At the invitation of Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Republic of France and Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany, in a ceremony at Reims Cathedral in May 2015, the windows by Imi Knoebel were unveiled which were realised at the artist’s instigation with support from the German Federal Foreign Ministry and funded and project managed by Kunststiftung NRW.
A century after the First World War, the horrors and cultural destruction which accompanied this primal catastrophe of the Modern Age serve as both a warning and a challenge to work passionately and with lasting effect towards a peaceful future for Europe and the world at large.
Against this background, the gift of the windows created by Imi Knoebel for the Joan of Arc chapel in Reims Cathedral, an initiative of the artist which has been achieved with the support of the German Federal Republic’s Federal Foreign Ministry and Kunststiftung NRW, is a cultural and political act of historic significance.
On Monday 11th May 2015 the windows were unveiled in the presence of Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Republic of France and Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany. Along with representatives of politics, culture and the clergy, guests also included young people and with them the future: 500 pupils from the lycées franco-allemands, the Franco-German grammar schools from the Champagne-Ardenne region and the Paris commuter belt. Music was provided before and after the ceremony by a joint ensemble of young German and French musicians.
This presentation, which is understood as a gesture of restitution and reconciliation, symbolizes the closure of a wound which German troops struck to the heart of the nation of France in 1914. To this day the bombing or Reims Cathedral is regarded as one of the greatest acts of vandalism in the history of war.
By accepting this gift, which will remain part of the nation’s cultural heritage for generations to come, France has accomplished what the spirit of the project intended: the desire to strengthen Franco-German friendship to aid Europe’s future, to make culture a symbol of hope and to embody peace.
This new work by Imi Knoebel, layers of coloured glass over an area of 64 square metres, uses an abstract composition in 27 colours to create ever more new forms. Flying, floating and glowing particles elevate themselves above all languages, address all cultures and religions and communicate a sense of unity within diversity.
Imi Knoebel, born in Dessau in 1940, lives and works in Düsseldorf. He is one of the most significant European artists to have made his reputation through developing abstract art. His beginnings were marked by two contrasting points of departure: the teachings of Joseph Beuys and the work of Kasimir Malevich. Knoebel’s broad oeuvre impresses by retaining its devotion to minimalism through so many different genres of image, its ability to synchronize geometric with gestural and expressive elements and its wealth of materials and colour.
The artist had already been invited by the French state in 2011 to design six works in brightly coloured glass for the cathedral choir on either side of the windows by Marc Chagall. The addition of three further glass works in the Joan of Arc chapel now provides a crowning finale to his remarkable work for the Cathedral, which is typified by his generously waiving any fee.
Kunststiftung NRW played a decisive role in realising the work. Its President Dr. Fritz Behrens was able to secure political support for the project at a national level. Leadership and management of the bilateral project lay in the hands of Dr. Ursula Sinnreich, Kunststiftung NRW General Secretary (until 9/2019), in co-operation with the Regional Director of Cultural Affairs for the region of Champagne-Ardenne.
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