best art museums in NRW: Kunstsammlung K20 in Düsseldorf
Sebastian Drüen/Kunstsammlung NRW

The artful 13 – art museums in NRW 

In Düsseldorf, art enthusiasts can float in the art space. Meanwhile in Unna, there is light and, in Essen, visitors move in slow motion on a video screen. Art in the 21st century is not just the interpretation of paintings as it is now also a holistic experience in itself. And this is where it works best: cool art museums in NRW.

Ludwig Forum for International Art (Aachen) 

The Ludwigs – an art-loving entrepreneurial couple – bought an impressive collection in the 20th century and made them accessible to the general public in what is now called the Ludwig Forum. Here, in an old factory, their contemporary art treasures are on display. Definitely worth seeing. 

Ludwig Forum for international art in Aachen
Ludwig Forum

Kunstakademie – The New Collection (Düsseldorf)

One could affectionately call it the memory gallery. Why? Because works by professors and former students of the art academy are exhibited at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Among them are the works of Markus Lüpertz and Bruno Goller, to name just a couple examples. 

Art Academy in Duesseldorf
Stephan Walochnik/

Julia Stoschek Foundation (Düsseldorf) 

Julia Stoschek built the “Julia Stoschek Foundation”, an impressive international private collection of contemporary art, with a focus on time-based media. The private collection, which opened in 2007, contains over 700 works by around 200 mostly European and American artists. For the opening of the house, which is located in an old factory site, Olafur Eliasson developed the permanent site-specific installation “When Love Is Not Enough Wall” for one of the inner walls of the second exhibition floor. It should be noted that the exhibition is usually only open on weekends, often only on Sundays.

K20 (Düsseldorf)

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in Düsseldorf because there are so many art museums worth seeing. The K20 is the house on Grabbeplatz. The focal point of the NRW art collection is Western European and American Modernism. Works by Joseph Beuys, Max Ernst and Gerhardt Richter can be seen, all of them considered greats of the region. But Picasso and Kandinsky are also on display. The house has around 100 works by Paul Klee alone. 

art museums in NRW: Kunstsammlung in Düsseödorf
Sebastian Drüen/ Kunstsammlung NRW

K21 (Düsseldorf)

2,500 square meters of nets spread over three levels are kept at a distance by PVC balls. The Orbit work of art in the glass dome of the K21 is fun for both the young and old. International art from 1980 onwards is shown in the former Estates House from 1880. The collection includes exhibits and installations by Thomas Hischhorn, Nam June Paik and there is also an impressive collection of contemporary photography.

the art work Orbit at the K21, one of the best art museums in NRW, Germany
Studio Tomás Saraceno

KIT – The tunnel of ART (Düsseldorf)

KIT – short from for “Kunst im Tunnel” (Art in the tunnel) – is probably the most original exhibition space in the city as it is hidden under the Rhine promenade. Alternating modern art hangs between two car tunnel tubes.

Kunstausstellung Off The Beaten Rack im KIT in Düsseldorf, einem der schönsten Kunstmuseen in NRW

Kunsthalle (Düsseldorf)

The hall itself is an architectural example of brutalism and that alone is impressive. But contrary to expectations, there is no permanent exhibition in the concrete box. To this end, the Kunsthalle often reaches for the stars in its temporary exhibitions as it continues to seek out new trends. 

Außenfassade Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, eins der besten Kunstmuseen in NRW

Folkwang Museum (Essen) 

The Essen Museum is legendary. And since architect David Chipperfield got his hands on it, it’s also a real museum beauty. Cosmopolitan, airy and up-to-date. The Museum Folkwang has a very extensive collection. This mainly includes the most important currents in art of the 19th century. One focus is on German and French painting. Gauguin, Cézanne and Beckmann can be found here, for example. But Dalí and Warhol also adorn the large white walls of the museum. Of course there are exciting temporary exhibitions and entry to the permanent collection is free. 

Marta Herford (Herford)

Who expects a building by the great Frank Gehry in Herford? And where is Herford actually located? In Ostwestfalen-Lippe, the northeast of NRW. And yes, as I said, the building alone is worth a visit. Contemporary art is on display inside Marta Herford, with the main focus being on design – and how could it be otherwise? 

Exterior façade and main entrance at Museum Marta Herford
Felix Hüffelmann

Kolumba (Cologne)

KOLUMBA is the name of the museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne. The building itself was designed by the famous architect Peter Zumthor. Its name is reminiscent of the Church of St. Kolumba, over the ruins of which the building rises. The ground floor is laid out over an excavation site with Roman remains and the ruins of the church. An annual exhibition opens in September on the upper floors. It is stocked from the rich in-house collection, which ranges from sacred to contemporary art – including works by Salvador Dalí, Joseph Beuys, Josef Wolf and Louise Bourgeois. 

Cologne Art Association (Cologne)

For more than 175 years, the Kunstverein has been showing the most exciting developments in contemporary art. The building, Die Brücke (1949/1950), was designed by Wilhelm Riphahn and offers the best conditions for this with its exhibition hall, cinema and even lecture hall. 

Museum Ludwig (Cologne)

The donors, Irene and Peter Ludwig, donated a groundbreaking collection of 20th-century works of art to the city of Cologne – including the third-largest Picasso collection in the world with around 900 works. But the collection of the Museum Ludwig includes much more. Namely, a high-ranking cross-section from classical modernism to current art production. Another focus is the most extensive collection of American Pop Art in Europe (including key works by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Claes Oldenburg).

In addition to the focal points mentioned, the collection offers an overview of the most important art movements of the 20th century. It includes works of abstract expressionism by Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock as well as film and video art, installations and performative works from the last few decades. The art history of the Rhineland is also represented with major works by Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Rosemarie Trockel. But let’s not forget then the location itself! Since the museum is right next to the cathedral, you can kill two sights with one stone.

visitors at Museum Ludwig in Köln, one of the best art museums in NRW
Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen

Wallraf Richartz Museum (Cologne)

Impressive sacred art from the Middle Ages, baroque splendor, graphics and art from the 19th century: 700 years of art history can be found under one roof near Cologne City Hall: in the Wallraf Richartz Museum. It’s worth it. 

permanent Exhibition at Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in NRW
Raimond Spekking

Centre for International Light Art (Unna)

The former Linden brewery in Unna is both an exhibition space and a projection screen, the Centre for International Light Art. It is the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to light art. The works of well-known artists such as James Turrell, Ólafur Eliasson and Mario Merz are very impressive. The landmark is on the outside: it’s Mario Merz’s Fibonacci numbers. If you want to take photos – and we’ll assume right away that yes, you do – you can only do so during a public (or private) tour.

light art in an art Museum in NRW in Unna
Ruhr Tourismus/ Ralph Lüger