Must See 2022 Exhibition – ‘Electro: From Kraftwerk to Techno’ at the Kunstpalast Dusseldorf

Above: Kraftwerk, The Catalog– 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, Robot 3D Concert
K20, Art Collection NRW, Düsseldorf
2013, © Peter Boettcher, Courtesy Sprüth Magers

It’s a little hard to believe, but electronic music turned 100 at some unspecified time in recent years, with its origins traceable to early 20th Century developments in vacuum tubes and theremins. Of course, modern cultural dissemination pegs it more relevantly to the birth of Dusseldorf synth legends Kraftwerk, who in the early 1970s – when everyone else was dropping acid and singing about elves and wizards – laid the blueprint for the contemporary minimalist electro style that would come to be the most influential music of its age.

A current exhibition at the Kunstpalast Dusseldorf titled Electro: From Kraftwerk to Techno (on through May 15, 2022) attempts to definitively document its ascension, so that we may better understand the breathtaking scope of its reach. The show encompasses more than 500 “objects,” including musical instruments, homemade sound generators, audio clips, videos, photographs, and notably also takes a deep dive into the perception-altering graphic design language that so acutely came to define the genre, in open aesthetic opposition to the “look” of the already tiring signifiers of rock & roll.

Jacob Khrist  DJ and musician Ellen Allien, Festival NAME, Roubaix, 2017, © Jacob Khrist

The exhibit provides key historical context by, for instance, looking back at Russian born composer Nikolai Obukhov’s Croix Sonore, developed in Paris in 1926 as one of the earliest workable (non-contact) electronic instruments. It then puts the necessary focus on the legendary Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne during the 1960s, where our truly contemporary idea of electronic music was arguably developed; that’s followed, of course, by the proper exaltation of Dusseldorf’s own Kraftwerk, with Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider turning their Kling Klang Studio into an exhilarating incubator for not just the sonic future, but rather for an entirely new cultural way of seeing the world.

And indeed, as the exhibition moves on to the rise of hip-hop, Detroit techno, Chicago house music and the international rave scene that were all outgrowths of those Dusseldorf experiments, it bears out that electronic music really did change so much about the way culture interacts with our lives now in the 21st Century. To be sure, the inclusion of legendary photographer and committed techno-head Andreas Gursky’s May Day series of images viscerally reminds of the communal power that is ever associated with the genre.

Kraftwerk, The Catalog – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, The Man-Machine 3D Concert
Tate Modern, London 2013, © Peter Boettcher, Courtesy Sprüth Magers

“This is not an exhibition about music,” explains curator Jean-Yves Leloup, “but rather a musical exhibition that aims to explore the interconnections between electronic music and visual artistic production, such as graphic design, digital art, photography, performance and video. We’re offering visitors an immersive experience reminiscent of the atmosphere of euphoria and communality associated with clubs, raves and festivals.” 

Electro: From Kraftwerk to Techno will be on exhibit at the Kunstpalast Dusseldorf through May 15, 2022, presenting the ideal opportunity for a post-Omicron springtime jaunt to Europa, which could also include stops in Berlin, Hamburg or even Antwerp/Brussels.

Andreas Gursky, May Day III, 1998, © Andreas Gursky / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, 2021, Courtesy Sprüth Magers

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