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Joachim Cardinal Meisner (1933 – 2017)
A Church without Culture was just as inconceivable to him as Culture without a Church. It was his very own decision to discharge the Diocesan Museum from the trusteeeship of the Society of Christian Art and to entrust it to the care and immediate charge of the Diocese of Cologne.
By this move, Joachim Cardinal Meisner laid the foundation for a completely new orientation of the museum which had been founded almost 150 years before, in 1853.
Meisner appointed art historian Joachim M. Plotzek as first non-clerical director ever of the museum and assigned him with the task to devise a new concept, to build a collection and a new building to accommodate it.
Himself being very much determined, he proved far-sighted in his decision to include, at every step of the process, his advisory committees and councils into all deliberations, leaving every decision to their approval. And although patience couldn’t be considered one of his greatest virtues, he firmly defended the long period of construction against all criticism; always bearing in mind that all’s well that ends well.
Since the mid-nineties however, he came to realise that both collection and orientation of the museum wouldn’t exactly agree with his own sense of taste and convention. Nonetheless, he remained consistently loyal to Kolumba, placing his confidence in the mutual values of authenticity, contemporaneity, and quality, and thereby endorsing the idea „to set a clearly visible example for a church which, in a new millenium, also enters new rooms for the service of proclamation ...“
We owe him a lot:
Kolumba remains a most visible part of his legacy indeed.
Hermann Abrell (1937 – 2017)
A lifelong seeker of utmost simplicity, Hermann Abrell created a decisively individual work which seeks to sound through the depth of several layers of paint a vibrating, yet composed balance between rest and movement – all this alongside his professional and family life, his designer job with a record company and later as art teacher. His belief in art as a way to gain spiritual experience is intensely reflected in a broad collection of African sculpture, gathered over a period of many decades. It has been a huge privilege for Kolumba to realise the first public exhibition (2009) of this exceptional Cologne artist, who was born in 1935 in the small Eifel hamlet of Dreis. Over the years following that exhibition, close ties between Abrell and Kolumba were established, resulting in a unique collection of his works, further enlarged through a number of donations by the artist himself. Though Hermann Abrell had been ill for some time, he now died a rather sudden death on 24 May, just before his 80th birthday.
Attila Kovács (1938 – 2017)
In July 1964, a young man could be seen sketching in a refugee camp in the Bavarian town of Zirndorf. He had managed to get hold of pencil and paper to do what he loved: drawing line after line – lost in deep contemplation. From 1958 until 1964, Attila Kovács had studied Fine Arts at the University of Budapest, with the occasional break due to the artist’s unwavering refusal to paint socialist-realistic sujets. Soon after his emigration, Kovács took up studies at the Kunstakademie Stuttgart (Stuttgart Academy of Arts). Since 1972, he had lived in Cologne, his sphere of creativity centering around the eternal questions of space and time, and the structural process initiated by that discourse: „where forms are derived from, which powers create them and where change will take them.“ With the Documenta VI in 1972, Kovàcs became publicly known to an international audience. On accepting a professorship at the School of Painting, he returned to Budapest in 1997, where he died at the age of 78 on 6 April 2017. Although his works are presented in a considerable number of public collections, Attila Kovács has found his foremost presence at Kolumba, artistic home to a wide range of his lasting oeuvre.
Kurt Benning (1945 – 2017)
„He is an art critic, a literary, film and social critic, sceptic of progress, self-interpreter, family historian, pathfinder, collector and guardian, a man of letters, traveller, flâneur and observer, anthropologist and conceptualist.“ This characterization given by his friend Rüdiger Joppien in 2008 precisely sums up how we at Kolumba feel about Kurt Benning, having known him for more than 20 years. Kurt Benning was born in 1945 in the small Bavarian town of Pleystein and died on 24 March 2017 in Munich, after a long illness. It was just for the opening of our current exhibition „Über das Individuum“ / „On the Individual“ in September 2016 that he had finally achieved to give expression and form to his central piece of work „Burgtreswitzmensch“, which he had been working upon for over 40 years by that time. Through this „opus magnum“ (aptly termed by himself on the occasion) and a further number of works from the museum’s collection, Kurt Benning will go on to contribute to Kolumba’s future exhibitions, inspiring and inviting us to continue the dialogue on human condition.
