Last year, the city of Düsseldorf unveiled the new Wehrhahn metro line. The line, which has six stations and two miles of tunnels, was developed over 15 years as part of a €843m collaboration between the government, architects and artists. The objective? To build a subway that was completely free from advertisements and create a site where art and architecture unite. With architects, artists and engineers working together from the very beginning of the project, the Wehrhahn is a powerful example of how style and function can coexist – and highlights how deeply the arts are embedded into Düsseldorf’s DNA.
‘We wanted an interdisciplinary project,’ explains Ulla Lux from Kulturamtes der Landeshauptstadt Düsseldorf, the city’s office for culture. Other stipulations for the project included spaciousness, clarity, easy orientation and as much light as possible in the stations. The latter is particularly pertinent considering that the very nature of a subway is dark and underground. Was it an easy decision to keep the line free of advertising? Yes, says Lux, ‘because it really should be a statement about art.’
A look back at Düsseldorf’s history helps to explain how the ground-breaking concept behind the Wehrhahn was successfully realised. Düsseldorf’s investment in the arts can be traced back as far as 1762, when the city’s Kunstakademie Düsseldorf art school was founded by Lambert Krahe. As Lux explains, the academy has ‘a long tradition of working to combine art with the city.’
A visit to Düsseldorf offers myriad opportunities to experience many different forms of art. The city’s Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen art collection is notable for its exceptional selection of 20th- and 21st-century art, housed across three separate locations. The main K20 museum building at Grabbeplatz has paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations by artists including Henri Matisse, Gerhard Richter, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. With 101 works, its Paul Klee collection is one of Germany’s largest collections of pieces by the Swiss-German artist.
Kiefernstrasse, a street in the Flingern-Süd district, has been a focal point for alternative culture since the mid 1980s and has an eclectic, multicultural demographic. Houses are covered in stunning street art, expressing views and opinions through vibrantly coloured graffiti, murals and drawings. Now primarily a quiet, residential street, Kiefernstrasse is a popular destination for visitors and an ideal place to take an interesting stroll.
Style and function
The Rheinuferpromenade is another example of how style and function coexist in the city. This beautiful waterside stretch was redeveloped in the 1990s, when two tunnels were created beneath the area to relocate a major traffic artery underground. Now traffic-free, the idyllic esplanade is lined with cafés and restaurants, and locals and visitors alike come here to relax.
The most recent addition to the Rheinuferpromenade is the Kunst im Tunnel (KIT), built between the two road tunnels in 2007. Architecture firm Fritschi Stahl Baum has designed a space that functions both as a meeting place and a focal point for contemporary art. The entrance to the KIT is a glass pavilion facing the river Rhine, which offers visitors the perfect view of the water from its beautiful café terrace. The underground exhibition space follows an elliptical arc that is 140 metres long and runs parallel to the water, with pieces of art displayed along the bare concrete. The space hosts between four and six exhibitions during the year, with a focus on young, emerging artists, curated by KIT’s artistic director Gertrud Peters.
In addition to KIT, visitors keen to discover the city’s up-and-coming artists should head to the Von Fraunberg Art Gallery on Luisenstrasse. A showroom for young artists, the gallery often features the work of graduates from Kunstakademie Düsseldorf alongside international names. Galerie Conrads on Lindenstrasse, founded in 1992, presents the work of new and mid-career artists and seeks to create a dialogue across different generations, cultures and methodologies of artwork.
Düsseldorf’s art scene is clearly multifaceted; it is populated with museums and galleries that represent the cream of established and emerging artists on the one hand, and is influential in moulding the physical landscape of the city on the other. Perhaps the final word should be reserved for art collectors Rosi and Rudolf Dahmen who last year transformed their home into a contemporary space where they curate private shows. The couple say that ‘the boundary between private and public disappears in the building’ and are living proof that in the city of Düsseldorf, art is everywhere.