortality lies anchored in the life of the peoples as long as these themselves are immortal, i.e. prevail. [-] The question has often been asked what it really means “to be German.” Among all the definitions which have been put forth by so many men throughout the centuries, there is one I find most fitting; one which makes no attempt whatsoever to provide any basic explanation, but instead simply states a law. The most marvelous law I can imagine as the lifelong task for my Volk in this world is one a great German once expressed as: “To be German means to be clear!” Yet that would signify that to be German means to be logical and above all to be true.

A splendid law-yet also one that puts every individual under an obligation to subordinate himself to it and thus abide by it. Taking this law as a starting point, we will arrive at a universally applicable criterion for the correct character of our art, because it will correspond to the life-governing law of our Volk.

A deep-felt, inner yearning for such a true German art bearing the marks of this law of clarity has always been alive in our Volk. It inspired our great painters, our sculptors, those who have designed our architecture, our thinkers and poets, and perhaps above all our musicians. On that fateful sixth of June, 1931, when the old Glass Palace went up in flames, an immortal treasure of truly German art perished with it in the fire. They were called “Romantics” and yet were the most splendid representatives of that German search for the real and true character of our Volk and for a sincere and decent expression of this inwardly-sensed law of life.

What was decisive in characterizing the German being was not only the choice of subject matter they portrayed, but also their clear and simple way of rendering these sentiments.

And thus it is no coincidence that these masters were closest to the most German-and hence most natural-part of our Volk. These masters were and remain immortal, even today when many of their works no longer exist in the original but have been preserved only as copies or reproductions. Yet how far removed were the deeds and works of these men from that pitiful marketing of so many of our so-called modern “creative artists,” from their unnatural smearing and dabbling which could only be cultivated, sponsored and approved of by the doings of characterless and unscrupulous men of letters and which were always completely alien-and in fact detestable-to the German Volk with its sound instincts? Our German Romantics of yore had not the slightest intention of being or wanting to be ancient or even modern. Feeling and sensing as Germans, they naturally assumed their works would correspondingly be valued permanently- corresponding to the lifetime of the German Volk.

In 1931, the National Socialist takeover was still so far off in the distant future that there was scarcely a chance to provide for the construction of a new exhibition palace for the Third Reich.

In fact, for a while it did seem as though the “men of November” would provide an edifice for the exhibition of art in Munich which would have had as little to do with German art as it, conversely, reflected the Bolshevist affairs and circumstances of their time. Many of you perhaps still recall the plans for that building which was intended for the old Botanical Garden which has now been given such a beautiful design. A building quite difficult to define. An edifice which could just as easily have been a Saxon thread factory as the market hall of a mid-sized city-or perhaps a train station, or then again even an indoor swimming pool. I need not press upon you how I suffered at the thought back then that the first misfortune would be followed by yet another. And that therefore, in this case in particular, I was truly glad, really happy about the fainthearted lack of determination on the part of my political opponents at the time. In it lay perhaps the only chance of maybe ultimately saving the erection of a palace for art exhibitions in Munich to become the first great undertaking of the Third Reich.

Now, you will all understand that I am presently filled with truly painful concern that Providence has not allowed us to witness this day with that man who, as one of the greatest German architects, drew up the plans for this work immediately after the takeover.

When I approached Professor Ludwig Troost, who was already working on the Party buildings at that time, with the request to erect an edifice for exhibiting art on this square, that exceptional man had already produced a number of grandly-conceived sketches for such an edific-ecorresponding to the specifications given at the time-on the site of the old Botanical Garden. And these plans, too, revealed his masterful skill! He nonetheless did not even send these plans to the jury as part of the competition-for the sole reason, as he bitterly confessed to me, that he was convinced it would have been a completely futile endeavor to submit such work to a forum which regarded all sublime and decent art as detestable, and whose sole aim and ultimate purpose was the Bolshevization-in other words, the chaotic infiltration-of our entire German and hence cultural life. Thus the public never became aware of these plans at all. Later it did come to know the new draft which now stands consummated before you.

And this new concept of building-you will all have to concede this today- is a truly great and artistic success. This edifice is so unique and so original that it cannot be compared to anything else.

There is no such thing as a building of which one could say that it is the original, and this here is the copy. As all truly great creative works of architecture, this building is unique and memorable; not only will it remain, in its originality, in everyone’s memory-moreover, it is in itself a symbol, yes, I might even say it is a true monument to this city and above and beyond that to German art.

At the same time, this masterpiece is great in beauty and practical in its design and features, without allowing any utilitarian technical requirements to dominate the work as a whole. It is a temple of art, not a factory, not a district heating plant, not a train station, and not an electric reversing plant! This great and unique artistic structure matches the specifications and the site itself; moreover, the precious materials used and the painstakingly exact execution do so as well. I am talking about the careful execution which is part of the great school of that departed master who wanted this building not to be a market place for artistic goods but rather a temple of art. And it has been in accordance with his wishes that his successor, Professor Gall, has loyally adhered to this legacy and brilliantly continued construction, advised and accompanied by a woman who has a proud right not only to bear the name but also the title of her husband.156 Master builder Heiger later became the third to join the group. Its plans have now been carried out and completed by the industriousness and artistry of German workers and craftsmen.

Hence an edifice has been built which is worthy of providing the highest accomplishments of art the opportunity to show themselves to the German Volk. And therefore the construction of this building shall also mark a turning point, putting an end to the chaotic architectural bungling of the past. This is one of the first new buildings to take its fitting place among the immortal achievements in the history of German art-life.

