A friendly alien
On the banks of the Mur, at the corner of Südtiroler Platz and Lendkai, Graz now has a new architectural symbol: the Kunsthaus Graz.
The designers, the London architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier/spacelab, collaborated with Architektur Consult to create an impressive synthesis of their innovative language of form and the historical ambience of the Mur district. The exciting interplay between the new biomorphic structure on the bank of the Mur and the old Clock Tower on the Schlossberg have already become the trademark of a city which strives to achieve a productive dialogue between tradition and the avant-garde. With respect both to urban planning and to its purpose, the Kunsthaus functions as a bridgehead at a point where the past and the future meet.
Like a bubble of air, the bluish, shimmering skin of the Kunsthaus floats above its glass-walled ground floor. Spanning up to 60 metres in width, the biomorphic construction envelops two large exhibition rooms without additional supports. From the surface of the acrylic glass outer "skin", strikingly shaped "nozzles" project outwards to admit daylight: they are inclined to the north and thus provide optimum natural lighting. In the upper storeys, bridges link the 23-metre-high new structure with the "Eisernes Haus" whose cast-iron construction - which is the oldest of its kind in Europe and is classified as a historical monument - was carefully and skilfully renovated as part of the construction work on the Kunsthaus.
The glass-walled ground floor contains a bar, a function room and various communications amenities as well as the foyer, from which the "Pin", a moving ramp, leads to the upper exhibition rooms.
Isolated, transparent window areas in the "skin" allow visitors to look out and gain their bearings, while the "Needle", a projecting, glass-enclosed structure, offers a spectacular view of the Old Town of Graz from a height of about 16 metres.
The unique, biomorphic shape of the building owes its existence partly to the manifest fascination of its creators with the "animal presence of architecture" and partly to an idea which goes back to the chequered history of the design competition for the Kunsthaus. Originally, the Kunsthaus was to have been built within the Schlossberg of Graz, where the project's designers would have used an organically shaped membrane to smooth out the coarse, complex structure of the walls within the mountain. Ultimately, the membrane would have protruded out of the mountain and into the city like a dragon's tongue. After the relocation of the construction site, the concept of the dragon's tongue was transformed into the shape of the "friendly alien" which now rests on the right bank of the Mur between the brick roofs of the surrounding historical buildings. The reason the Kunsthaus was finally built in the western part of the city is partly due to considerations of urban design: in its present location, the Kunsthaus can serve as an efficient catalyst for positive changes in the previously disadvantaged half of the city.
Functionally and technically, the Kunsthaus meets the most up-to-date requirements for museums on the international loan circuit. Its 11,100m2 of usable space provide everything its managers need to participate in the global exhibition business on the highest level. An innovative and cost-effective air-conditioning system meets all the demands of the most important art owners.
A generous delivery area, depots and workshops, and modern lighting and security systems are available to ensure the professional handling of exhibition projects. The underground car park offers space for 146 vehicles.
As a multi-disciplinary venue for exhibitions, events and other means of presenting contemporary art, new media, and photography, the Kunsthaus Graz has a complex palette of features and functions. While the building's interior is meant to inspire its curators as a "black box of hidden tricks" (Colin Fournier), its outer skin is a media façade which can be changed electronically.
This 900 m2 BIX media façade - an installation of light rings - is a special feature of the Kunsthaus in both aesthetic and functional terms. By integrating architecture, technology and message, the façade sets a new international standard.
Following a concept developed by the Berlin group realities:united, a total of 925 conventional, circular fluorescent tubes of 40 Watt were integrated into each section of the façade. These tubes turn the blue bubble into a house-sized low-resolution screen which can display simple image sequences and varying text streams. Each ring of light functions as a pixel which can be controlled by a central computer.
Thus the skin of the Kunsthaus constitutes an extraordinary medium for presenting art and related information transfers. "With BIX, the Kunsthaus projects its communicative claim into public space", says realities:united.
The Kunsthaus Graz was developed to house international exhibitions of multi-disciplinary modern and contemporary art. It will not maintain a collection of its own or a permanent exhibition and it has no permanent depots or research facilities. Its only purpose - albeit one which it fulfils in a variety of ways - is to present and propagate the output of contemporary artists. The exhibitions in the Kunsthalle will be organised in cooperation with the Neue Galerie at the Regional Museum Joanneum, Styria's long-established museum of modern and contemporary art.
Collaborations - Camera Austria, Medienlabor, and others
The magazine Camera Austria International is dedicated to the theory and artistic practice of photography in the context of contemporary art, new media, and social developments. Camera Austria, an institution which doubles as an autonomous exhibition venue, is architecturally linked to the Kunsthaus and contributes its internationally recognised expertise to the support of the Kunsthaus programme.
The Medienlabor is available for a new project every other year. The first undertaking, a juried project headed by Franz Xafer, provided local and international net activists with an interface between real and virtual space in an open laboratory.
The ultimate goal is to create an up-to-date art cluster with powerful synergistic effects. In addition to a central office which handles organisational matters for the Regional Museum Joanneum as a whole, important supporters of contemporary culture such as the Grazer Kunstverein, Haus der Architektur, and ARTIMAGE will be incorporated into the extended Kunsthaus complex.
Peter Pakesch, Artistic Director of the Regional Museum Joanneum, on:
"Einbildung - Eintönung: Das Wahrnehmen in der Kunst" (Perception in Art)
The opening of the Kunsthaus Graz was dedicated to the theme of perception. At the building's inauguration on 27 September, a foretaste of the exhibitions to come was provided by "Eintönen": a series of sound installations which preceded and set the mood for the opening exhibition.
The Kunsthaus officially opened on 25 October with the exhibition Einbildung. The theme of this exhibition was perception, our knowledge of perception, and the conditions to which the phenomenon is subject. Perception stands at the beginning of art. In other words, the exhibition deliberately examined art from the opposite perspective: as the creative science of the processes within our brains and of the ways in which our brains create images and ideas.
Recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and neurophysiology indicate that cognitive processes and neuronal networks determine and govern our visual perceptions in very specific ways. If we may believe the British cerebral physiologist Semir Zeki, painting is a kind of applied science cerebral function; the different movements and tendencies in modern painting correspond to physiological and psychological phenomena, and images are not processed in their entirety but are broken up into different aspects. Illusion and deception has always captured the interest of artists and scientists alike - for it is precisely the study of these so-called errors which helps us to understand the processes of perception.
In the main section of the exhibition, visitors could immerse themselves in a field of installations, photographs, paintings and sculptures which focused on our perception. Here visual and acoustic impressions combined with other sensory perceptions to weave a many-threaded net of stimuli and reflections.
Artists included: Alberto Biasi (I), Angela Bulloch (CDN), Jan Dibbets (NL), Olafur Eliasson (IS), Elsworth Kelly (USA), Liz Larner (USA), Sarah Morris (USA), Max Neuhaus (USA), Bridget Riley (GB), Henryk Stazewski (PL), Esther Stoker (A)...
Eintönen - Sound Installation at the Kunsthaus opening
27 September 2003, 09:00- 28 September, 18:00
Einbildung - Perception in art
25 October 2003 - January 2004
Article on OPEN KUNSTHAUS - Eintönen