Who would have thought in 1973 to start a gallery specialising in just one technique of fine art.
And, of all things, on batik. And in Germany at that, where batik was only seen in the art market, as a leisure activity that should not be taken seriously.
It could only be started by someone, who, as an enthusiastic young person, accidentally stumbled upon something that would not let him go.
Antique Indonesian batik is impressive because it expresses aesthetic peculiarities that, for technical reasons, are inherent in batik painting.
Today, Rudolf Smend is one of the world’s most important collectors of traditional Indonesian antique batik.
For 50 years now, the Smend Gallery has become an attraction and gathering point for artists who felt so attracted by the special characteristics of batik painting that they have dedicated their work entirely to batik.
Finally there was a gallery where batik was taken seriously.
Finally, I found my way to Mainzer Strasse in the southern part of Cologne. I still remember very clearly the feeling I had, when Rudolf and Karin Smend welcomed me in their gallery. For us batik artists, these greetings were always as if an oasis had welcomed us, coming from a cold world.
We came from everywhere, from Germany of course, but also from Belgium, the Netherlands, England, Austria; from Switzerland, Ireland, USA, Australia and even Japan.
We came simply because this gallery was unique – it gave batik artists the opportunity to present their work to the public, which was something completely new in Germany.
Over all these many years, we have met again and again on the occasion of exhibition openings at Smend Gallery.
And what was so nice about these repeated encounters, is the pleasant feeling of not being alone with your interest in batik – this very special painting – but surrounded by others with the same interest as yourself.
Common connections. And so we ended up feeling like one big family in the gallery.
Another special feature distinguished the Smend gallery from the very beginning:
Every now and then an exhibition took place in it – not as usual with works of current batik, but with thematically selected examples from Rudolf Smend’s large collection of
antique Indonesian batik. Thanks to Rudolf Smend’s decades of collecting activity, these exhibitions have become a unique opportunity, unprecedented in Germany, to get to know the richness and beauty of these textiles.
For us artists, these exhibitions were also an indication – not with cold words, but with authentic, beautiful examples – where the impulse came from, to take an interest in this foreign, oriental branch of fine arts here in Europe. It reminds us of it that modern batik is based on aesthetic characteristics that had already shown their wonderful potential in ancient Indonesian batik.
Richard Dölker, Germany’s doyen of batik painting, only decided on batik as his preferred way of working, after becoming acquainted with ancient Indonesian batiks in an exhibition in the Vatican Museum.
Who would have thought in 1973 that such a specialised gallery would still exist after 50 years?
Rudolf Smend dared to try something that no one in Germany would have believed would be successful at the time. With the founding of his batik gallery, modern batik was finally given a showcase.
In addition, and thanks to his collecting activities, he was also able to make traditional Indonesian batik accessible to a wide audience with his gallery.
In everything he did, personal contact with and among the artists, was important to him. For us batik artists, some of whom live far apart, the group exhibitions he organised in his gallery were one of the rare opportunities to be able to meet us in person. Rudolf Smend wanted us to feel at home in his gallery.
He even organised study trips to Java, because he wanted us to experience on the spot and through our own work, how the batik technique is still being worked there and has been for centuries.
And for all that Rudolf Smend has done with his gallery over these many years, I say on behalf of all those who have become acquainted with Galerie Smend through their interest in batik painting:
Many thanks, Rudolph Smend.
Peter Wenger. (Long time friend and contemporary batik artist)