Everything you need to know about ‘Imis’

From the rare craftsmanship of stained glass to collaborating with the Volkshaus Basel – discover Imi Knoebel’s colourful new installation

From the rare craftsmanship of stained glass to collaborating with the Volkshaus Basel – discover Imi Knoebel’s colourful new installation

The Volkshaus in Basel reopened their bar on 20 September with a new, permanent installation by Imi Knoebel, and ever since we have been asked from all sides about the story of Imi Bar. Here, we share an insight into how the project came about, the production of the windows, and why this bar is the place to be in Basel.

Let’s start at the beginning. The idea to commission Knoebel for ‘Imi Bar’ was the brainchild of Leopold Weinberg, co-owner of the Volkshaus Basel Hotel, who was introduced to Knoebel by longstanding friend and collaborator Stefan von Bartha. Leopold and Stefan have worked together on numerous art projects in the past, including the Imaginary Collection at Hotel Helvetia in Zurich, and von Bartha Insight – the gallery’s off-site concept launched at Volkshaus Basel Hotel in 2020. The hotel has set itself the task of making contemporary art a tangible part of everyday hotel life – large-format sculptures sit in the middle of a busy room, and atmospheric paintings in unexpected places subtly provoke and encourage guests to actively engage with the space.

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Initially, the idea was to do an art installation at the bar and work with the walls, but when Leopold approached Imi & Carmen Knoebel to discuss the project, it was quickly decided that the windows were to become a work of art instead. Imi Knoebel (b. 1940, Germany) is known for his theoretical approach to colour and form. Knoebel has recently expanded his practice to an architectural scale, and his largest commission to date saw the artist design several stained-glass windows for the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, installed in 2011 and 2015. This commission was politically significant as Knoebel, of German heritage, created this artwork for the French cathedral, which was damaged by German bomb raids during WWI. For the Bar at Volkshaus Basel, Knoebel created the second stained-glass window work of his career to date, entitled Imis – Bar im Volkshaus Basel, 2021. Measuring more than 6 metres wide , it pays homage to the city of Basel, featuring angular panels of coloured glass. The Bar is set to change its name to ‘Imi Bar’ in celebration of Knoebel, and his new commission.

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Imi Knoebel in his studio in Düsseldorf
Photo: Ivo Faber
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The Stained Glass Windows by Imi Knoebel of The Reims Cathedral in France

Today, the craft of working with stained glass is only mastered by a few specialists, with barely a handful of manufactories still remaining in Europe. For the ‘Basel’ windows at the Volkshaus, we collaborated with Urs Rickenbach from the company ‘Glas Mäder‘ in Rüschlikon. One reason was because they have a huge stock of antique and handmade stained glass, which they have collected over decades. For the Basel production alone, a total of 240 different colours of glass were needed. The aforementioned stock allowed the artist to change the colours in the final phase of production. Unlike some of the windows in Reims, the Basel windows were not sandblasted, allowing for the glass to unfold its transparent quality. Minor traces such as air holes or accumulations of pigment still remain visible – testifying to the quality of the hand-blown glass. During Imi’s visits to the workshop, the colours of the glasses and the specific cut-outs to be used were determined, with the production of the individual glasses completed by the workshop’s craftsmen.

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Imi Knoebel is a fitting artist to create a commission for the Bar, as his wife Carmen ran the legendary Ratinger Hof with Ingrid Kohlhöfer in the 1970s that went on to become the centre of Düsseldorf’s punk scene. It became a hub for artists such as Sigmar Polke, Joseph Beuys, and of course Knoebel himself, and included a vibrant cultural programme. As each city needs it’s own artist bar, just like Vienna has the Loos Bar, Berlin has the Paris Bar or Zurich has the Kronenhalle Bar, we now have the ‘Imis’ and we love it.

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Ratinger Hof - the hub for the punk scene in Düsseldorf run by Carmen Knoebel in the 1970's

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