Founded in 1829, the Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen in Düsseldorf belongs to the first generation of German Kunstvereins. With over 3000 members it is also one of the largest. As an autonomous venue for the production, presentation and communication of contemporary art, it occupies a firm place in the cultural life of Düsseldorf and its environs. At the same time, however, its exhibition programme is oriented to an international audience.
The respective aesthetic and societal state of present-day art is reflected in the Kunstverein’s monographic and thematic exhibitions. Of decisive significance for the Kunstverein’s programme is the tracing of current relevant theoretical as well as practice-oriented themes and to present them for discussion in exhibitions and educational events. An important aspect of the Kunstverein’s work is to introduce still young and lesser known artists as well as previously underrepresented positions, and in doing so, lay the foundation both in terms of method and content for an ongoing occupation with their artistic projects.
The exhibition spaces and administration of the Kunstverein has been housed since 1967 on the second floor of the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, designed by Konrad Beckmann on Grabbeplatz in the heart of the “Altstadt”. The Kunstverein organises exhibitions, lectures and discussions there, all of which are open to the public, and which likewise incorporate political and social issues over and above artistic questions. An extensive educational programme encompassing guided tours and art trips are aimed in particular at the members of the Kunstverein.
Eva Birkenstock, Director
Hanna Welzel, Assistant to the Director
Gesa Hüwe, Curatorial Assistant
Marius Comanns, Head of Technical Staff
Sigrid Konopka, Member Support
Lilli von Bodman
Georg Kulenkampff (Chairman)
Dr. Stefan Spang
The Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen was founded in 1829 at a time when Düsseldorf was not merely the home of the Prussian provincial parliament, but was also a city undergoing a political and cultural awakening by virtue of the burgeoning Düsseldorf School of Painting and its concomitant status as an academy town. The first director of the Kunstverein was the Rector of the Düsseldorf Academy, the painter Willhelm von Schadow, who established the Kunstverein in a lively exchange with artists, citizens and the government in Berlin. The Verein’s goal was to be the sponsoring of »contemporary art« as well as to support »artists and disciples of art in their endeavours and in general to promote wider participation in all things beautiful«. Until the move into a permanent exhibition space, the Kunstverein was situated in the Düsseldorf Castle, in which the Academy was also situated during the 19th Century. The first annual exhibitions were to take place there. Activities such as the auctioning of artworks amongst members (as a forerunner of the present day annual edition) and the sponsoring of artworks for the public display also took place here during the Kunstverein’s first phase. The first members were from Germany, predominantly from the Rheinland and Westphalian area and were the sponsors and collectors of the Düsseldorf School of Painting supported by the Kunstverein. At the turn of the 19th Century the Verein boasted a membership of almost 14,000 and in cultural terms was considered to be an extraordinarily robust organization.
The 20th Century
Apart form the Kunstmuseum founded in 1919, the Kunstverein was – up until the 1960s – the only institution in Düsseldorf actually exhibiting art. In view of this fact and because of the lack of an appropriate collection of old masters (the collection had travelled from Düsseldorf to Munich during the 18th Century), it was decided at the beginning of the 20th Century that the presentation of historical positions alongside contemporary art would be advantageous.
The most important examples of these historical exhibitions are »Masterpieces from the 15th – 20th Centuries« with works from Raphael to van Gogh from the museum in São Paulo, the world photography exhibition and an overview of Aristide Maillol’s oeuvre. Of central significance for the Kunstverein’s later direction and slant were to be the influential exhibitions of contemporary artists, such as Peter Brüning (1956), Jackson Pollock (1961), Gerhard Richter (1971) or the early projects of the Gruppe 53 (1956). The DAAD exhibition in 1958 organised by the Kunstverein together with Hanna Höch, Max Ernst und Man Ray was not only an event of international importance, but was also to provide a decisive impulse for the Fluxus movement, itself initiated in Düsseldorf. During the past decades the Kunstverein has made a name for itself with international solo exhibitions and themed group shows, here too with the focus clearly upon the search for salient trends and tendencies. In keeping with this long tradition, the scope for experiment and the space for new discoveries of pioneering positions are extremely important to us.
Since 1967 the Kunstverein and the Kunsthalle have shared the building designed by Konrad Beckmann and situated on the Grabbeplatz at the heart of Düsseldorf. The cuboid design of the building made from prefabricated concrete blocks is an incisive example of brutalist architecture. When the idea was floated towards the end of the 1990s that this structure should be demolished – a structure that is consciously at variance to the harmony of the surrounding buildings – artists and the townspeople of Düsseldorf successfully campaigned to retain it. Substantial reconstruction and modernisation have resulted in the restoration of the building to its original appearance and the re-accentuation of the design’s functional aspects.
The Kunstverein has use of a 360 sq metre hall in the upper storey with an adjacent foyer with a view of the Grabbeplatz. Both the Kunstverein and the Kunsthalle can use the so-named Emporensaal situated opposite in the upper storey communally.
Solo exhibitions are juxtaposed with themed group work, both of which posing thus questions about current artistic practice and its critical potential. Also on offer are communication platforms comprising talks, guided tours, films and publications that serve to supplement the programme and open up new vistas for thought and activity.