Jannis Kounellis (1936 – 2017)
„I live in a country whose linguistic and logical roots are grounded in Humanism, and as a citizen of this country I will stand by this tradition.“ It is this short quotation by Jannis Kourellis which pinpoints the core of the outstanding impact he had on contemporary art and even more so, if within a rather limited scope, on Kolumba. Kounellis died on 16 February 2017 in Rome, his home of choice for many years. Political in his art, he never ceased to question man’s existence in his dependency on home, residence, nourishment, and work, while at the same time seeking to express the facets of poetical, intellectual, spiritual and religious desire. With simple materials and used objects Kounellis opens up associative rooms, allowing his works to revolve around the value of freedom of the individual, his place in society, and his responsibility towards history. Life remembered, the experience of pain and death anticipated – together these three constants form the concept of Kolumba: the transformation of life into art. Since the beginning of the 1990s, it has been a great pleasure and privilege to know Jannis Kounellis in a friendship grown upon few but deeply intense encounters. He was among the first to place his trust in our idea of a „Museum of Contemplation“ and as early as 1994 generously parted with his famous installation „Tragedia Civile“ (1975), which had received huge international attention at the 1982 Documenta). Through the „Tragedia“ Kounellis had found a silent and very moving way to express the experience of loss. The golden reflection of the traditional Christian occident is united with the worn remains of civic life. With the „Tragedia Civile“ as his masterpiece he will abide and always remain present at Kolumba.
Walter Gauer (1933 – 2016)
As a freelance journalist, Walter Gauer had accompanied Kolumba's inception since the beginning of the 1990s with his writing. He tracked the entrance into modernity and the new Museum concept with great curiosity and expertise, reporting on this at an early stage already in numerous print media. He died in Cologne on October 12 at the age of 83.
Martin Seidler (1960 – 2015)
Much too early, Dr. Martin Seidler died on May 17th following a serious illness. He had been working as an art historian in the Cologne Archdiocese since 2001, in charge of inventorying and the conservation, restoration, and presentation of church treasures. In addition, he was one of the few authorities on bells, greatly esteemed even beyond the region. Despite occasional, inevitable conflicts of interests, we collaborated closely, among other things, on the several-year presentation of the Shrine of St. Anno at Kolumba.
Ludwig Gierse (1913 – 2015)
During his long period as a retiree, the impassioned historian Ludwig Gierse had maintained close ties with the Museum of the Archdiocese since the beginning of the 1980s. He accompanied the change in the Museum concept with critical benevolence and donated to Kolumba his extensive collection of devotional pictures. Formerly a social worker, he was an acknowledged expert on 19th-century Christian art. In the exhibition "Cologne Archbishops. His history of the Verein für Christliche Kunst (Society for Christian Art) laid the foundation for the Museum Chronicle that was published for its 150-year anniversary. In addition, Gierse was the publisher of the diaries of Museum founder Friedrich Baudri. He died on May 4th, having lived a full life.
Dina Baumgarten (1926 – 2014)
"Art is the persistence of what remains behind", this statement by the Cologne Progressive artist Heinrich Hoerle, has rarely proven so appropriate as in the case of Dina Baumgarten. After the death of her husband Claudio (1919–1991), she held together the estate of her father-in-law, the painter and poet Georg Baumgarten, to that point preserved intact, sparking the first interest for his work by contacting galleries and museums. After our purchases on the art market, we established personal contact, which led to our taking on 81 selected works. Dina Baumgarten was not to live long enough to witness the actual carrying out of a promised publication. She died in Düsseldorf on October 25th.
Margret Schriefers (1928 – 2014)
Cologne textile designer and object artist Margret Schriefers died on October 4th, only a few days before her 86th birthday. After studying at the School of Textile Engineering and the Werkkunstschule (School of Arts) in Wuppertal, she completed her master craftsman's certificate as a weaver in 1956. Parallel to her studies, she had already been successful with her work for notable German textile and furniture designers. Kolumba owns a mixed lot of her designs and textile weave samples. In her freehand works, she brings about flowing connections of the seemingly disparate worlds of nature and technology, frequently using pieces she had found, ones "that time had not yet finished with". Together with her son Thomas, she brought about the donation of the Collection of Works and Forms" by her husband, Cologne painter Werner Schriefers.
Hans-Georg Hartmann (1954 - 2014)
On April 26th, our colleague Hans-Georg Hartmann, who had been working at the museum's entrance reception area since July 1989, died at the age of 60. He was decidedly tactful and helpful in his role to provide visitor information. Highly educated, his versatility particularly in literary and theological interests, and his knowledge of foreign languages made him a stimulating conversation partner for any visitor who turned to him, one who always represented Kolumba wholeheartedly.
