Stillness and light
Forming a sublime synergy between the visual arts and architecture, 'Images of Stillness' explores issues that seem manifest in the Langen Foundation itself - a newly constructed arts building designed by Tadao Ando, his fourth project to be realised in Europe.
This inaugural exhibition illustrates the artistic means with which stillness has been evoked in both Eastern and Western culture.
Taken from the private collection of Victor and Marianne Langen, it includes an array of Japanese art from the 12th century to the 19th century, with sculptures, scrolls and paintings on canvas and paper. These works provide a unique insight into Japanese painting - Buddhist (1185-1333), narrative and 'profane' (1615-1868) - and form one of the most important collections outside Japan.
Examining the stillness of landscape, sleep and meditation, the exhibition then encompasses stillness in death, writing and, finally, abstract colour. Along with the Japanese examples are modern Western paintings from 1904 to 1994, most notably works by Rodchenko, Klein and Rothko.
The Langen Foundation is part of the larger Raketenstation Hombroich and Museum Insel Hombroich, a visionary project of German collector Karl-Heinrich Müller (AJ 31.7.97). A former NATO base has been turned into a 13ha site for art and nature. Not plotted on any map, this section of 'no-man's land' in North Rhine-Westphalia originally served as a defence base for the storage of Cruise missiles, until it was decommissioned in 1992-93.
The overt military paraphernalia of barbed wire, spotlights and bulletproof glass has since been removed, leaving the core hangars, bunkers, earthworks and observation tower to be renovated and reused. Seen from the approach road, which cuts through open arable fields, a prominent sculpture by Eduardo Chillida mimics the silhouette of a control tower and acts as a beacon to denote the entrance.
Ando's cleanly geometric spaces are surrounded by large manicured earthworks, which protect and heighten one's interest in what lies behind. Passing beneath a triumphal arch, a path lined on one side with cherry trees and a curving concrete wall, leads to a large artificial ornamental lake.
Across the water, and reflected in it, is the foundation building, with its glass skin.
Framed by the arch, it looks to be the essence of light and weightlessness.
Ando creates calmness through his honest use of materials: his signature concrete studded with formwork holes, the uninterrupted glass walls. There are majestic stairways too.
The main complex provides 900m 2 of exhibition space while combining two distinct forms: on the ground level, a long concrete structure encased in a glass envelope as if in a vitrine, with two parallel concrete bunkers at a 45° angle buried 6m into the earth.
Taking the processional route through the building, one enters a 43m-long central space with natural daylight coming through slits in the ceiling, illuminating the olive-hued walls and artwork. A long gradual ramp gently descends to a mezzanine level, overlooking the two sunken 8m-high galleries.
Modern I, the first gallery, is carved in two by a gracious concrete ramp with sheet-glass balustrades, which, though occupying much of the precious display space, only adds to the decadent understatement. The adjoining gallery, Modern II, devoid of any real external vista, is a pure, symmetrical space.
The Langen Foundation is a fine example of Ando's recent work. With the 'stillness' of the current exhibition, and larger context of the Raketenstation, it is yet another good reason to make a trip to Hombroich.
Neil Robert Wenman is the art and architecture coordinator at London's Lisson Gallery