Kunst & Kohle! Black is the new Black in the Ruhrpott

Breathing Cloud, 2007 Foto- Mike Harris Courtesy by Dorette Sturm

The Ruhrpott – or Ruhrgebiet – is a region in the North-western part of Germany with a fascinating evolution. Theater of an economic miracle in the 50’s and 60’s, it has been the realm of the German Industry since the XIXth century : steel, coal, gigantic factory, devastating pollution. When all these industries got exported to foreign countries in the following decades, the region’s economy went from Top to Bottom, and not in a good way. Alarming unemployment, air and water pollution, and the worst food reputation of the whole country. Boy! Was I scared to go!

Alicja Kwade, Kohle (1T Rekord), 2010

Making peace with its past, the Ruhrgebiet is now the largest urban area in Germany, and incredibly green. Through the tough time of the 90’s and 2000’s, the inhabitants understood the values of cooperation and harmonious decisions. The strength lays in the gathering of many diverse parties. This is the breeding-ground for the project « Kunst & Kohle » (Art & Coal).

17 museums gathered around the project. It’s quite remarkable as they are very different from one another. This reunion is a necessary political statement and a survival strategy. Joining forces allows the museums to be a force, a living organism inside every one plays a role. This means that the museums are not powerless in front of the political authorities : if one museum is in danger, they are all here. If the strategy is not new, it’s very original to transpose it in the institutional art world.
The artistic manifestation in itself is a great way to discover the Region. Here are my highlights.

SchichtWechsel at the Museum Ostwall, DortmundThe jumbo U-Tower in Dortmund is a former brewery building now house of the Museum Ostwall as well as other cultural facilities. Funded by Dr Leonie Reygers after the Second World War, the Museum lives in the U-Tower since 2005. It is big and generous, diverse and edgy, I LOVE IT!

The architectural renovation is tasteful, with tremendous room volume. For « Kunst & Kohle » , the curatorial team (Regina Selter, Karoline Sieg and Caro Delsing) chose to mix art brut from the miners with contemporary art. They are presented in different rooms, which is a bit unfortunate as it could have been a great occasion to develop the dialogue. Still, some pieces are quite breathtaking, like this painting by Karl Hertmann, whose style reminds me of the contemporary artist Kristina Schuldt. Also on display, a work from the French painter Séraphine Louise well worth your visit.

All through the 17 Museums, there are a lot of works from Alicja Kwade, the young German star. This show is proud to have the 1Ton work, who is so shiny you should think about bringing sunglasses. The show is very big, with works from Andreas Gursky, Mohau Modisakeng, Reiner Ruthenbeck, and Rirkit Tiravanija.


Museum Ostwall
Leonie-Reygers-Terrasse 2
44137 Dortmund
Tue, Wed, Sat, Sun 11:00 – 18:00 Uhr
Thu, Fri 11:00 – 20:00 Uhr
closed on Mondays – entry 5€

Andreas Gursky, Hamm, Bergwerk Ost, 2008, C-Print © Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017/18 Courtesy Sprüth Magers

Karl Hartmann, Morning Wash, 1962 / Evening Wash, 1964
Bettina Marx
press ping-pong

Josef Albers Museum Quadrat, Bottrop
This Museum offers a totally different atmosphere from Ostwall. Lost in the woods, the Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop is surrounded by luscious gardens with stunning sculptures. Born in Bottrop, Josef Albers was a painter and one of Bauhaus teachers. His work has had a deep influence on many artists from the mid-XXth century – check his self portrait, he was also super hot. The ideals of progressive harmony and purity of the famous school found in this place one of their most successful incarnation. The whole place is a quintessence of the best ideas of Bauhaus.

For « Kunst & Kohle », the museum shows works from Hilla and Bernd Becher. The two German photographers are famous for influencing generations of artists and photographers. Shot on cloudy days, their typologies of industrial buildings are still and silent, like a mute alphabet.


Josef Albers Museum Quadrat Bottrop
Im Stadtgarten 20
46236 Bottrop
Tue-Sat: 11 – 17 Uhr
Sun and Holidays : 10 – 17 Uhr
closed on Mondays – entry free


Kunstmuseum, GelsenkirchenHidden inside the city of Gelsenkirchen, the Museum is an assembly of diverse architectures. Modest in size, it is home to a very interesting collection including major artists of the XIXth and XXth century like Max Liebermann, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Francois Morellet or Ad Reinhardt.

The temporary exhibition shows the star of the whole « Kunst & Kohle » event : Alicja Kwade. The German artist had works in 1/3 of the exhibitions we have seen. That’s a lot. For sure, there must be another contemporary artist that deals with materials, including coal! Is there not? What about Dr Daro Montag, Heather Hansen, Carali Mc Call? Anyway, Ms Kwade’s work is very very beautiful, perfectly orchestrated and polished like Aquaria’s make-up.

In the Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen, Alicja Kwade is accompanied by Gregor Hildebrandt, Dirk Bell and Rinus van de Velde. The exhibition is very well balanced and extremely pleasing to experience. The works are dynamically put together and they all give a sense of awe – may they be in the space or on the wall, constructivist or representational.


Kunstmuseum Gelsenkirchen
Horster Straße 5-7
45897 Gelsenkirchen

Tue-Sun : 11-18 h
Monday closed – free entry

Alicja Kwade, Annahme falscher Eigenschaften, 2012 and Dirk Bell, Ohne Titel, 2015
Alicja Kwade, Restbetrag (12820,51 €), 2013/14
Alicja Kwade, 02.12.2013, 15.39, 2013
Gregor Hildebrandt, Der große Regen, 2018

Also on the list of things to see :
Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg shows Xu Bing, Robert Smithson, Richard Serra, Marcel Broodthears, Katinka Bock, Peter Buggenhout, Lara Favaretto, Alicja Kwade (again) or Lucy Skaer.


watering the art
David Hammons, Chasing the Blue Train
Robert Smithson, Nonsite Oberhausen

The Center for International Light Art in Unna shows Diana Ramaekers (NL), Nicola Schrudde (DE) and Dorette Sturm (NL). Unfortunately, I have not seen it, but REALLY WANT TO, so if you go, make sure to comment to tell us how it is.

It’s a really exciting museum dedicated to Light art. The permanent collection includes works form Rebecca Horn, Olafur Eliasson, Christian Boltanski, Joseph Kosuth, James Turell, or François Morellet. If you go in the Region, that’s a must see.



KUNST & KOHLE, a mega group exhibition over 17 Museum in the Ruhr Area
There are different dates of closing for the exhibition, but let’s say 16th of September
In the Ruhr Area : Duisburg, Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, etc
Pick a nice hotel in the region, and get a Kombi-Tickett for 25€, or just see the free exhibitions. Book the FREE bus tour by calling this number : 0203.93 55 54 723

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