History of the
Kunsthalle Düsseldorf

James Lee Byars, Performance Das Gebet, 1986, photo: Heinz Jokisch

The Kun­sthalle, a con­crete block built in 1967, is one of the most con­cise build­ings in Düssel­dorf, a now rare ex­am­ple of raw ar­chi­tec­ture. Ar­chi­tects Beck­mann and Brock­es used pre­fab­ri­cat­ed blocks of con­crete, de­vel­oped in the 1950s for pure­ly eco­nom­ic rea­sons, and thus were faced with more than just a for­mal chal­lenge. This is the back­ground against which the Kun­sthalle’s ar­chi­tec­ture must be re­gard­ed to­day.

Ev­er since the build­ing on the Grabbe­platz opened, it has housed two in­de­pen­dent in­sti­tu­tions, the Kun­sthalle and the Kun­stvere­in für die Rhein­lande und West­falen. Not mere­ly ex­ter­nal­ly dif­fer­ent from all of the oth­er mu­se­ums in Düssel­dorf, the Kun­sthalle’s con­cep­tu­al di­rec­tion is al­so dis­tinct. Host­ing an ar­ray of ex­hi­bi­tions, but with­out its own col­lec­tion, con­tem­po­rary art move­ments and po­si­tions, as well as their his­tor­i­cal and lo­cal points of ref­er­ence, were cru­cial to the Kun­sthalle’s pro­gram from the start. Pi­o­neer­ing shows were seen here, such as the se­ries of “Prospect” ex­hi­bi­tions be­tween 1968 and 1976, and so a num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al artists en­tered the Eu­ro­pean art mar­ket through the Düssel­dorf Kun­sthalle. It is the Kun­sthalle’s job to stim­u­late dis­cus­sions and ex­plo­rations of to­day’s art, in its im­me­di­a­cy as well as in the con­text of cur­rent de­vel­op­ments – mean­ing, a kind of art that is ar­tic­u­late, that en­ters in­to so­cial dis­course. Me­di­at­ing con­tem­po­rary art, re­veal­ing its roots and its con­ti­nu­ity with­in the artis­tic dis­course is of cen­tral im­por­tance.

At the end of the 1990s, Düssel­dorf artists and cit­i­zens were suc­cess­ful in their ef­forts to re­tain the Kun­sthalle. The build­ing was tem­porar­i­ly closed for ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion and mod­ern­iza­tion, which was car­ried out by the ar­chi­tec­tural team from rhe­in­flügel. It has been open to vis­i­tors again since Ju­ly 2002. Vis­i­tors are cap­ti­vat­ed by the in­side of the build­ing, thanks to its sim­ple ar­range­ment and the gen­er­ous di­men­sions of its gal­leries. Af­ter ren­o­va­tion, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of these rooms were em­pha­sized and op­ti­mized for pre­sent­ing art. Dis­cor­dant sur­faces and tech­ni­cal ad­di­tions were re­moved from floors, walls, and ceil­ings in fa­vor of a new, tech­ni­cal equip­ment. The new light­ing con­cept un­der­scores the pro­por­tions of the rooms, and the façade of the en­trance and the foy­er zone, which ex­tends from the ground floor to the sec­ond floor, ful­fill the tasks of re­cep­tion and ori­en­ta­tion, as was fore­seen in the orig­i­nal 1967 con­cept. The pres­ence and form of the cashier’s desk, book­shop, bar, and in­for­ma­tion desk have been de­signed to echo the cu­bist ar­chi­tec­ture of the Kun­sthalle.

The Kunsthalle Düsseldorf is a place for the entire spectrum of international contemporary art and related contemporary discourses. This tradition has continued since its reopening in 2002 with innovative formats for exhibiting and communicating.
The wide range of exhibitions focusing on a variety of topics and periods, such as Zurück zum Beton: Die Anfänge von Punk und New Wave in Deutschland 1977–’82, Ready to Shoot: Fernsehgalerie Gerry Schum, videogalerie schum (2003), Palermo (2007), Sonic Youth etc.: Sensational Fix (2009), Eating the Universe: Food in Art (2009–10), Hans-Peter Feldmann: Art Exhibition (2010), and KRIWET: Yester ’n’ Today (2011), have been greeted with enthusiasm by the public. Furthermore, the exhibition series Seitenlichtsaal and the presentation of recipients of the Karl Schmidt-Rottluff Scholarship have featured and continue to showcase younger and less well-known artists.

Since Jan­uary 2010, Gre­gor Jansen has been di­rec­tor of the Kun­sthalle Düssel­dorf. Un­der his di­rec­tion, in­ter­na­tion­al cur­rents and Düssel­dorf po­si­tions, new tal­ents and “big” names will con­tin­ue to find their place in this out-of-the-or­di­nary venue.