Words: Chris Erik Thomas.
With the sun finally bringing some warmth to Germany, it’s time to throw on an outfit and map a route around North Rhine-Westphalia for some must-see summer exhibitions. Contemporary art has been a key pillar of the region’s cultural sector for decades. It has attracted legendary artists to make homes here and provided endless material for the many museums and cultural institutions spread throughout the area.
The rich diversity of options throughout Cologne, Düsseldorf, Essen, and other cities offers ample opportunity for art lovers to find their next favorite artist. For the summer season, we’ve looked through the programs of notable institutions all around the region to find six shows that offer must-see experiences. From the massive “Die GROSSE Kunstausstellung NRW” in Düsseldorf and the major AI exhibition at Marta Herford to the must-see performance art exhibition curated by Marina Abramović and Billy Zhao at Essen’s Museum Folkswang, there is something for everyone.
Check out all of our highlights, and make sure to check out every city’s full exhibition program as you plan your next art tour
On June 3, the major art event “Die GROSSE Kunstausstellung NRW” returned to Düsseldorf. Since 1902, the association Verein zur Veranstaltung von Kunstausstellungen e.V. has organized the sprawling event that brings together a diversity of positions and launches many dialogues within the scene.
The exhibition takes place at the Kunstpalast, NRW-Forum, and the surrounding Ehrenhof area. This year’s edition includes everything from painting and photography to installation and video art, among other mediums. As the largest and longest-standing art exhibition in Germany, “DIE GROSSE” is a must for any art lover in the area.
“DIE GROSSE” is on view from June 3 to July 9. The Museum Kunstpalast is currently closed for renovations but will reopen for the exhibition. The NRW-Forum Düsseldorf and Kunstpalast are open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 AM to 6 PM (and until 9 PM on Thursdays). Visit the websites of the NRW-Forum and Kunstpalast for more info.
For the latest iteration of Museum Ludwig’s exhibition series “HERE AND NOW,” the focus turns to Ukrainian artists — elevating the program’s cultural significance and making the show a must-see. In “Modernism in Ukraine 1900–1930s & Daria Koltsova,” which opened on June 3, the concept of the “Russian Avante-Garde” is reexamined in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Around eighty paintings and works on paper spanning the 1900s through the 1930s are on display, alongside a monumental glass-based installation by contemporary Ukrainian artist Daria Koltsova that reflects on the country’s cultural heritage in the face of war.
“Modernism in Ukraine 1900–1930s & Daria Koltsova” is on view from June 3 to September 24. Museum Ludwig is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM, and from 10 AM to 10 PM every first Thursday of the month. Click here for more info.
After two successful exhibitions funded by Kunststiftung DZ Bank in 2019 and 2021, “RAW” returns to KIT on June 16 to present works by artists from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf as part of the 250th anniversary of the school. With photography as a core focus of the foundation, this year’s exhibition will feature a diverse array of positions within the medium.
Splitting the original word, “photo-graphic,” the show will center upon the dichotomy of the word’s origins: the concept of light (phos) and drawing (graphein). Under the careful curation of Gertrud Peters, viewers can expect a strong range of works by the artists Ulrike Kazmaier, Dylan Maquet, Sabrina Podemski, Johannes Raimann, and Moritz Riesenbeck.
With the sudden rise of artificial intelligence in the cultural conversation, Herford’s Museum for Art, Architecture, Design (MARTA) has found fertile ground for its next contemporary exhibition, “SHIFT: AI and a Future Community.” Together, nine positions from around the world will interrogate the complexities of AI in modern life — specifically how humans, nature, and technology will further intertwine in the future.
The show will open on June 17 and feature works by such artists as Louisa Clement, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Christoph Faulhaber, kennedy+swan, knowbotiq, Christian Kosmas Mayer, Philippe Parreno, Hito Steyerl, and Jenna Sutela.
Visitors will have the opportunity to wander through two strong new exhibitions starting on June 24. First, “The Inescapable Intertwining of All Lives” will present works by six notable young positions — Keltie Ferris, Ilse Henin, Hayv Kahraman, Gisela McDaniel, Soraya Sharghi, and Emma Talbot — whose work interrogates the “feminine” as a subject in contemporary art. The show finds its foundation in the works of Ilse Henin, who has been working steadily since the 1980s. It’s this oeuvre that acts as an anchor for the exhibition as it threads together the five additional female- and queer-identifying artists.
Alongside this powerful show, the Kunsthalle will also present “ANARCHIVE” by Cologned-based artist Béla Pablo Janssen. The project began a decade ago as Janseen began to collect and modify posters related to art (such as exhibition ads) that he found on the street. The collection now includes 103 cataloged and modified posters from the past decade and will be shown for the first time in the exhibition series “IM FOYER.”
“The Inescapable Intertwining of All Lives” and “ANARCHIVE” are on view from June 24 to September 17. Kunsthalle is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 AM to 6 PM. The museum is free of charge from 6 PM to 8 PM on the last Thursday of every month, as well as every second Sunday of the month for Family Day. Click here for more info.
Beginning on June 30, the museum will host “54 Hour Performances,” a must-see program of performance art curated by Marina Abramović and Billy Zhao. Since the start of the 2022/23 winter semester, a group of international students at the Folkwang University of the Arts have worked with Abramović to create a series of long durational performances centered on showcasing the focus, perseverance, and concentration of the 24 artists. With an age range of 17 to 39, the group includes singers, dancers, photographers, actors, directors, and composers.
For 6 hours and 9 days, the students will take part in intensely personal pieces that transform personal narratives into performative actions — stories, memories, fears, desires, and realities will mix in the must-see, limited-time show. Participation is free of charge. However, the number of tickets is limited. You can book your time slot tickets here.
Chris Erik Thomas is the Digital Editor of Art Düsseldorf. They work as a freelance writer and editor in Berlin and focus primarily on culture, art, and media. Their work can also be seen in Highsnobiety, The Face Magazine, and other publications.