Award for private commitment to the arts:
Walter Smerling receives the Order of Merit of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia
Idea generator, driving force, designer: Walter Smerling, Chairman of the Foundation for Art and Culture Bonn and Director of the MKM Museum Küppersmühle, was awarded the Order of Merit of the State of NRW by Minister President Armin Laschet on 23 August 2020. “This medal actually belongs to the artists. Their ideas and their view of the world are my driving force,” said Smerling, who was honoured together with 13 other personalities, including football star Mario Götze and Nobel Prize winner in physics Dr Johannes Georg Bednorz.
An encounter with Joseph Beuys in the 1980s motivated Walter Smerling to live for contemporary art and to take the initiative himself. In 1986, he and like-minded people founded the non-profit Foundation for Art and Culture Bonn with the declared aim of promoting art and culture as essential elements of civil society, far beyond NRW. Almost everything was financed with money acquired from the private sector.
Laudatio of NRW Minister President Armin Laschet
– the spoken word applies –
Professor Dr. h.c. Walter Smerling from Bonn
Last year, the Küppersmühle Museum of Modern Art in Duisburg’s inland harbour – the MKM – celebrated its 20th anniversary. Since its opening, the former warehouse building with its listed brick façade has been a real crowd puller in the Port of Duisburg – the largest inland port in Europe, by the way.
Walter Smerling has directed the museum from the beginning. Of course, it is not only the striking architecture that attracts visitors, but also the varied exhibition programme. More than 300 art projects have been implemented so far.
German post-war art, contemporary works and special exhibitions of internationally renowned quality – this is what the Küppersmühle Museum stands for. A project close to Walter Smerling’s heart is the nationwide promotional competition “Youth Interprets Art”, in which schools from all over Germany participate.
Another highlight is the extensive art collection of the Ströher couple. It is one of the most important collections of German art worldwide and is presented at the MKM.
The extent to which art and culture are linked nationally and internationally becomes clear when one considers Walter Smerling’s commitment: He is the founder and has since been the chairman of the board of the “Foundation for Art and Culture in Bonn”.
He is also the artistic director of the “Salzburg Foundation”, which further develops the World Heritage Site of Salzburg’s Old Town, where art lovers can admire international contemporary art – “art in public space”, free of charge and open to everyone.
Walter Smerling’s Salzburg art project “Walk of Modern Art” attracts a lot of attention. In Bonn, too, the “urban museum” with works of art in public spaces continues to grow year after year, and in the Ruhr region the “PUBLIC ART RUHR” is developing more and more – Walter Smerling is the driving force here, too.
Closely associated with his name is also the exhibition “Germany 8 – German Art in China”, in which more than 50 artists present their works in eight Beijing museums. No less than 650,000 visitors visit this exhibition in only six weeks – a great success.
His mammoth show “CHINA 8 – Contemporary Art from China on the Rhine and Ruhr”, presented in eight cities in North Rhine-Westphalia, also remains unforgotten. And of course “Art and Coal”, an exhibition that takes an artistic look at the significance of the coal and steel industry and the cultural history of the Ruhr region in numerous museums in the Metropole Ruhr. Walter Smerling also provided the impetus for this.
Dear Mr Smerling, a complete list and description of your art projects would captivate us all, but probably until late in the evening. You are a museum director, curator, exhibition organiser, author, television journalist, art historian and, since 2010, also an honorary professor for art and cultural education at the University of Witten / Herdecke. Always on the move in matters of art, you have long been regarded worldwide as an ambassador for our state of North Rhine-Westphalia in matters of art and culture.
North Rhine-Westphalia honours this great commitment today with the State Order of Merit.