Creative Alternatives

Small Galleries + Big Ideas

Zeit-Raum-Bild-Realisationen, Erhard Monden 1981 Erhard Monden, Zeit-Raum-Bild Realisation

Erhard Monden at Galerie Arkade, 1981. 

SMALL GALLERIES IN EAST BERLIN

Artists' and gallerists' independent creation of free spaces to display art beyond  official GDR art exhibitions had existed nearly as long as the GDR. In East Berlin, there was the Galerie Konkret run by Heidrun Hegewald and Rudi Ebeling between 1960-1961, and Lothar Lang’s Kunstkabinett in Berlin-Weißensee in 1968, which offered artists space  to show work too unusual or non-conforming to be accepted into the official exhibitions. In the 1970s, a select few gallerists began to present non-conformist and experimental work within the newly opened small galleries. These were official spaces, subject to party controls, yet these gallerists founds ways of maneuvering in and around the regulations in order to pursue an independent exhibition program. 

 

GALERIE ARKADE

Located on Strausberger Platz, off the majestic Karl-Marx-Allee, the Galerie Arkade would become the top location to encounter experimental art among the city's many small galleries in the mid to late 1970s. As leader of the Galerie Arkade from 1973 until its sudden closure in December 1981, gallerist and art historian Klaus Werner strove to create a unique location for viewing art from GDR artists willing to work against the grain of the GDR cultural establishment. 

Art openings at the Galerie Arkade also provided audiences the opportunity to transgress party controls and encounter new approaches to art history and cultural politics under socialism. At many Galerie Arkade openings, crowds spilled out onto the sidewalk, drawing attention to the social event from passing cars. Groups gathering at the gallery established networks between non-conformist artists and other intellectuals with a shared desire to challenge the party monopoly over artistic expression and public space. 

In 1981, Klaus Werner's Galerie Arkade hosted a solo exhibition from action artist Erhard Monden. The show featured both live actions in the gallery as well as photo documentation from past actions. During an action at the gallery, Monden wore a pair of rubber boots, stepped into a tub of paint, and then walked across a series of prints bearing an image of his face that covered the gallery floor (left). Mail artist Robert Rehfeldt filmed the action on a super-8 camera, which was later screened in the gallery. 

Wolf Kahlen at EP Galerie, Prenzlauer Berg

A.R. Penck, left. Jürgen Schweinebraden, back right. Wolf Kahlen, front right. 

EP GALERIE (First Private Gallery) Prenzlauer Berg  

In 1975, psychologist Jürgen Schweinebraden knocked out the wall separating an abandoned apartment from his Prenzlauer Berg apartment that he shared with his wife, Barbara. The space would become the first private gallery in East Berlin. He called it the E.P. Galerie (Erste Privat, First Private). Schweinebraden’s art openings brought together artists and art enthusiasts in the GDR seeking exposure to different currents in art beyond Socialist Realism. Schweinebraden  strove to present local audiences with work from international artists from both Eastern and Western Europe and the United States to  reduce East Berlin’s isolation from international art trends and open the scene up to new ideas. In addition to visits and shows from West Berlin’s resident Happenings artist Wolf Vostell and artist/ gallerist/environmental activist Ben Wargin, the EP Galerie also hosted performances from US artists Bill Caglione and Anna Banana, the Italian arte povera artist Michaelangelo Picoletto and many Czech and Polish action artists. 

In 1975, psychologist Jürgen Schweinebraden knocked out the wall separating an abandoned apartment from his Prenzlauer Berg apartment that he shared with his wife, Barbara. The space would become the first private gallery in East Berlin. He called it the E.P. Galerie (Erste Privat, First Private). Schweinebraden’s art openings brought together artists and art enthusiasts in the GDR seeking exposure to different currents in art beyond Socialist Realism. Schweinebraden  strove to present local audiences with work from international artists from both Eastern and Western Europe and the United States to  reduce East Berlin’s isolation from international art trends and open the scene up to new ideas. In addition to visits and shows from West Berlin’s resident Happenings artist Wolf Vostell and artist/ gallerist/environmental activist Ben Wargin, the EP Galerie also hosted performances from US artists Bill Caglione and Anna Banana, the Italian arte povera artist Michaelangelo Picoletto and many Czech and Polish action artists. 