Anna Maria Sala (1930 - 2013)
On December 31st, 2013 Anna-Maria Sala died in Bad Godesberg at the age of 83. After studying music, literature and art history, together with her husband Marzio Sala (1924-2009) she created a conceptual work to be realized in various media that dealt with the artistic exploration of space and time structures. This work was shown at the documenta 8, among other locations. Kolumba has received as a gift the estate of this artist couple.
Stefan Wewerka (1928 - 2013)
On September 14th, 2013 Stefan Wewerka died in Berlin. The artist, born in 1928, had worked in Cologne since the 1960s. Among other things, he was a professor at the Kölner Werkschule (School of Crafts). His artistic work assumes a special place of importance in our collection due to its smooth transitions from the applied arts to the liberal arts.
Sven Seiler (1940 - 2013)
At the age of 73, Dr. Sven Seiler passed away on September 2nd, 2013. Employed by the Cologne Bodendenkmalpflege, Dr. Seiler was head of the archaeological excavations in St. Kolumba from 1974 to 1976. We had a very friendly relationship with him over the many years, and he stood by us in all questions concerning the excavation. We will miss his in-depth expertise and his kindness.
Norbert Schwontkowski (1949 - 2013)
Norbert Schwontkowski died on June 14th, 2013 at the age of only 64 following a serious illness. Just last year we had nominated him for the art prize of the Dieter Krieg Foundation. The prize money established the basis for a group of works, the selection of which we were yet able to agree upon with him in the spring. We would have loved to have him with us longer.
Hans Josephson (1920 - 2012)
Hans Josephson died on August 21st, 2012. He was a unique sculptor whose "Large Reclining Figure" in the courtyard is a lasting remembrance of the intensive exchange that led to a large group of works at Kolumba. It was a great honor for us to be allowed to organize an evening for him at the museum on the occasion of his 85th birthday in 2005.
Johannes Bastgen (1947 - 2012)
On March 11th, 2012 the Dean of the City of Cologne, Prelate Johannes Bastgen passed away, with whom we had often cooperated on many an occasion.
Gehard Kahlert, who died in March 2012, had been the engineer responsible for heating, climate control and geothermal energy in the new museum building. Already in his position as a preliminary examiner for the competition jury, he had spoken out in favor of the solid construction of this museum design. Of all of the specialist engineers, he was involved in the planning with particular intensity, and after the building was completed, he carried out the fine-tuning of the system equipment. His technical expertise will be sorely missed.
Frank Köllges (1952 - 2012)
On January 1st, 2012, Frank Köllges, the percussionist and performance artist with the adam noildt missiles and piccola banda metafisica who had helped shape many events at Kolumba, died at the age of 60; indelible in our memories is the great celebration for the 150th anniversary of the museum, which was celebrated at the Maternushaus in 2003.
On October 17th, 2010, the Cologne architect Wolfram Stein died following a short illness. Together with Peter Zumthor, Stein's office had been entrusted with the extremely complex construction management of the new building.
Krimhild Becker (1940 - 2010)
On March 10th, 2010, the Cologne artist Krimhild Becker passed away after a short illness at the age of 69. In recent years the burden that had fallen to her of having to manage the estate of the sculptor Heinz Breloh weighed heavy upon her. A bundle of her own works, the compilation of which had already begun with her cooperation, will provide an insight into her work in the future.
Jörg Buchli (1944 - 2010)
Swiss structural engineer Jürg Buchli died unexpectedly on February 16th, 2010 at the age of 66. It is to his experience and creativity that Kolumba owes the innovative statics of its new building, produced in conjunction with the Cologne office of Schwab-Lemke.
Adolf Egner (1933 - 2010)
On January 7th, 2010, the Frechen ceramics collector Adolf Egner died at the age of 77 following a long illness. We think back on many happy meetings, during which we were permitted to select 266 European ceramic works that had been created over the past 50 years, which he then donated to the Museum in 2004.
Heinrich Küpper (1919 - 2009)
The drawing artist Heinrich Küpper died on December 22nd, 2009, only a few weeks after his ninetieth birthday.
Anton von Euw (1934 - 2009)
On November 10th, 2009, Professor Anton von Euw passed away. This highly erudite medievalist was a great friend to Columba, and we are grateful to him, among other things, for the articles he contributed to the publications pertaining to manuscripts.