Kitty Kemr
A Provisional Chronicle

The collector Karl-Heinrich Müller, initiator, founder and purchaser of the Hombroich museum island, likes to talk about the “island family” which came together as his creation started to form and develop. For this reason I should like to start my chronicle by explaining how I became a member of this “family”.

While studying art history at the University of Bonn from 1974 to 1981 I worked for a time for Johannes Wasmuth at Rolandseck Station. I prepared exhibitions and musical events and had the opportunity to help look after the collection of works by Hans Arp.

I met Karl-Heinrich Müller there for the first time in 1976. I saw his private art collection on a later visit to Düsseldorf. It fascinated me, and I was quick to accept when Karl-Heinrich Müller asked me to prepare an art-historical record of the works. At this stage there were already so many of them that there were even works of art piled up under the beds. Not even the office had been spared.

What was to be done? Could these works be entrusted to a public museum?

Karl-Heinrich Müller had never collected systematically, according to art-historical criteria, but had simply followed his personal preferences. For this reason he also exchanged some items, in order to create focal points. For example, he gave up works by Beuys, Polke, Fontana, Goller and Tápies so that he could acquire assemblages by Schwitters or reliefs by Arp. He always bought because he was enthusiastic. In this he followed his instincts for finding the mysterious and magical qualities that interested him in works from various periods.

When I started my work there were four focal points in the collection, largely arising from suggestions by the gallery-owner Sami Tarica: Kurt Schwitters, Hans Arp, Jean Fautrier and Yves Klein. Works by these artists still form the core of the ever expanding collection. Thus thirteen assemblages and collages by Schwitters were added to the collection in the eighties.

It now includes twenty-one works, mainly from his late period, and is one of the most extensive collections of Schwitters’ work. Arp is represented by fourteen collages, reliefs and sculptures. Five monochrome works by Yves Klein are on show in an ambience dedicated solely to Klein, in the Zwölf-Räume-Haus (Twelve Room House).

Jean Fautrier’s work was very important in the early days of the collection. In all, twenty-five paintings from all the periods of his work were acquired, starting with the Black Pictures. Karl-Heinrich Müller’s continued keen interest in Fautrier’s sculptures led to a further nine heads and figures (plaster, bronze, stone) being brought into the collection.

A stock of archaeological items was brought together in the seventies as the second core area of the collection. It includes jewellery, vessels and grave goods (approx. 280 items) from Ban-Chiang, about eighty cylinder and button seals, as well as amulets, from ancient Mesopotamia, club-heads, ceramic and cast vessels from Amlash, and Luristan bronze weaponry. These items are juxtaposed with selected works of modern art.

A third, smaller section of the collection developed from this period, including works by Anatol Herzfeld (a long-standing friend of Karl-Heinrich Müller’s), sculptures by Erwin Heerich and pictures by Gotthard Graubner.


The Founding Period (1982–1984)

Karl-Heinrich Müller’s searching eye roves the art world, but at the same time he has clear aims, and this chimes perfectly with his passion for collecting. He always imagined that his collection would be presented in several different places, with a single artist or a coherent ensemble finding its place in one building. Thus the Pavilions Project was born. And what better place for making that a reality than Insel Hombroich!

After several unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable site for his collection in the Greater Düsseldorf area, Karl-Heinrich Müller discovered Insel Hombroich and the surrounding land.

He acquired the site on 6th September 1982.

At the time there were two buildings in the overgrown park by the river Erft, a conservation area – the Rosa Haus (Pink House), a villa dating from 1816, and an outbuilding added in 1906. Karl-Heinrich Müller restored them.

The Rosa Haus acquired exhibition galleries and guest rooms. The galleries were used at first to show old masters, etchings by Rembrandt and water colours by Cézanne. The outbuilding was converted into a home for Karl-Heinrich Müller with two studios, for Heerich and Graubner.

A barn was converted into a studio with exhibition space for Anatol, to his specifications. Anatol created his own personal world in the immediate vicinity.

At the same time as the buildings were being refurbished, work started on renewing the 19th century English Garden with its stock of rare trees.

It must be said at this juncture that in addition to the considerable professional demands on his time, Karl-Heinrich Müller invested an extraordinary degree of energy in the Insel Hombroich project. He infected his artist friends with his euphoria. I too was drawn in by this. We all made up the island family team, which applied its thoughts and ideas to realizing Insel Hombroich in its current form.

In late 1982 the first building application was drawn up for the construction of the pavilions designed by Erwin Heerich. They were intended to house a considerable proportion of the collection.

Heerich was able to apply his view of sculpture to architecture. This meant he was able to create buildings as walk-in sculptures. Their interiors met two criteria: creating a three-dimensional form and opening up the space to take in works of art.

