Berlin irritations

 Olafur Eliassons's urban interventions

“Green water” in the bay of Stockholm, artificial waterfalls around East River in New York and a large sun in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London: Olafur Eliasson’s work is shaped with wind and water, mist and light. To contain these elements in a museum space was a challenge that faced the artist himself and Daniel Birnbaum, curator of his large solo show at Martin-Gropius-Bau and his interventions in the urban realm in Berlin.

The title says it all: “Inner City Out” does not bother with museum formats on white walls, but makes Berlin’s urban realm its museum protagonist. Confusion of perception, dizzying spatial installations and various celestial bodies are arranged in a sequence of spaces that confront visitors with surprise effects of optical reflexions and the reversal of interior and exterior. There’s more to it than that: to eliminate the boundaries between museum space and urban realm altogether, Eliasson distributed several works of art across the city of Berlin and as far as Pfaueninsel in the River Havel. A bicycle with strangely dematerialised wheels, a lorry with a mirror on its side which, when driving slowly, reflects the surroundings like a film on a cinema screen and huge tree trunks from Iceland – driftwood washed ashore in a country without trees – which have been scattered in the streets of Berlin. In the urban realm Eliasson’s art comes into its own.What is staged in the museum in a rather obvious educational effort – in an attempt to liken the museum space to the street in the “Berliner Bu?rgersteig” (Berlin Pavements) installation with large granite paving flags placed on the parquet floor of the exhibition space – only finds itself in an urban setting. This is the true home territory of Eliasson’s art, its real space for perception and effect. And so the “Non-stop Park” is one of the simplest and most impressive interventions: a clear white chalk line, resembling a neat street boundary, unexpectedly meanders into the undergrowth. Even the “Blind Pavilion”, a beguiling hall of mirrors, originally designed for the Venice Biennial 2003, on the north-eastern bank of Pfaueninsel could not have been better placed. In the midst of the royal Prussian park landscape, it dissolves the opulent vistas into fragments which spin around with the visitors’ movements like in a wild merry-go-round, until finally the centre of the steel structure is reached, a blind spot without a view.

Over 28 pieces are exhibited in Berlin. Too bad that the locations of interventions in the public realm are not disclosed. “In the 1990s Berlin was independent of the art market. This is different today”, Eliasson sums up his early years in Berlin. In order that this art market cannot take control of the Icelandic driftwood, confusing mirrors and bicycles and all the other wonderful interventions, the projects had to remain more or less incognito in the city. A discovery that was denied only few art lovers, but many of Berlin’s citizens.

Inner City Out, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Niederkirchnerstraße 7, Berlin
until 9 August 2010;

Text: Sandra Hofmeister

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Dr. Sandra Hofmeister

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