SURPRISING DÉCOR IN STRASBURG. AUBETTE 1928
The classicist façade of the monumental Aubette dominates the view of Place Kléber, the very heart of Strasbourg. Yet, the building’s outward appearance couldn’t possibly prepare you for the surprise awaiting inside: a feast for every enthusiast of the twentieth-century avant-garde painting.
The origin of this edifice dates back to the eighteenth century. Designed by Jacques-François Blondel, the Aubette had served a variety of functions, accommodating a museum, café, police station as well as military quarters, which in fact gave rise to its name – in French “aubette” means a sentry box. However, not until the true visionaries had come along, did the Aubette take its place in art history. Upon their arrival to Strasbourg in the early twentieth century, the Horn brothers took a ninety-nine year lease on the left wing of the building in order to create a leisure complex. The city stipulated that no modifications must be made to the façade which was declared the historic monument. The Horn brothers had a vision and connections. Refurbishment of interiors was therefore commissioned to Strasbourg-born Jean Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who enlisted Theo van Doesburg’s help in the project. Together, they managed to create a uniquely innovative décor of the complex.
The three artists renovated four floors of the Aubette drawing on the concepts of neoplasticism. Unfortunately, the original state of the interiors survived no more than a decade. Although the walls were coated and partially demolished in 1938, today we can still admire the painstakingly restored rooms on the first floor thanks to the 1960s initiative of Victor Beyer, a chief curator of the Strasbourg Museums. A prolonged and tedious inquiry into the provenance of iconography and chemical tests of wall samples aimed at recreation of their initial colour were performed to bring back the neoplastic character of the Aubette to its former glory. The first section of the building opened in 1994, other rooms were made available to the public in 2006. As a result, we can now marvel at three separate venues: cine-dance hall (Ciné-bal), foyer bar, function room (Salle des fêtes) and a stairwell. The artists’ exploration of neoplasticism is reflected in the colour palette applied to these unique and astonishing interiors (white, black, grey, blue, yellow and red). In addition, the artistic premise of the Aubette is akin the theory of elementarism developed by Theo van Doesburg in 1924. Elementarism asserted the primacy of elements over forms and defined a work of art in terms of colour (painting), spatial form (sculpture) and materials (architecture). Contrary to Mondrian, van Doesburg didn’t shy away from diagonal lines. An excellent example illustrating the artist’s principle would be Ciné-bal – 230m2 space illuminated with the natural light from south windows. Due to the grid of tilted planes, the walls seem to be spinning. Meticulously designed lighting incorporating individual reflectors, which can be turned on and off with an elaborate control panel, reinforces our initial impression in the evening. Furthermore, Salle des fêtes boasts a configuration of exclusively vertical and horizontal lines. Selected panels covering the walls and the ceiling are furnished with light fixtures. The room reminds me of a box – with no clear indication of where’s the top and where’s the bottom.
The Aubette interiors could be described as paradoxical – overwhelming in their ornateness despite a restricted colour scheme, extremely rigorous composition and absence of embellishment. Nowadays a number of cultural events is organized in this historic building, which is also open to the public. If you’re planning to visit Strasbourg, you should definitely place the Aubette on top of your list.
Written by Helena Postawka-Lech
Translated by Karolina Jasińska
Edited by Dominika Tylcz