A Hidden Island

Paul Cézanne used to say that art is a harmony parallel to nature. Hombroich was created following this principle, a place where creativity and architecture interact with the landscape. Therefore, an atelier for ideas came to life.

A new concept of a museum meant to stimulate the visitors’ artistic creativity and learning. It also includes accommodation space for guest artists. A fascinating place where history meshes up with experimental settlements

Hombroich is a virtuous encounter between cultures: artistic and environmental. Prominent creative laboratory for conservation – mainly of ancient Asian and Western art - it is above all a hub for the development of new projects. Located in Neuss, not far from Cologne, in North Rhine, it encompasses an area of over sixty hectares and forty buildings. This multifunctional space, conceived as an ongoing "open experiment" - international artists live and work there, devoting themselves mainly to architecture – has also been conceived to host artistic, literary, philosophical and musical events. It was born from the personal commitment of a private collector, Karl Heinrich Müller, who in 1982 bought Rosa Haus, a nineteenth-century villa surrounded by a garden. Since then, thanks to the collaboration with various artists, the Stiftung Insel Hombroich (1997) has come to life and kept expanding to include the Museum Insel

Hombroich, the Raketenstation Hombroich and the Kirby - Feld. Since 2014, Frank Boehm, a German architect, has been directing this important cultural centre after years spent in Italy, where he set up the Deutsche Bank Collection Italy and directed MiArt - Contemporary and Modern Art fair as well as teaching at the IUAV faculty of Arts and Design in Venice. We asked him to tell us about the life of this atelier for the arts.

Frank Boehm, direttore Stiftung Insel Hombroich.

A picture from the exhibition A Tea House in Stone and Other Architectures, dedicated to the photographic research of Terunobu Fujimori, Siza Pavillion.

Walk-in sculpture designed by Terunobu Fujimori: Ein Stein Tea House. The wooden facade has been hand processed according to the ancient Yakisugi method.

What does it mean to manage such a complex foundation?

On the other hand, there is the Raketenstation Hombroich, a former military base that Karl- Heinrich Müller, the founder of the museum, included in the Foundation's properties in the 1990s. Here Müller offered workspaces on a lifetime basis to a group of artists, who in turn host other artists for creative residential stays. Our task is to preserve a complex situation, rich in archives, works of art, architecture and landscape, and to develop the arts both by offering spaces to artists and promoting programs and exhibitions.

What is your main line of action at the Insel Hombroich Foundation and what is your goal?

The foundation premises allow and encourage certain uses. For example, in Hombroich there is a large ensemble of buildings by the Danish sculptor, director and writer Per Kirkeby, (1938- 2018) which allowed me to set up an exhibition dedicated to him in the spaces he created himself. Alvaro Siza's building instead, is meant to host temporary exhibitions.

We have recently completed the Haus für Musiker, an important project by the late Raimund Abraham, intended to host artists, also offering them studios and an experimental stage. In addition, the museum has no signage. In this respect, the visit becomes a discovery that is essentially shaped by the alternating experience of the artistic spaces (with exclusively natural lighting) and the nature surrounding them.

How does the Insel Hombroich Foundation collaborate with architects and architectural institutions?

Its main mission is architectural experimentation. For over twenty years, Hombroich had been a centre where architecture was also realised for its own sake. The focus was not on functionality and practicability, but rather on artistic coherence. Together with the architect Roger Boltshauser and his students from ETH Zurich. I worked on a design project for an art depot at the Raketenstation Hombroich, which was conceived as a rammed earth construction. Where, if not in Hombroich, could such a revolutionary reinterpretation of an ancient traditional technique be attempted?

The interior of the Tea House

Following the will of Karl-Heinrich Müller and drawing inspiration from Cézanne's quote: "Art is a harmony parallel to nature", nature is the main focus of the Insel Hombroich Foundation; what's it like for an artist to live here?

From the very beginning, the important elements were not only architecture, art and landscape, but also the active presence of musicians, poets and philosophers. The environment was functional and later interpreted in different ways, without requiring any additional thematic reference. You would probably get very different answers, but the experience of some kind of isolation is formative.

Hombroich's Map. Architectural complexes, single buildings and an open-air architectural museum covering over 60 hectares of land.

The Pavillion designed by Álvaro Siza and Rudolf Finsterwalder. It hosts temporary exhibitions.

The latest building realised in Hombroich is by the architect Terunobu Fujimori. What is it about?

The Terunobu Fujimori Tea House interprets the Japanese tearoom tradition, which probably dates back to Sen no Rikyu in the 16th century. Designed to be set in the Raketenstation Hombroich, it was conceived as a 1: 1 exhibition piece. Its appearance is marked by the black wooden facade, treated with fire according to the traditional Yakisugi method. The flames in fact close the pores of the wood therefore becoming more resistant to the weather. Fujimori did not treat the surface any further. The geometry of the house is characterized by curves and an imperceptible asymmetry.

Two vertical wings protrude far from the body of the building. When opened, the shutters and window panes become one single element. The supports of the house are firmly clamped into the ground and therefore made of particularly strong locust wood. The use of oak in the interior reminds of its geographical location in Germany, while the steel staircase recalls Erwin Heerich's buildings.

How will the Tea House be used?

The Foundation organizes tea ceremonies for up to four people on specific days. Unlike most Japanese tea rooms, Ein Stein Teehaus features a table along which visitors sit on a bench that follows the shape of the curved wall. The large window that opens onto the surrounding nature allowed until recently to hold ceremonies, but for the time being everything has been put on hold.

Following the Covid restrictions, has the Insel Hombroich Foundation organized any online programs?

In our opinion, the experience of a visit to the Insel Hombroich Museum cannot be replaced by a virtual experience. However, we are going to give online visibility to our collections and activities in detail. In any case, this is not a direct response to the current situation.

Anatol Herzfeld's studio.

What are the next projects / exhibitions / publications in the pipeline?

In early 2021 the Foundation will publish Terunobu Fujimori. Ein Stein Teahouse, a book to celebrate the construction of the Teahouse. In April, we will open an exhibition on Jean Fautrier's work from our own collection and an exhibition with the Polish photographer Joana Piotrowska. In the course of the year, we plan to stage a performance project by the young artist Harkeerat Mangat.

Kirkeby Field. The three chapels (2003), The Kahmen Collection (2006) and Feld-Haus - The museum of popular prints (2009).