Somewhat hidden behind the brutalist juggernaut of the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf Art Galleries, erected in 1967 by Beckmann & Brockes), stands the first gallery building for new art in West Germany. It, too, features a lot of concrete, but it is subtler and more sophisticated than the former. A visit in pictures.
"Make each door welcoming and give a face to each window. Make each one a place ..."
Aldo van Eyck, architect
The art dealer Alfred Schmela bucked the trends of the time when he built this house that combined spaces for living, working and exhibitions in the old city of Düsseldorf. The Dutch structuralist Aldo van Eyck designed the visionary building, made of pumice concrete, between 1967 and 1971. Its interlocking grey surfaces on Mutter-Ey-Straße were at first seen as totally inappropriate for an exhibition space of the time. White cubes were in-demand; they should be empty and neutral. Until the early 1960s, people mostly used private apartments for gallery operations, but now the curators and artists were moving into old factory buildings and empty shops. The movement came out of New York and developed in parallel to minimal and post-minimal art. Here, exhibited and large-format works could be created. The predominant art forms were industrial, serial and process-heavy. Schmela decided to go against the grain with his gallery. The surfaces are raw and textured; the rooms have all sorts of corners and niches; the façade is defined by its differing window formats. A large glass cylinder stands in the centre of the building. Every detail is precisely thought through here: from the recessed windows to the positions of the hoists. Variegated walls and different kinds of openings in and on the building open up visual axes and allow for changing perspectives. The building opened sensationally on 17 September 1971 with the installation “Barraque D’Dull Odde,” by Joseph Beuys. Many shows followed, featuring Jörg Immendorff, Gerard Richter, Jean Tinguely, Gordon Matta-Clark and the ZERO artists. It was not uncommon that they were seen here in Europe first. It is probably for that reason that the Galerie Schmela developed into one of the most legendary in the nation. Since 1996, it has been under historical monument protection.
In 1995, a renovation took place, led by Günter Zamp Kelp, one of the founders of the wonderful Vienna architecture and artist group Haus-Rucker-Co, which renovated the former passageway into a business and exhibition room. Ulrike Schmela-Brüning, the daughter of the art dealer, closed the venerable house and moved the gallery with her to Berlin. Since 2009, the building has been a part of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (North Rhine-Westphalia Art Collection), along with the exhibition spaces K20 and K21. Schmela Haus now serves as an “experimental rehearsal stage.” Discussions, debates and presentations take place there, as do campaign events and performances. The former residential spaces are used for a Curator-in-Residence program.
In 2013, the Düsseldorf sculptor Andreas Schmitten installed his work "Ein Set für das Schmela Haus. Bar und Saal" ("A Set for Schmela Haus. Bar and Hall"). The bar on the ground floor and the hall on the basement level, with their kitschy retro/sci-fi design, contrast wonderfully with Eyck’s rough grey. Additionally, the installation creates a perfect frame for Futur3, the exhibition that regularly takes place there, in which questions about the future – of museums, cities, society, art and science – are debated. Upcoming dates are already fixed: they’re always on Thursdays, starting at 7 p.m.
"Ein Set für das Schmela Haus. Bar und Saal." ('A Set for Schmela Haus. Bar and Hall').