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Hitler’s Speech at the Opening of the House of German Art in Munich (July 18, 1937)

On the day before the start of the “Degenerate Art” exhibition, Hitler officially opened the “Great German Art Exhibition,” which was on view in the House of German Art, a new museum designed by architect Paul Ludwig Troost (1873-1934). It was the first of eight annual exhibitions that aimed to define and display “German art.” The exhibited works were chosen in an open competition; artists Adolf Ziegler, Arno Breker, and Karl Albiker, all of whom were loyal to the regime, originally comprised the jury for the 1937 show. A few weeks before the opening, however, Hitler replaced them with his personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann. Approximately 900 works were exhibited. These included nudes, genre scenes, still lifes, idealized landscapes, mythological scenes, images of workers and heroes, and above all portraits of “pure” and “Aryan” people. At the opening, Hitler delivered a programmatic speech on National Socialist cultural policy and its conception of “German art,” making perfectly clear that the Nazi regime would only accommodate art that was suitable for propaganda purposes. Any type of art that did not comply with Nazi ideology would be labeled “degenerate” and banned from museums.

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But you understand now that it is not enough merely to provide the House [ . . . ] the exhibit itself must also bring about a turning point. [ . . . ] If I presume to make a judgment, speak my opinion, and act accordingly, I do this not just because of my outlook on German art, but I claim this right because of the contribution I myself have made to the restoration of German art. Because our present state, which I and my comrades in the struggle have created, has alone provided German art with the conditions for a new, vigorous flowering.

It was not Bolshevik art collectors or their literary henchmen who laid the foundation for a new art or even secured the continued existence of art in Germany. No, we were the ones who created this state and have since then provided vast sums for the encouragement of art. We have given art great new tasks. [ . . . ] I declare here and now that it is my irrevocable resolve that just as in the sphere of political bewilderment, I am going to make a clean sweep of phrases in the artistic life of Germany. "Works of art" which cannot be comprehended and are validated only through bombastic instructions for use [ . . . ] from now on will no longer be foisted upon the German people!

We are more interested in ability than in so-called intent. An artist who is counting on having his works displayed, in this House or anywhere else in Germany, must possess ability. Intent is something that is self-evident. These windbags have tried to make their works more palatable by representing them as expressions of a new age; but they need to be told that art does not create a new age, that it is the general life of peoples which fashions itself anew and therefore often seeks to express itself anew. [ . . . ] Men of letters are not the creators of new epochs; it is the fighters, those who truly shape and lead peoples, who make history. [ . . . ] Aside from that, it is either impudent effrontery or an inscrutable stupidity to exhibit to our own age works that might have been made ten or twenty thousand years ago by a man of the Stone Age. They talk of primitive art, but they forget that it is not the function of art to retreat backward from the level of development a people has already reached. The function of art can only be to symbolize the vitality of this development.

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