Due to the illegal activity at the EP Galerie (and the unusual nature of the art on display), Schweinebraden became the target of extensive Stasi measures to intimidate, threaten, and tarnish his reputation that eventually lead to his dismissal from his job as a psychologist and marriage and sex counselor and the widespread belief that he himself worked for the Stasi. In late 1980, Schweinebraden discontinued his gallery activities at the EP Galerie after he and his wife, Barbara, a classical guitarist, received exit permits and left the GDR for West Germany. 

Reinhard Zabka, Exhibition at Galerie Sophien Strasse 8 Press Clipping: Reinhard Zabka's "Tagträume" in der Galerie Sophien Strasse 8

ART IN OFFICIAL AND PRIVATE SPACES in 1980s EAST BERLIN

Following a short period of reorientation in the wake of the EP Galerie's closing in 1980 and the party's unexpected closure of the Galerie Arkade in 1981, a new generation of young gallerists and art historians began hosting experimental work from new neighborhoodgallery spaces--both official and privately--around 1983.

Galerie Sophienstrasse Nr. 8 

Despite its close proximity to the massive MfS headquarters nearby on Normanen Strasse, the Galerie Sophien Strasse Nr. 8 in Berlin-Lichtenberg built a reputation as one of the leading galleries to view work from East Berlin’s up and coming young artists.Under the leadership of photographer Stefan Orendt in 1982, the gallery featured unconventional forms of music, visual art, and literature not typically encountered in East Berlin galleries. One exhibition in July 1983 featured jazz improvisation and a spoken-word performance by Volker Palma and Achim Trampenau. 

For his show at the Galerie Sophien Strasse Nr. 8 in 1982, Daydreams (Tagträume),  artist Reinhard Zabka turned the gallery into his studio and built an installation into the space over the course of a few weeks. The show featured a large patchwork tent, patchwork quilts, two divans covered in quilts, found object sculptures, collage and painted-over photography (left). For the show’s opening, Zabka organized a giant children’s festival, which drew 300 children to the gallery (an audience record!) to watch him perform as the “levitating Zabka.” The children then stormed the gallery to explore the exhibition and ask Zabka questions about his work.

 

 

Kurt Buchwald, action, Nach Programmschluss, 1985

Kurt Buchwald action at Galerie Treptow, Nach Programmschluss, 1985, East Berlin.

rot-grün gallery collective

In June 1983, action artist Erhard Monden and a group of friends re-opened the Sredzki Strasse studio as the unofficial rot-grün gallery cooperative. In addition to Monden and his brother Mario, the collective included Klaus Werner from Galerie Arkade, mail artist Robert Rehfeldt, computer artist Horst Bartnig, painter/Lebenskünstler Wolfram A. Scheffler and art historian Eugen Blume. Rot-grün would host numerous exhibitions, performances, and actions from East German artists throughout the 1980s. But the space also attracted visitors from the West, including Ralf Langebarthels of Galerie Giannozzo, the Büro Berlin artists, Wolf Vostell, and West German concept artist Hans Haacke.

Galerie Treptow

Part of the Treptow district cultural house on Puschkin Allee, the gallery began featuring experimental exhibitions and performances around 1983, when Longest F. Stein took charge of exhibitions. Stein wished to use the gallery to offer exhibition opportunities for “outsider” artists, but focused above all on displaying photography. By the mid-1980s, the Galerie Treptow was also a premiere site for East Berliners to encounter screenings of super-8 films, conceptual/experimental photography, installations, and action art from GDR artists. 

Small Galleries + Big Ideas