NRW-Forum Düsseldorf is part of the Ehrenhof ensemble built in the 1920s, today a listed monument, which also includes the Museum Kunstpalast and the Tonhalle Düsseldorf. Characteristic features of the architecture are strict symmetry, archaic monumental forms and expressionistic brick façades.
The complex was built in 1926 for the GeSoLei exhibition according to the plans of Wilhelm Kreis (1873–1955). In 1908, Kreis succeeded Peter Behrens as director of the Kunstgewerbeschule Düsseldorf (School of Applied Arts). The school’s architecture department became part of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Art Academy) in 1920, where Kreis was professor for architecture until 1926.
The building that today houses NRW-Forum Düsseldorf was originally home to the Reichsmuseum für Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftskunde (Reich Museum for Social and Economic Sciences) starting in 1928. From 1951 until the beginning of the 1990s, the premises housed the Landesmuseum Volk und Wirtschaft (State Museum for the Nation and the Economy), a museum of technology that focused on the interaction between man, nature and economics, and between work and leisure, in the course of sociological changes, in particular specific developments within North Rhine-Westphalia. A walk-in coal mine in the basement was the museum’s main attraction.
Threatened with closure, the museum reopened on 9 October 1998 after a complete overhaul as the NRW Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft (NRW Forum for Culture and Economy). The institutional infrastructure was put under the charge of a board of trustees whose members included the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the State Capital of Düsseldorf, the Düsseldorf Trade Fair, and further institutions and Düsseldorf companies. Petra Wenzel and Werner Lippert were responsible for exhibition management. Exhibitions were devoted to figures including Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh, Anton Corbijn, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Bruce Nauman and Mario Testino.
When in 2013 the State of North Rhine-Westphalia cut off funding for the institution, Petra Wenzel and Werner Lippert resigned. The Lord Mayor at the time, Dirk Elbers, decided that a new legal entity would be formed under the name NRW-Forum Düsseldorf as an independent institution.
During an interim period, the building served as an exhibition space for the art festival Quadriennale Düsseldorf 2014, for the Düsseldorf Photo Weekend and for the international dance fair. In addition, the IKS – Institut für Kunstdokumentation und Szenografie (Institute for Art Documentation and Scenography) showed a Joel Meyerowitz retrospective here.
In December 2014, the State Capital of Düsseldorf announced that it had appointed Alain Bieber as new artistic director of NRW-Forum Düsseldorf effective 1 April 2015.
NRW-Forum Düsseldorf thus began a new life as an international cultural centre and an idea factory for culture, showcasing contemporary photography, pop and digital culture. Since 2015, the NRW-Forum has organized 28 exhibitions and over 70 events, symposia and festivals.
In 2018, the NRW-Forum launched two new festivals: the new photography festival Duesseldorf Photo and the digital festival META Marathon, a digital happening with 42 hours of non-stop talks, performances, films, concerts, exhibitions and workshops on the subject of artificial intelligence.
The first exhibition under new management "Ego Update: Die Zukunft der digitalen Identität (Ego Update. The Future of Digital Identity )" (19.9.15-17.1.16) was dedicated to the phenomenon selfie and addressed the question of how the digital and technological world intervenes in human identity. Photography classics such as "Horst: Photographer of Style" (12.2.-22.5.16) and "Peter Lindberg / Garry Winogrand: Women on Street" (3.2.-30.4.17) followed. The group exhibition “Planet B – 100 Ideen für eine Welt (Planet B - 100 Ideas for a World)” (2.6.-21.8.16) presented a completely new exhibition concept. For several weeks, artists lived in a rocket in the exhibition space as part of Planet B and developed ideas for a better future together with visitors. One of the most popular exhibitions was the show "Deuscthland" by satirist Jan Böhmermann and the bildundtonfabrik.
In May 2017, the NRW-Forum was one of the first exhibition centers worldwide to inaugurate a virtual extension building for purely digital exhibitions with the exhibition Unreal. Since June 2018, the NRW-Forum has dedicated an exhibition to the next topic of the future: "PENDORAN VINCI. Kunst und künstliche Intelligenz heute (PENDORAN VINCI. Art and Artificial Intelligence Today)" presents international artistic positions that investigate current developments in artificial intelligence.
