Who we are
These days, an artists’ association faces altogether different tasks than it did more than fifty years ago. It does not exist solely to provide exhibition opportunities to its members. Nowadays, all artists have access to the means of presenting their works at many venues, and they can to formulate their ideas.
With the emergence of new artistic potential for expression, of new techniques, forms and genres, cooperation between members becomes an obvious choice, while the path for new art has to be paved simultaneously. The need to explain new artistic modes of expression cannot be denied. Society’s need for information has grown, and it demands to be met with a heightened commitment.
In the ensuing decades, competition within the artistic community itself has also come to a head.
The environment of an association facilitates the bundling of optimal forces to help gather strengths and to tackle collaborative projects while simultaneously defusing situations that obstruct creativity. The exchange among artists still remains a vital factor within the activities of the association.
In an era in which grand exhibitions almost exclusively carry international character, the RKB’s external perspective is one of elementary importance. The exchange with artists from other countries and with, if at all possible, institutions and educational facilities from other states is one of the goals the RKB aspires to. The RKB members come from all over the Ruhr Area and, considering most of them migrated here and that the Ruhr Area has always been marked by multiculturalism, the danger of clinging to the soil with a local pathos in one’s works has always been minimal, in any case. Additionally, the Ruhr Area, but especially the city of Essen, has carved out a profile through its offerings in avantgarde art.
In this, we have to mention Museum Folkwang, first and foremost, with its impressionist art collection of global standing. The much-touted structural change within the region also contributed, as has the renowned Folkwang School, now the Folkwang University of the Arts, with its dancers, interpreters, composers, who quite literally carried their art into the world, the “Aktive Musik/ Active Music” around world-famous composer Gerhard Stäbler who has supplied New Music with a breeding ground through myriad actions in Essen, the numerous international dance festivals at Zollverein, the Design Centre. The City of Essen has log proven itself as a fertile soil for the arts.
The RKB members represent every conceivable stylistic direction and genre: Painting and graphics, photography, object art, video installation, performance and experimental works in a multimedia vein hold equal shares.
Support for individual members is as important to the RKB as the representation of individual groups or of the association as a whole as well as of those associations with which the RKB collaborates, wherein a growing emphasis is put upon thematic and curated exhibitions. Quality, artistic autonomy, originality and courage are the benchmarks for measurement.
The Founding Years
The “Ruhrländische Künstlerbund e.V.” (RKB) emerged in the post-war years from a loose coalition of Ruhr Area artists that went by the name of “Kulturbund Gruppe Ruhr (Cultural Alliance Group Ruhr)”, later to evolve into the “Verband der bildenden Künstler des Raumes Essen (Federation of Visual Artists of the Essen Region)”.
It was a time of starting anew, a time when people had to overcome the catastrophe that was the Second World War. It was also a time that demanded a return to the arts after it had been trampled underfoot in the so-called “Thousand-Year Reich”. Artists and audience longed to be reunited. Like phoenix rising from the ashes, modernity was resurrected. Surely not an easy assignment in a Ruhr Area struggling with housing shortage, ruins, breaking levees on the Emscher, dismantled industry plants, strike, demonstrations, evacuees, refugees, displaced persons and recently released prisoners of war. The basics in art and in life had to be discussed. The sheer need for survival might even have influenced the discourse on art, yet the artists urged to show their works again and to engage in discussions with each other and the audience. Years of standstill and setback had to be conquered.
The first larger exhibition during this time took place in the old Grugahalle during the state exhibition “Dach und Fach” in August of 1949. The exhibition chairs and the jury were occupied by well-known artistic personalities – painters professor Max Burchartz, Jo Pieper, Hans Vincenz, sculptor Bruno Krell and architect H.B. Spitmann. In September of the same year, the RKB was founded. The association counted 161 members, Folkwang professor Max Burchartz, a pupil of Ferdinand Lègers, became its first chairman. The first big event of the newly constituted RKB was held at the Grugahalle in June/ July of 1950. Since then, the RKB has consistently and regularly hosted exhibitions, usually a summer exhibition at the Grugahalle followed by a winter exhibition at Museum Folkwang. Another reestablishment joined in 1953: the “Wirtschaftsverband Bildender Künstler Nordrhein-Westfalen, Bezirksverband Ruhr e.V (North Rhine-Westphalian Visual Artists Trade Association, Ruhr District, registered association)” whose mission it was to take care of the “professional issues” (as stated in their charter). The RKB’s intentions, however, were of a different nature: Trade-offs, conversation, and the mutual support for its artist members have been its focus from the start. And it remained loyal to this principle to this day. In order not to endanger efficiency, the RKB has perpetually remained restrained in the acceptance of new members. The admittance of new members, however, is dependent on the proof of artistic quality, in both associations.
The Visual Artists’ Forum, Essen
The turning point came in 1961, when the associations, the RKB, the WBK and the Tatkreis, received residence in the Old Synagogue. The RKB numbered a total of 39 members back then. The “Essener Forum Bildender Künstler (The Visual Artists’ Forum, Essen)” was founded. Since then, regular exhibitions have taken place at these spaces.
Within this framework, the RKB showed works from French, Polish, Finnish, Soviet and Swiss artists, among other things. English art critic J.A. Thwaites was the first to bring international art into the RKB. He provided the RKB with national and international publicity. Well-known RKB members such as painters Jo Pieper (1893-1972), Werner Gräf (1901-1978), Ferdinand Spindel (1913-1980), sculptor Bruno Krell (1903-1976) and illustrator André Tomkins (1930-1955) lent early significance to the association, which sustained through the continuous work done by many members, but most of all via the voluntary efforts of the respective chairpersons. We must mention Hans-Heinrich Pusch who manoeuvred the association’s fate for 15 years before handing the chair to Arno Fassbender in 1999 (compare with text by Arno Fassbender, Erich Heyn and Eva Schürmann on the occasion of the association’s 50th anniversary, catalogue, 1999). From 2002 until 2018, artist and cultural journalist Dr Dagmar Schenk-Güllich conducted the association’s affairs. Thanks to her international ties as well as to the generous support lent by the City of Essen, especially through professor Dr Oliver Scheytt, the former Head of the Cultural Department of the City of Essen, and a well-functioning collaboration with the Werkkreis Bildender Künster (WBK), now situated at the Forum Kunst und Architektur (Forum Art and Architecture), as well as with national and international artists’ associations, more than 35 artist exchange projects were conducted during this period (compare with texts on the RKB’s 60th anniversary).
André Chi Sing Yuen
45127 Essen, Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 201 - 616 198 85
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