Karl-Heinrich Müller’s enthusiasm for collecting was given new impetus by the many possibilities the island offered.

At Heerich’s suggestion, the stock of works by Brancusi and Bart van der Leck that had been acquired earlier was extended in 1982 by a large group of approximately ninety gouaches and architectural drawings by van der Leck. Four pictures by Picabia introduced a new aspect of the French avant-garde, which was later added to by six of Raymond Hains’ décollages.

At the suggestion of Graubner, a Khmer collection rapidly came into being from 1984 onwards. These purchases fitted in with Müller’s liking for Eastern Asian art, later expressed in the creation of the large Chinese collection. A constant stream of new acquisitions made Eastern Asian art a central feature of the island museum.

1983: The first building phase in the park begins, and is concluded by 1984. Heerich, working with the architect H. Hermann Müller, built three pavilions. First the Orangerie, which originally housed works by Arp, then the cylindrical architecture of the Graubner Pavilion and the Hohe Galerie (High Gallery), showing Asian exhibits and pictures by Fautrier. The island’s motto was also coined at this time: “Kunst parallel zur Natur (Art parallel with Nature)”, based on the words of Cézanne.

A number of journeys undertaken together by Karl-Heinrich Müller, Gotthard Graubner and myself gave rise to ideas for new areas of collecting. The Chinese section was enlarged by works from the Han (206 BC–AD 220) and Tang (AD 618–906) dynasties. The collection of 18th century Chinese glasses was particularly exciting (approx. forty vases, bowls and other vessels). Of importance are also the sixteen Chinese ink-stones.

Alongside these, we started to look at Africa and Oceania. We managed to acquire couches, weapons, a body-mask from Dahomey and a shoulder-mask from Nigeria. The Bateke fetish, a clay sculpture from the Congo, is particularly powerful. Oceania is represented by important pieces from Australia, Polynesia, the Philippines and New Guinea.

It was in 1983 that Graubner drew attention to Corinth. Twelve paintings from his late period, above all portraits, were acquired, and these were complemented by eight oil paintings two years later.

Karl-Heinrich Müller’s interest in works on paper was also awakened at this time. Thus drawings and etchings by Corinth were added to the collection. The high points of the graphics collection are nine water colours by Cézanne, works of great concentration and charisma.

Growth (1984–1988)

The second building phase began in spring 1984, on newly acquired water-meadows. The landscape architect Bernhard Korte restored the original courses of the streams and planted water-meadow vegetation typical of the Lower Rhine, following his own plan for regenerating this lost landscape in its entirety. The landscape of the island was gradually shaped in the form we know it today. Other new buildings were added. Heerich’s large building for the collection, the Labyrinth, has been a key feature of the water-meadows ever since. It was built in 1985/86 and was opened on 8 May 1987. The cafeteria came into service at the same time. This marked Insel Hombroich’s public début as a museum.

The rooms inside the Labyrinth form the core of the island’s exhibition space. Gotthard Graubner has developed an artistic approach to exhibiting objects based on the mutual encounter between individual works of art. There are no labels or other explanations to distract from the pure pictorial language. This concept still applies, and gives the museum island its unmistakable quality. For example, Fautrier’s paintings are juxtaposed with his sculptural work. Schwitters’ late work enters into a dialogue with works of art from Africa and Oceania. The Duo-Collages by Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber converse with Hans Arp’s sculptures and reliefs. Gotthard Graubner’s paintings open up a spiritual space to which the Khmer sculptures form a counter-balance.

Concerts have been organized on the island since 1982. The relationship between fine art and music has been intensified in the course of the years. Friendship with Johannes Wasmuth and the link with Rolandseck Station meant that I was able to persuade the musicians I had made friends with there to perform in concerts on the island: Martha Argerich, Sviatoslav Richter, Pinchas Zukerman and Chaim Taub are among the musicians who have played here. The Beaux-Arts-Trio and the Guarneri Quartet have each made guest appearances. The Tel Aviv Quartet appeared frequently, and so on.

The first Island Festival took place from 31 May to 8 June 1986. Music was played in the marquee, and in the park there were performances by Nam June Paik, Fritz Schwegler and Gerhard Rühm. H.C. Artmann and Oskar Pastior gave readings in the Labyrinth, which was then still a building site. Lew Kopelew read extracts from his writings. There were several world premières at the concerts of classical and modern music, including works by Heimo Erbse, Rolf Riehm, Hans Zender, Christoph Staude, György Kurtág. Work is still being commissioned for premières of this kind.

New friends joined at later events, including Heiner Müller, Albrecht Fabri, Inger Christensen, the Arditti Quartet, the Keller Quartet, Zoltán Kocsis and András Schiff.

