Thursday, November 11, 2010

Artful Neuss, Germany

Near Neuss, a pleasant drive southwest from Duesseldorf, art is housed in art atop a former NATO missile base.

The Langen Foundation, the private endeavor of art collectors Marianne and Victor Langen, is one of those places you have to know where it is to get there. Understandably so, considering it housed Pershing and Cruise missiles until 1994. During my visit in October, its nearest neighbor was a field planted with kohlrabi.

Japanese architect Tadao Ando transformed the space with a building he was commissioned to design, not for any specific purpose, according to our artist/guide Jens Stittgen, but to be a memorable space that could hold things.

It is, from the walkway lined on one side with Japanese cherry trees to the smooth as silk special concrete - pumped up not down - of the building.

Inside, the special exhibit was a mixture of Belgian, ZERO Group painter Jef Verheyen's light-filled work and Japanese art and objects from the Langens' collection.

A long ramp and stairs lead down to a gallery of more contemporary work.

Tip: The stairs aren't bad, but I recommend the ramp.

Nearby, Museum Island Holmbroich is a revelation of another kind. 

Duesseldorf collector Karl-Heinrich Muller with the help of painter Gotthard Graubner developed the display concept to follow Cezanne's dictum, "Art alongside Nature." Muller bought an undeveloped hunk of land alongside the River Erft and had Duesseldorf sculptor Erwin Heerich create 12 walk-in sculptures, 11 of which contain art. Many are themselves surrounded by sculpture.

The result is a walk through the glorious works of nature with stops to gaze on the works of man, from the Chinese Han dynasty and native Micronesians to classical and contemporary European work. 

Warning: Levelers, you will have to walk over terrain with fairly gentle slopes, but to get to and from it there are formidable stairs - 45 steps that are steep and a bit slippery when wet. If you can manage them the experience is worth the effort.

Neither chronology nor geography figure into Muller and Graubner's display concept, which is one of the more interesting aspects. Instead, complementary styles are combined. No commentary is provided, leaving it up to the viewer to find the parallels. For example, in one sculptural building you will find African sculpture paired with paintings by Karl Schwitters.

However it is arranged, the art is well worth your time. In the works on paper building, I was delighted to find 17 Rembrandt etchings, two Matisses, a wall of Cezanne watercolors, and a handsome Gustave Klimt.

It was late afternoon when we arrived to find our paths lined with meadow saffron, the tree leaves turning to match the autumnal weather, pairs of ducks paddling complacently around one pond and geese preening themselves alongside another.

My visit wasn't nearly long enough. Plan to spend the better part of the day here. If the 12 euro weekday, 15 euro weekend rates seem excessive consider this: There is a cafeteria midway along your ambles where the food and drink are free with your admission!

Have you been to either of these museums? What did you think of them? I'd love to know.


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