A work of art in the midst of art

Strausberger Platz is a work of art in urban surroundings. So, it’s only logical that a lively gallery scene should have made a home for itself here.

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image courtesy of jock+scott / photocase.de

“Do you know what East Germans called the fountain at Strausberger Platz?” Without waiting for my response, the taxi driver answers his own question: “The bigwigs’ shower (Bonzendusche)!” Berliners can be blunt. You can be sure that a square or a building is really important when it has its own nickname: “Washing machine” for the Kanzleramt, “Pregnant oyster” for the Kongresshalle, “Tele-asparagus” for the TV-Tower at Alexanderplatz. Strausberger Platz is in the best of company. What the taxi driver perhaps forgets is that the fountain, in every sense of the word, truly is a piece of art.

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image courtesy of HG Esch

A number of galleries have established themselves in the area around Franz Kuhn’s “Floating Rings” fountain. There are in excess of 400 galleries in Berlin, taking advantage of the fall of the Berlin Wall to transform the city into one of the world’s primary venues for contemporary art. Berlin has a number of outstanding locations for contemporary art, but Strausberger Platz is the best of the best. Nowhere else in the city can an artist set up tables under towering trees for their exhibition opening; nowhere else offers visitors so much space in and around artistic venues; and nowhere else offers such views and insights into galleries from the sidewalk. But it wasn’t always like this – at the start things were very modest. In 1996, Ulrike Miebach organized three separate exhibitions in the “Concierge Box”, a space amounting to not much more than 30 square meters. Residents of the tower, once known as “House of the Child” and now famous as “Henselmann Tower” (named after the architect), exhibited photographic works by Dr. Motte, the Love Parade founder, Stephan Köhler, an artistic architectural photographer, and Andreas Mühe. The series of exhibitions began with the works of Andreas Mühe, son of the Oscar-winning actor Ulrich Mühe (“The Lives of Others”), who is now a celebrated star of the arts’ scene. His photographs have toured the world and his portrait of Helmut Kohl, taken to mark the anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, has caused a sensation.

Dame Miebach served as a lure not only to talented young artists, but also to an increasing number of gallerists who recognized the exceptional situation around Strausberger Platz. For example, Nadine Barth, exhibition curator, journalist and philosopher, initiated “Contributed”, which saw the heroes of modern fashion photography display their works in a three-year series of temporary exhibitions. Rankin (who many became acquainted with via his shoots for Heidi Klum’s “Germany’s Next Top Model” television show), Miles Aldridge, Mary McCarntey – Nadine Barth brought the international stars, along with their hundreds of admirers, to Strausberger Platz. Her permanent gallery may have closed, but Nadine Barth still exhibits her extraordinary photographic artwork at irregular intervals a little further down Karl-Marx-Allee.

The frequent comings and goings at Strausberger Platz may be a source of irritation to some, but it is symptomatic of Berlin, a city in transition, and symptomatic of a space at the very heart of goings on. And, alongside so much movement, there is also stability: in 2008, the gallerist Capitain Petzel took up residence in a futuristic cube at the entrance to Strausberger Platz. The building was known in the 1960s as “Art in the Home” (“Kunst im Heim”). The display cases of this 1,300 square meter building used to house paintings, sculptures, ceramics and crafts from the most renowned manufacturers from across the Eastern bloc countries. The exhibitions today present works from great artists such as Martin Kippenberger and Robert Longo. Friedrich Petzel, owner of a gallery in Chelsea since 1993, jointly curates the exhibition space together with one of Cologne’s most successful gallerists, Gisela Capitain. Limousines may bring international collectors in droves to Art Weekend, but smaller-scale exhibition openings also take place, serving as get-togethers for insiders and art lovers.

 

And it is just a short walk down the street to Wagner + Partner at Strausberger Platz 8. Alongside extraordinary art, the gallery also organizes artists’ talks. Roland Nachtigäller, Director of MARTa Harford, in conversation with the painter Mona Ardeleanu, Dr. Frank Schmidt, Director of the Kunsthalle in Emden, talks with the artist Thomas Wrede – these are exclusive events that accompany the exhibitions and provide unusual insights and intimate perspectives into the artists’ works. Just a few meters further and you are at the gallery owned by Stephan Adamski. Around thirty visitors per day come to Strausberger Platz 3 to appreciate the art on display, approximately half of which has been created by artists from Los Angeles. “My buyers are most interested in conflict, dialogue and engagement”, says Adamski. And here they’ve found just the right place. Everything here takes place in the shadow of the most important art publication of them all, “Texte zur Kunst”, which resides in the fifth floor of the “House of the Child”. The magazine does not just restrict itself to theoretical considerations of art. The editions, curated by Heft and available for relatively little money (€350), range from Kippenberger to Monica Bonvicini and are a good starting point if you are looking to create your own collection. Buyers may even be invited to collect their newly acquired work in person at the publisher’s offices. A view of Strausberger Platz’s galleries is included in the invitation!

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