From 1988 onwards, Georg Kröll’s personal contacts to numerous contemporary composers led to a considerable enrichment of the programmes and an increasing concentration on modern music.

Further Expansion (1988–1993)

Karl-Heinrich Müller acquired more land during the second building phase, so that the island more than doubled its area, leading to extensive building work in 1988. Heerich built the pavilion Tower, whose interior probably gives the clearest sense of walking inside a sculpture.

The barn by the old entrance was redesigned as a space for concerts and readings. Since 1990 the higher terrain has been given over mainly to the pavilions. Between 1991 and 1993 Heerich planned and built the Tadeusz Pavillon, the Schnecke (Snail) and the Zwölf-Räume-Haus. The new entrance building has been open since 1992.

In 1990 Norbert Tadeusz designed a cycle of four pictures for the pavilion intended for him. The Snail contains the graphic art collection. Here Graubner has put four wax sculptures by Medardo Rosso together with drawings by Corinth, Klimt, Matisse, Brancusi and Giacometti. The exhibits also include water colours by Cézanne, gouaches by van der Leck, early etchings and water colours by Graubner and etchings by Corinth, Chillida and Rembrandt.

The third building phase gave Müller’s collecting activities a further boost. He acquired some large Khmer sculptures (9th–13th century) and the Chinese collection benefited particularly from extraordinary works from the Han and Tang dynasties. Most of them are grave goods (about 100 pieces), reflecting the life of a court household: figures from court life, riders and horses, servants, models of houses and grave vessels. There is a remarkable collection of eighteen vessels from the Yuan-Shao culture of the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC.

The collections from early Luristan and Amlash were also extended: thirteen clay vessels show Luristan’s geometrical chiaroscuro decoration with its sun and animal signs. From Amlash, modern Iran, there are bronze amulets with single and double figures of elks and stags.

Pre-Columbian stone sculptures from the Mezcala culture (Mexico) were included in the collection for the first time in 1991/92. The feather garments from the Nazca of Peru (4th–8th century) are particularly splendid examples of this important culture before the Inca period.

All these new items are housed in the Zwölf-Räume-Haus, and show the collection’s distinguished span from early cultures to European Modernism.

Alexander Calder’s Stabile-Mobile objects are in another room, and a further separate space is devoted to the art of Eduardo Chillida. Alongside these are works by Alfred Jensen. Ellsworth Kelly’s work faces Matisse’s magnificent yet austere ballet costume for Serge Diaghilev’s ballet Le chant du Rossignol (1920).

In the early nineties a start was made on putting up large sculptures in the island landscape: the Pforte (Gate) below the Zwölf-Räume-Haus and a second sculpture, Die Säule (The Column), near the Schnecke (Snail), are both by Erwin Heerich. Anatol shows his nine Wächter (Guards). A short-term loan of the large sculpture, Esope, by Mark di Suvero, was on show until 1996.

Branching Out (1993–1998)

The Verein zur Förderung des Kunst- und Kulturraumes Hombroich e.V., an association for the promotion of art and culture at Hombroich was founded in 1993, and since then has funded musical and literary events on the museum island.

The last piece of land and buildings acquired by Müller was the abandoned missile station on a slight hill north-west of Hombroich, in 1994. The missile silos and barrack rooms were immediately converted and are now used by various kinds of artists as well as scientists.

In late 1995 Thomas Kling started the Hombroich: Literatur series in the Raketenstation (Missile Station’s) concert hall, an event which he has organized twice a year ever since. Christoph Staude founded the Hombroich: Musik series in late 1997.

Buildings and open-air sculptures are planned for the Raketenstation site with its adjacent fields and meadows. Planning is in the hands of – to mention but a few names – Raimund Abraham, Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza, Claudio Silvestrin, Eduardo Chillida, Erwin Heerich, Oliver Kruse, Katsuhito Nishikawa and Heinz Baumüller. Their project designs were on show at the 6th Architecture Biennale in Venice in 1996. The Hombroich Museum Island and the Raketenstation Hombroich presented themselves on an international level for the first time by taking part in the Biennale.

Building activity on the island continued from 1994 onwards with a studio for Graubner planned by Heerich: It is to become a component of the Hombroich Museum Island, and will be called the Graubner Museum.

In late 1996 Karl-Heinrich Müller made the whole Insel Hombroich site, the buildings and the collection into a foundation which was co-founded by the Neuss district and the town of Neuss, with considerable funding from the Land of North-Rhine Westphalia.

It would be beyond the scope of this publication to go any more deeply into further aspects of the collection. And so we offer our visitors the stimulating experience of confronting the different aspects of this extraordinary museum themselves.