Kim Asendorf, LaTurbo Avedon, Evan Baden, Arvida Byström, Kurt Caviezel, Robbie Cooper, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, MC Fitti, Alison Jackson, Erik Kessels, Florian Kuhlmann, Dafna Maimon, Netro, Onformative, Ontheroofs, Martin Parr, Evan Roth, Andreas Schmidt, Guido Segni, Oliver Sieber, David Slater, Amalia Ulman und Jonas Unger. Das filmische Begleitprogramm stellen Stéphane Degoutin und Gwenola Wagon, Janez Janša, Nicolas Ritter, Stéphane Carrel, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Mark Napier, Gazira Babeli, Giulia Bowinkel & Friedemann Banz, Lorna Mills, Vuk Cosic, Laurence Gartel, Jessica Lichtenstein, Lorna Mills, Huang Siying, Mareike Foecking, Horst P. Horst, Ralf Brueck, Olaf Breuning, Agnieszka Pokrywka, Alvaro Urbano, Anna Romanenko, Armin Chodzinski, Atelier für Sonderaufgaben, Andrew Gryf Paterson, Ben J. Riepe, Björn Kühn, Brad Downey, Constantin Schlachter, Eric Winkler, Hörner/Antlfinger, Jan Holtmann, Jana Pejoska, Kathryn Fleming, Labor Fou, Lars Zimmermann, Mathieu Tremblin, Merlin Baum, Mikko Laajola, Norma D. Hunter, per.Vers, Valentina Karga, Vladimír Turner, Horst Wackerbarth, Simon Menner, Miia Autio, Chris Becher, Carmen Catuti, Andreas Hopfgarten, Holger Jenss, Quoc-Van Ninh, Julia Steinigeweg, Anatol Kotte, Bela Borsodi, Carolin Saage, Christto & Andrew, Daniel Sannwald, David Drebin, David LaChapelle, Esther Haase, Hassan Hajjaj, Inka & Niclas, Izima Kaoru, Jason McGlade, Kourtney Roy, Mark Kimber, Markus Henttonen, Mariano Vivanco, Martin Schoeller, Matt Henry, Maxime Ballesteros, Mike Schreiber, Miles Aldridge, Mi-Zo, Olivo Barbieri, Pierre et Gilles, Pierre Winther, Polixeni Papapetrou, Rankin, Ruud van Empel, Sarah Illenberger, Sarah Malakoff, Stefano Cerio, Suresh Nataraja, Wing Shya, Adrian Abela, Moira Agius, Victor Agius, Matthew Attard, Nigel Baldacchino, Aaron Bezzina, Kristina Borg, Trevor Borg, Kane Cali, Joseph Calleja & Jon Galea, Giola Cassar, Matthew Galea, Ritianne Muscat, Alexandra Pace, Matthew Schembri, Adrian Scicluna, Sarah Maria Scicluna, Darren Tanti, John Vella, Thomas Mailaender, Peter Lindbergh, Garry Winogrand, Akihiko Taniguchi, Giulia Bowinkel & Friedemann Banz, Manuel Roßner, Tabita Rezaire Theo Triantafyllidis, Otto Berchem, Robert Capa, Laurent Cipriani, Andreas Gursky, Harry Gruyaert, Martin Höfer, Philipp Hympendahl, Richard Kalvar, Timm Kölln, Kraftwerk, Guy Le Querrec, Louis Malle, Nicola Mesken, Reinhard Mucha, Pascal Rivet, Kai Schäfer, Paul Smith, Olaf Unverzart, Stephan Vanfleteren, John Vink, Jodi Bieber, Charlie Cole, David Douglas Duncan, Thekla Ehling, Volker Hinz, Heidi & Hans-Jürgen Koch, Joel Marklund, Steve McCurry, Duane Michals, Ed Ruscha Harald Schmitt, Michael Wesely, Ami Vitale, Erik Kessels, Paul Kooiker, Joan Fontcuberta, Peter Piller, Joachim Schmid und Ruth van Beek, Stefanie Schroeder, Stephan Bögel, Janosch Boerckel, Alba Frenzel, Laura Giesdorf, Ricardo Nunes, Alexandra Polina, Julian Slagman, Rie Yamada, Klaus-Peter Dienst, Jan Böhmermann, Bildundtonfabrik, Andy Kassier, Signe Pierce, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Herlinde Koelbl, Cory Arcangel, Darren Bader, John Baldessari, Paul Barsch, Simon M. Benedict, Lars Bent Petersen, Katherine Bernhardt, John Bock, Chris Bradley, Marco Bruzzone, Jennifer Chan Robert Crumb, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Tom Friedman, Uffe Isolotto, Thomas Judisch, Martin Kippenberger, Jonas Lund, PIZZA PAVILION, PIZZAG8 by PCNC_BAY x BLUNT x SKENSVED, Torben Ribe, Reena Spaulings, Spencer Sweeney, Sebastian Schmieg, Daniel van Straalen, Claude Claude Viallat...