Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset

Galerie Klosterfelde

When Martin Klosterfelde decided to move his gallery to a new location, he asked the Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset to create a new work for the inaugural show. The duo responded by installing an exact replica of the old gallery within the new one. Visitors expecting a fresh look into the future were instead ushered into the immediate past. The facade, the glass doorway, the walls, the lights, and even the electrical plugs from the former space were all painstakingly reproduced to 90 percent scale. Apart from the lighting and electrical fixtures, this gallery-within-a-gallery showed nothing but empty white walls.

The installation, appropriately titled Linienstraße 160, 2001, after Klosterfelde’s original address, is part of an ongoing investigation of exhibition spaces, or what Brian O’Doherty once criticized as “the white cube.” Elmgreen & Dragset, who are, respectively, Danish and Norwegian, have been working together since 1990s. Many of their projects attempt to undo the neutrality of gallery and museum spaces by integrating local history into the white walls—literally. For their solo show last year at the Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst in Leipzig, they commissioned two unemployed local housepainters to paint the gallery walls white, over and over again, for the entire duration of the exhibition. The walls, which thickened by more than an inch, offered a display of labor that usually remains hidden, while reminding viewers of the city’s high unemployment rate. At Manifests 3 in Ljubljana, the pair set up a space in which young Slovenian gallerists could show artists who had not been included in the exhibition. For a show at the Witte de With last spring, they attempted to install a white pavilion—outfitted with “glory holes”—in a Rotterdam park known as a gay cruising ground. Their proposal, which was swiftly rejected by park officials, proved once again that bare white walls may indeed hold more politics than pictures.

In Berlin, the reconstruction of Klosterfelde’s vacated gallery space seemed to call attention to the unchecked development of the new German capital, where fresh facades on old buildings hide history while avoiding any sense of the present. The streets of the former East Berlin, especially in the Mitte, where gallerists such as Klosterfelde set up shop after the wall came down, are no longer recognizable after more than a decade of reunification and renovation. The once-centralized arts scene is beginning to spread out across the city as many dealers search for larger spaces. Walking around the empty shell of the old gallery space was a potent reminder that history is just being made. Indeed, visitors walking through the installation seemed like extras on a movie set waiting for their cue. By putting the gallery’s architectural history on display, Elmgreen & Dragset suggested that the contemporaneity of the white cube has more to do with forgetting the past than with showing the present.

Jennifer Allen