NRW Forum, Düsseldorf. Photo: NRW Forum.

Düsseldorf’s Kunstpalast and NRW Forum Will Merge

The city of Düsseldorf has announced that the Kunstpalast (Art Palace) and the NRW Forum, the exhibition center dedicated to photography and popular and digital culture, will merge. The two neighboring institutions will maintain their individual brand identities but will both be helmed by the Kunstpalast’s current director, Felix Krämer.

Merging the NRW Forum with the significantly larger, municipally supported Kunstpalast was originally suggested by NRW Forum artistic director Alain Bieber. In March, Bieber decided not to renew his contract with the institution, citing the lack of political backing for his program, but has since reconsidered. Moving forward, he will report to the executive committee of the Foundation Kunstpalast.

A statement issued by the city reads: “The merger of the two houses should create synergies, strengthen the Ehrenhof, and provide visitors with an even more attractive program. A precondition for the decision was: Alain Bieber will continue his work as artistic director at the NRW Forum. The organizational realignment should give the NRW Forum more security and greater freedom to further sharpen its programmatic focus.”

Commenting on the move, Bieber thanked Düsseldorf’s mayor, Thomas Geisel, and the board for encouraging him to remain at the NRW Forum. “Many things have worn me down, but politics wants to create more open spaces and shelters for art and culture, and we can expand our core competencies through synergies with the Kunstpalast. With the backing of politics, collaboration with the Kunstpalast, and a sharpened profile, we can now offer an even more attractive offer for our visitors,” he said.

Previously, Bieber, who has served as artistic director since 2015, sparked controversy within Düsseldorf’s artistic community when he organized “When in Doubt, Choose Doubt: The Great World Conspiracy” (2018) with curator Florian Waldvogel. An open letter decrying the gender disparity in the exhibition circulated on social media and garnered more than one thousand signatures. In response, Bieber and the NRW Forum released a statement that acknowledged the criticism and declared that they would do better in the future.

Bieber’s program has been praised for raising the profile of the exhibition space and for drawing a younger audience to its programming. Further details about the restructuring of the two institutions will be announced in the coming weeks.