The development of the Rhenish art scene and its transregional presence from the 1960s onwards (a period during which Aachen formed the nucleus of a surprisingly progressive cultural scene) provided the main subject matter for the research project by the Aachen Ludwig Forum for International Art. The aim of the project headed by Dr. Annette Lagler and Myriam Kroll was to document a location-specific micro history, namely, the pursuits of the vibrant and highly experimental art scene during a period in which Aachen allegedly played a decisive role in the evolution of contemporary art in Germany. Alongside Aachen, cities such as Darmstadt, Krefeld, Wiesbaden, Kassel, Wuppertal and Baden-Baden also provided fertile ground for this critical opposition movement and enabled the organization of events and projects that would have been unthinkable elsewhere. The fact that the 1960s avant-garde in West Germany was by no means a phenomenon taking placing in the country’s metropolises can certainly be attributed to Germany’s division at the time and the subsequent loss of its original capital city. Therefore within the framework of the project the team placed particular emphasis on answering the question: Which criteria have to be satisfied in order for art and culture to flourish in a particular place? Using hitherto unexplored materials found during a survey of public and private archives, interviews with eye witnesses and inquiries into private collections in Aachen, the team’s aim was to fill in the gaps in existing research and consider the discourse of the time – so decisive in the artistic, social, cultural and political realms.
Aachen University and the Architecture faculty in particular, which was shaped by Gottfried Böhn with a clear open-mindedness to new ideas, as well as the young, experimental art scene, which sought out new ways of penetrating the public sphere and fought for a say in the interdisciplinary social processes, formed the institutional and personal framework for Aachen’s advancement to one of the most innovative art cities in the Federal Republic of Germany. Here it was a matter of toppling the artistic doctrine of the Third Reich, which was still palpable at the time, and helping contemporary art and thought, and ultimately the whole of society, to achieve a new kind of openness.
Major stages in this development include the legendary “Festival of New Art July 20, 1964” in the Audimax at Aachen University, attended by an array of international Fluxus artists such as Joseph Beuys, Wolf Vostell and Nam June Paik, followed by the founding of the “Gegenverkehr” art association whose influence reached far beyond Aachen’s city limits, the first presentation of the Ludwig Collection and the opening of the “New Gallery”. 1970s art shaped the face of the new museum: Hyperrealist figures, photorealistic paintings, Neo-Abstract and Conceptual art reflected the stylistic pluralism of the time. While the far-reaching commitment of the collector couple and most notably their own art collection set several important reference points in 20th-century art history, the exhibition programme by Director Wolfgang Becker focused on unrestrained action, performance and New Media art.
More information on the project can be found on the Gerda Henkel Stiftung home page.