John Körmeling (1951) has been called an architect, visual artist, inventor and freethinker. The range of his work is equally diverse: a large light sculpture, comic strip-like drawings with visual and verbal witticisms, sketches of practical and imaginary structures, models and unconventional solutions to spatial planning problems. You will see this and more in this presentation of the Van Abbe’s collection of Körmeling’s work
John Körmeling (1951) has been called an architect, visual artist, inventor and freethinker. The range of his work is equally diverse: a large light sculpture, comic strip-like drawings with visual and verbal witticisms, sketches of practical and imaginary structures, models and unconventional solutions to spatial planning problems. You will see this and more in this presentation of the Van Abbe’s collection of Körmeling’s work. One piece was recently added to the museum’s collection, the covered bridge, which offers access to the museum from the Stratumseind road.
One single artist is behind all this work; one who enjoys battling against the growing small-mindedness of organised society. His war tactics, however, are somewhat friendly. Humour proves to be an effective weapon. A comic strip-like drawing from 1991 entitled ‘Vaste vloerbedekking onder je schoenen’ (Feet planted ﬁrmly on the carpet) shows two lower legs with a rectangular piece of ﬂoor covering attached to each one. This absurdist image leads to all manner of philosophical contemplation; the Carpetright customer as a symbol of conformism.
In 1992, Körmeling challenged municipal ofﬁcers to a design duel on the veranda of his home in Eindhoven by placing an advertisement with the text: “Stedebouwkundigen! (…), ook U die zich verstopt achter Grondzaken” (Urban designers! [...] including those of you hiding behind the municipal development corporations). His buildings often stand on towering stands which, in his drawings, reach from the ground to the clouds. In the 1985 model ‘Bouwkeet’ (Site Ofﬁce), a site ofﬁce breaks through a cube-shaped construction: ‘Escaping from an internalised space to an observing
space’. Down-to-earth solutions are also characteristic of Körmeling’s approach. In 1993’s ‘Verbouwing van geluidswal’ (Renovation of a noise barrier), he brushed aside the heated discussions about spatial planning in our small country with a solution that is both simple and rigorous. Motorways and residential areas are no longer separated; houses simply line the motorway.
‘Stedebouwkundigen! gedraag u niet als blindegeleidehonden’ (Urban designers! Quit acting like guide dogs) is Körmeling’s call. The artist has no interest in ‘autistic’ new housing estates and cities that increasingly resemble open-air museums. He is looking for locations where the built-up environment was given free rein for a while. Körmeling’s ‘Een goed boek’ (A good book) collects and depicts several examples of these anonymous urban and rural locations in the Netherlands and abroad. Among the jungle of anonymous buildings, an inconspicuous extension affectionately clings to the side of a facade; a bright yellow warehouse on a city’s fringe does justice to its caption – ‘Big Yellow’; a neocolonial house emerges as a facade; and eye-catching neon signs completely obscure the architecture from view. Körmeling draws inspiration from these locations for his own work; architecture as objet trouvé.
In 1992, during the inauguration of the ‘starting house’ of the Harkstede rowing course, Körmeling said ‘Ladies and gentlemen [...] here stands exactly what I want and, for the ﬁrst time in my life, that which others also want’. Quite a few plans – buildings caught in the grey area between image and architecture – have been implemented since then. They have a seemingly self-evident simplicity, characterised by fellow artist and friend Henk Visch as “yes, but this could work too” designs developed during a leisurely Saturday afternoon.
Körmeling maintains control of both the designs and their implementation. For instance, he recently collaborated – between the storms – with Amsterdam shipyard worker Willem Schrammeijer to create the smallest covered bridge in the world. More than that, it also serves as an entrance, vying for position with Kropholler’s 1936 museum entrance. While
Körmeling’s structure reﬂects little of the solemn ponderousness that formed an inextricable part of a museum’s status in Kropholler’s time, it likewise draws little from contemporary design rules. Brick has given way to bright pink aluminium with an embossed motif of gunwale wood. Instead of two sitting horses, we are greeted by inviting shimmering lights. With a friendly reference to the nightlife of the Stratumseind road, Körmeling invites everyone still wondering whether to cross the bridge. After all, the museum is just your kind of thing.