You will, however, understand that it cannot suffice to donate this building to the German fine arts, this building that is so decent, clear-cut and genuine that we can rightly call it a Haus der Deutschen Kunst; the exhibition itself must now work toward bringing about a change from the deterioration we have witnessed in art, sculpture and painting.

When I presume at this time to pass judgment, to voice my views and to take action corresponding to these insights, I am claiming the right to do so not only because of my attitude toward German art as such, but above all because of the contribution I myself have made to the restoration of German art. For it was this modern state-which I won over and organized with my fellow fighters in a long and difficult struggle against a world of adversaries- that has provided the great basis upon which German art can blossom new and strong.

It has not been Bolshevist art collectors and their literary henchmen who have laid the foundations for the establishment of a new art or even ensured that art can survive in Germany; we have been the ones, we who breathed life into this state and have been allocating immense sums to German art ever since, funds it needs to ensure its survival and its work, and above all: we are the ones because we ourselves have assigned to art new and great tasks.

Had I accomplished nothing else in my life but this one structure here, I would already have done more for German art than all the ludicrous scribblers in our former Jewish newspapers or the petty art-dabblers (Kunstkleckser) who, anticipating their own transience, have nothing to recommend themselves but their own praise of the modernity of their creations.

Yet I know that, quite independent of this new work, the new German Reich will bring about a tremendous blossoming in German art, for never before has it been assigned more gigantic tasks than is the case in this Reich today and will be the case in the future. And never before have the funds thus required been appropriated more generously than in National Socialist Germany.

Yet when I speak before you here today, I am also speaking as the representative of this Reich, and just as I believe in the eternity of this Reich- which is to be nothing other than the living organism comprised of our Volk – I am likewise capable only of believing in and hence working on and for an eternal German art.

The art of this new Reich therefore cannot be gauged by the standards of ancient or modern; rather, as German art, it will have to secure its immortality in our history.

The fact is, art is not a fashion. Just as the essence and blood of our Volk does not change, so must art, too, dispose of its transient character in order to embody instead in its constantly improving creations a graphic and worthy expression of our Volk’s course of life. Cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, Impressionism, etc. have nothing to do with our German Volk. For all these terms are neither ancient nor are they modern: they are merely the affected stuttering of people from whom God has withheld the grace of a truly artistic talent and instead whom He endowed with an ability to talk rubbish and to deceive.

Therefore I wish to pledge a vow in this hour that it is my inalterable decision to now purge-just as I have the field of political confusion-the life of German art of phraseology. “Works of art” which cannot be understood in and of themselves but require, as justification for their existence, a bombastic set of instructions as to how to finally discover that shy creature who would patiently accept such stupid or insulting nonsense will from now on no longer find their way to the German Volk! All these catchwords such as, “inner experience,” “strong cast of mind,” “powerful intention,” “promising sensation,” “heroic attitude,” “sympathetic significance,” “time experienced as order,” “primal crudeness,” etc.-all these stupid, false excuses, phrases and prattles will no longer be able to absolve or even recommend themselves for products that show no talent and are hence merely worthless.

If a person has a powerful intention or an inner experience, let him prove it in his work and not in driveling phrases.

Basically, we are all much less interested in so-called intention than in ability. Hence an artist who anticipates exhibiting his work in this building or playing any public role whatsoever in tomorrow’s Germany must have ability.

The intention goes without saying from the very onset! It would be absolutely unthinkable for a person to pester his fellow citizens with works with which he ultimately pursues no aim at all. When these drivelers attempt to make their works attractive by presenting them as the expression of a new age, they must be told that it is not art which creates new times; rather the peoples’ life in general takes on a new shape and therefore frequently attempts to find a new form of expression. Yet those who have been talking about a new art in Germany in the past decades have not understood the new German age. For a new epoch is not shaped by litterateurs but by the fighters, i.e. by those contemporaries who truly shape and lead peoples and hence make history.

These pitiful, muddled artists and scribblers can hardly be deemed as belonging to this group. Furthermore, it is either an insolent affront or a nearly inconceivable stupidity to present works, above all in an age such as ours, which could have been done ten or twenty thousand years ago by a Stone-Age man.

They talk about the primitive nature of art-and completely ignore the fact that it is not the task of art to detach itself backwards from the evolution of a Volk; instead, its task can only be to symbolize the living evolution.

The opening of this exhibition marks the beginning of the end of German infatuation with art (Kunstvernarrung) and with it the destruction of our Volk’s culture. From now on we will wage a ruthless war to eradicate the last few elements that are subverting our culture.

And when one day in this field as well, sacred conscientiousness has been restored to its rightful position, I have no doubt that the Almighty will once more choose those few from among the masses of decent artists and elevate them to the heights of the eternal starry skies where the immortal, divinely-gifted artists of great ages dwell.

For we do not believe that, with the great men of past centuries, the age of the creative power of gifted individuals has ended and will, in the future, be replaced by a respective power of the collective masses! No, we believe that today above all, at a time when superlative individual achievements are being accomplished in so many areas, the most highly-valued power of the individual will once more become triumphantly manifest in the field of art. Therefore, the sole desire I wish to express at this moment is that this new building may be fortunate enough to be able to house within its walls many more works of great artists in coming centuries and to show them to the German Volk, thereby making a contribution not only to the fame of this truly artistic city, but also to the honor and standing of the entire German nation.

With that I hereby declare the 1937 Great German Art Exhibition in Munich open to the public!


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