Always on the lookout for a slightly different tourist destination, I was surprised when I found L’Aubette in the main tourist guide they were handing out at the Information office, and even more surprised to discover that I was the only person in attendance on the Tuesday afternoon. Especially given its proximity to both the Cathedral and the major shopping precinct. The L’Aubette has even been called the ‘Sistine Chapel of abstract art’.
The Aubette was originally built between 1765 and 1778, and became a military building that housed body guards, their lodging quarters and a post office. It was named aubette as a result of the changing of the guards that took place in front of it every dawn.
The Aubette also included a municipal painting museum that was unfortunately ravaged by fire in 1870. The building was consequently renovated and more new improvements were mooted in 1911. The Horn brothers appeared in the picture in 1922 and rented a wing with the view to create a public leisure complex. The City of Strasbourg gave the brothers the go ahead, and they then entrusted the interior refurbishment to Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, who also included their friend Theo Van Doesburg.
The complex contained four levels and the artists shared the interior décor work amongst the rooms and floors. Only the rooms on the first floor have been restored and are open to the public. These include the ciné-bal, function room, Foyer-bar and the stairs. The three artists used their backgrounds in Dada, Surrealism, Constructivism, Neoplasticism and Elementarism painting, sculpture and collage to create an overall aesthetic for the complex, and only one room, the cavern dancehall, broke with the geometric spirit of the other decors.
The function room was decorated by Van Doesburg, who used an exclusively orthogonal composition. The colours used were common, and dear, to the Neoplastic aesthetic. Similar colours, for example white and grey, were juxtaposed to create discord. Only one unit of measurement is used throughout the room – a square which is the height of the radiators, and all squares and rectangles are multiples of this unit.
The foyer bar was conceived as a link between the function room and the cine-bal. It is similar in feel to the function room, featuring similar Neoplastic colours in discord throughout the ceiling, walls and floors. As Van Doesburg did in the foyer room, Sophie Tauber-Arp used a single unit of measurement which was the height of the radiator.
In the ciné-bal Van Doesburg went a step further and composed an oblique grid of squares, rectangles and triangles in black, yellow, red, blue and green. Van Doesburg founded Elementarism in 1924, which was based on the use of the oblique in contrast to the use of only verticals and horizontals by Mondrian in Neoplasticism.
The original décor was used for less than ten years, and was covered and then partly destroyed in 1938. Restoration work on the ciné-bal began in 1985 and was completed in 1994. A second restoration project commenced in 2004 with the restoration open in 2006. It’s only open 4 afternoons during the week, but it’s free and comes with a free audio guide which provides you with plenty of information on the four areas that are open to the public and restored, as well as information on the artists and the various art movements that influenced them and that they were involved in. a piece of living Strasbourg history, that is also beginning to see new life as a function venue, becoming the public leisure venue the Horn Brothers originally intended it to be.