the museum insel hombroich

outside düsseldorf, germany may be the most successful venue for exhibiting art that i’ve experienced.  in 1982, the collector karl-heinrich müller bought an 18th-century house on a large property in order display the growing collection of art and antiquities that had engulfed his living and office spaces.  working with the sculptor erwin heerich, the painter gotthard grauber and landscape architect bernard korte,  he developed a plan for a series of pavilions scattered throughout a landscape.  insel hombroich opened to the public in 1987, and through successive acquisitions of real estate, expanded in the 1990’s.   it now includes an abandoned missile site with spaces for artists, musicians and scientists.

your experience at insel hombroich begins when you pass through an unassuming, though notably austere, admissions building.    you move down a steep, narrow stair and a large meadow opens in front of you.     as you follow the gravel path, you find the first pavilion  – “turm” – designed by sculptor erwin heerich and built in 1989.

it is both thoroughly modern and strikingly primitive.        perhaps ceremonial?

a sculpture is as much about the space around the object as the object itself.       here, the experience is of the space inside as well as out.

as stefan pointed out, you walk directly from the landscape into the building without ascending stairs.   at insel hombroich there are no grand entries…

inside, the unadorned walls and white marble floor are bathed in soft, even, natural light.

this space is empty.     with the elegant proportions of a holy place.

footsteps and voices echo deafeningly.   but the moment you cease to move or talk, you are engulfed in silence.

it is snowy, so the light inside, reflecting off the walls  and floor, is like the light reflecting off the snow outside.

if the walk into insel hombroich didn’t slow your pace.   being in this space will.

looking up:

when you can bring yourself to leave, you wander a water-meadow — restored by landscape architect bernard korte with vegetation native to the region.   other than a few clumps of trees that have been hacked into sculpted submission, this could be wilderness.

you next come to “labyrinth” — a large square building with one simple wooden door at the corner of each of the four sides.  a gravel path outlines the structure, which is enclosed in tall, perfectly-groomed hedge.    before you even enter, you are cut off from the outside.    you feel the potential of losing yourself.

“labyrinth” is organized around a large central square, again, entered from each of the four corners.   the collections are organized and displays brilliantly designed by the painter gotthard grauber, two of whose atmospheric color field paintings are visible here, with khmer sculpture.   the idiosyncratic arrangement of the work and varying height of vitrines on which the sculptures are displayed is rhythmic, musical.

there is no wall text.

there are no divisions between different collections.

only beautiful relationships of form and and color and space.

and extraordinary objects.

the stands that raise some of these 18th century chinese glass pieces, creating the syncopation of the display, are blocks of styrofoam…

note the steel frame on which ganesha floats.

the entrance to “schnecke”…

one pavilion is a dining room.

simple, beautifully crafted plywood tables are surrounded by early twentieth-century bentwood chairs.    a long table holds bread & butter and a bowl of hard-boiled eggs.   this wintry day, there was a hearty dried pea and cabbage soup.

in “zwolf-raume-haus” (twelve room house) — paintings by bart van der leck with furniture by gerrit rietveld.

in one room, an installation of 5 works by yves klein.

we arrived at insel hombtoich in the afternoon.   illuminated only by natural light, it closes with the day.    we saw a fraction of the collection of arp, schwitters, klimt,  fautrier, calder, cézanne, picabia, matisse, brancusi, giacometti, chinese works from the han, tang and ming dynasties, objects from thailand, amlash, africa and meso america.    i’m already planning my next trip to insel hombroich — next time a full day.

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