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Europe, Galeries and Museums

Iron Curtain Aesthetics : A Symbol Revisited

by Leonie Rouenhoff and Maria Walter (ACD Programme Coordinators)

One of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions is the so-called ‘East Side Gallery.’ It consists of a remnant of the historical wall, located between Station Warschauer Strasse and Oberbaumbruecke. Twenty years after its fall, a formerly threatening presence has been turned into something bright and colorful.

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the so-far inaccessible eastern side became a huge canvas for international artists. Over a length of more than 1300 meters 118 artists from 21 countries around the globe express their memories, thoughts and feelings of how they experienced the changes in 1989-1990. They sprayed, painted and fingerprinted more than 100 pictures.  All of them have a political input; most of them tell stories of emancipation.

The East Side Gallery has become an international meeting point for people from all over the world. Some of them come to see what this piece of German history has been turned into; some take pictures, seemingly without recognizing what lies beneath the art work that they came to admire.  If you have a closer look, small signs ask tourists to send their pictures back to the artist, encouraging dialogue across national borders.

The images you can see today were restored in 2009 to revive old ideas. Some of the original artists refused to participate in the project because they felt it would distort their original work. The un-restored parts themselves have become part of the artistic concept – natural damages are regarded as ravages of time complimentary to the artists’ work.

So, why is it only the ‘East side’ gallery? If you take cross back to the side of the wall facing the Spree, you see where the name comes from. Throughout all these years, the western side of the Berlin wall has remained unadorned, save for a few tags. Why would that be?

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The London Art as Cultural Diplomacy ConferenceAugust 21st, 2013

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