In Berlin, a street art gallery designed to be destroyed
It may seem an unlikely venue for an art gallery — an old bank building in the centre of a busy shopping district and about to be torn down.
But in Berlin, arguably Europe’s urban art capital, some 165 like-minded street artists have filled the five-storey space with their work.
And the result is a burst of colour and myriad of styles, with murals and installations covering 10,000 square metres (108,000 feet), all on public view at no charge — but only until the demolition crew moves in.
“We’re open here for two months, then everything will disappear for all eternity,” said Joern Reiners of Die Dixons (The Dixons), the group behind the project called The Haus (The House).
It approached property developers Pandion for temporary use of the block before it makes way for luxury condominiums, and got the keys last October.
“There was so little time, we didn’t have any big plans, we just got our telephones out and rang everyone we know,” said Timo von Rekowski, another Dixons member.
Artists from 17 countries joined the project, with Berlin-based ones making up the majority.
Each was assigned a space — be it an office, the corridor, stairwell or even the toilet.
– ‘Make it an experience’ –
The gallery that sprung up includes a room covered from floor to ceiling with personal ads usually seen pasted on Berlin lampposts or walls, another room with a huge pair of clay legs like a giant just landed through the ceiling, and a darkened room with wall murals that are only revealed with the help of a torch.
Some artists may not be household names, but others are well-established in Berlin’s urban art scene, like El Bocho, whose cartoon-like “Little Lucy” series and “Citizens” portraits are part of the German capital’s landscape, or Emess, whose works often involve political figures.
“What we have here is the space to realise their vision… while not having to think about the business of it all like entrance fees, but really just concentrating on the art — to experiencing it and to making it an experience,” said Reiners.
“And that’s the essence of what makes us different from other projects.”
If there is one regret, it is “that we will not be able to show to visitors the energy that was generated here while the house was being set up,” von Rekowski said.
To ensure that visitors etch the images in their heads, no photography is allowed.
The group also keeps a tight leash on the images circulating of the works, with media outlets only allowed to photograph details and not wide shots.
– ‘Now or never’ –
The transient nature of the show helped attract a crowd on its opening weekend of April 1-2, with a queue snaking down the street.
One visitor, Juliana Lang, who queued for more than half an hour with her partner, said: “It was well worth it, there was more variety than I expected. And it’ll all be gone soon, so it’s now or never.”
Artist Anne Bengard, who painted a tortured-looking man with a contraption stretching over his teeth as fake banknotes spewed from his mouth, said she appreciated the photography ban.
Too many people today just view art on the internet, without really experiencing it in person, she said.
“I think it’s great that this is done in this manner so everyone who wants to see it has to come personally to view it,” she added.
Despite the effort that went into getting her work right, Bengard is not bothered that her art will soon be reduced to rubble.
“This is my first wall painting in a bank and I find it rather cool also that this first work will soon no longer exist, that no one can buy it and it’s really something for this moment in time.”
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