Kunstsammlung NRW
Museum unter Tage, Außenansicht, Blick auf den Kubus

MuT: In Bochum, landscape paintings can be viewed underground

A subterranean museum? Switzerland has one: in Zürich, the Rietberg Museum, which houses an exquisite collection of non-European art deep below ground level. And in Bochum, in the display mine of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum (German Mining Museum), visitors can descend into the seams and tunnels. It seems remarkable that in the regional system of coordinates of coal and mining, it never occurred to anyone to display art underground.
A report for #32 by Claudia Posca
Finally, as it happens, this concept has been realized: a new art museum beneath the surface of the earth. It is known as MuT, which stands for "Museum unter Tage" – Museum below Ground. This institution crouches 7 meters beneath the earth in order to spare the landscape – and to display landscapes. The location: Bochum-Weitmar, on the premises of the renowned "Situation Kunst (für Max Imdahl)." "MuT" – the acronym spells out the German word for "courage":  within the community of circa 6000 German museums, this thematically specialized and spatially unique enterprise embodies a courageous endeavor for the sake of landscape art. It is also the most recent component of the "Situation Kunst (für Max Imdahl)," initiated privately in 1988-89, functioning since 2005 as a nonprofit foundation in association with the Ruhr Universität Bochum, and designed to promote the praxis-oriented training of art historians and curators. This alone makes it unique. Now, its subterranean art program constitutes an additional distinguishing feature.

Gustave Courbet, Paysage du Doubs, 1866,
Öl auf Leinwand, 65 x 81 cm

This private collection, assembled by Alexander von Berswordt-Wallrabe, the initiator of "Situation Kunst," and his wife Silke, consists of 350 landscape panoramas dating from the 15th century to the present, a glowing jewel of a collection both thematically and in terms of sheer aesthetic weight. And available henceforth on a regular basis as a teaching and viewing collection for public and students alike.
In fact, the MuT is an extraordinary place that takes stock of supernal landscape art – including works by Cézanne and Klee: here is something well worth remembering when it comes to environmental planning. namely, with emphasis and in detail, our perspective of nature and landscape.
What does landscape art, of all things, have to do with this heavily industrial region on the Rhine and the Ruhr? An intriguing question. Another one is: What does this relationship amount to? Who is kissing who? Structural change and landscape? Yearning for nature and renaturation? Culture through change, change through culture?

In the interim, the "Situation Kunst" as a "total work of art" consisting of landscape, architecture, and art, was jeopardized. The site was marred by excavators, a building pit, constant noise. Rising into the heights in front of the exhibition cube were shaft-style, box-shaped architectural volumes. The new entry and exit architecture, in deep black with Eifel basal cladding, the first accommodating an elevator and staircase, the other a technology center for the care and protection of the underground landscape art, now asserts itself, emerging as all too powerful, too present.
At least until the building site disappeared and the renowned artist Erich Reusch lent a hand, with his flair for space and park scenery. This meanwhile 90-year-old artist seems to have striven to mitigate this architectural severity without becoming too playful, configuring the large, aboveground two-part basalt field, which corresponds to the subterranean hall below, with five cylindrical columns – to in signal red, two in black, and one in cyan blue. Alongside the third building, whose glazed cladding in turn cites the glass-sheathed cube and serves as an emergency exit for the subterranean gallery, this adroit sculptor has set a corresponding, planted rectangle consisting of weather-resistant steel outside of the plan of the new building.
Available now is more than 1300 m² of exhibition space, two-thirds of which is reserved for the collection of landscape paintings, with one third serving future temporary exhibitions, to be organized by students of the Ruhr University. The rooms themselves are 4 meters in height, and are outfitted with the latest LED lighting technology and ecological and economical geothermal heating..

Chaim Soutine, Landschaft bei Cagnes, 1924-25, Öl auf Karton, 53 x 64 cm

But the real marvel is the way in which MuT opens our eyes. The way in which social change is reflected in landscape painting, the way in which increasingly, the contemporary cultural landscape seems to survive on life support, the way in which our yearning for closeness to nature grows in tandem with our alienation from it: these are the urgent themes. "Nothing is as it was," "Nothing will be as it is," philosophize the two neon texts in the staircase leading down to Kunst unter Tage. Paintings from the Golden Age of Dutch painting, including works by Jan van Goyen and Jacob van Ruisdael, relate specific stories. There followed by 19th century works by Corot, Courbet, and Repin, and early 20th century works by such artists as Amiet, Bonnard, and Corinth. These engage in dialogue with existentially shattering works by artists from Ingeborg Lüscher to Arnulf Rainer: landscape as an scrutinizing of the world – and in our own image.


Text: Claudia Posca
Photos: © Situation Kunst

Paul Klee, Die Mauer, 1929, Aquarell auf Bütten, 45,8 x 34,6 cm

Situation Kunst
Nevelstr. 29
44795 Bochum
Mi-Fr. 14-18 Uhr, Sa, So + feiertags 12-18 Uhr