Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset

Galerie Klosterfelde

Most people would never notice Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset’s Linienstraße 160 (neue Mitte), 2005. Except, of course, the neighbors. The title of the work is also its address, the original site of Klosterfelde gallery in Berlin’s Mitte district. Elmgreen and Dragset removed the gallery’s front and back walls, transforming the white cube into a courtyard passageway. Outfitted with mailboxes, doorbells, and nameplates for fictional residents, as well as a fake door, the passage is closed off with an iron gate, permanently locked. Any passerby, glancing beyond the iron bars, would assume the entrance to be part of yet another renovated apartment building. Only locals know that the passage is actually an impasse with all the veracity of a movie set.

Once again, Elmgreen and Dragset attacked gentrification by aping its tools. Their new Mitte recalls a gated community, inhabited by people with vaguely Scandinavian names, like the artists themselves, along with one Prof. Dr. Med. Wolff, a specialist in plastic surgery whose plaque can be seen from the sidewalk. This street was once a dilapidated part of East Berlin, inhabited by long-term residents who have since disappeared and whose existences have become as fictional as Dr. Wolff’s practice.

Galleries like Klosterfelde were part of this disappearing act. They came to Mitte in the mid-’90s to pioneer a new international art community and ended up abetting a real estate market geared toward what market researchers call “the new mobiles” and their dear consumption habits, from expansive apartments to designer clothes. Mitte’s real estate market cannot compare to Chelsea’s or SoHo’s; Klosterfelde did not get squeezed out by a designer outlet but expanded to a much larger space in Zimmerstraße in April 2001, and then reclaimed its first space as a satellite in September 2004. Yet there is a common pattern at work: The contemporary art world has become an economic avant-garde, with few options for political action beyond rent control and ancient leases.

When Klosterfelde moved to Zimmerstraße in 2001, Elmgreen and Dragset built an exact replica of the old space on Linienstraße inside the new one. That intervention—a gallery containing and dis- playing its smaller past—now looks like a ruler for measuring capital gains. In light of the earlier work, it may seem disingenuous for the artists to eliminate the first gallery themselves while implying that economics led to its disappearance. Yet their negation turns the gallery into a conceptual passage—never occupied, untraversed—that comments on its environment as an autonomous artwork instead of housing artworks.

Of course, Linienstraße 160 (neue Mitte) also negates another story. The legendary gallerist Konrad Fischer, a champion of Conceptual and Minimalist art on both sides of the Atlantic, created his first gallery space in 1967 by closing off a courtyard pa sageway in the Neubruckstrasse in Düsseldorf. As the art object was disappearing, Fischer introduced a new set of commercial practices, which included flying in the artists instead of the art. Prototypes for today’s economic mobiles, this first generation of airborne artists likely never imagined that the gallery itself could become mobile, let alone display the flexibility of a penciled line. While indebted to Fischer’s generation, Elmgreen and Dragset expand on its field of dematerializing art “objects” to include architecture. Like Nicolas Schaffhausen, who is running Cologne’s new European Kunsthalle without a building, the artists suggest that site must be eliminated if aesthetics hopes to catch up with the economic avant-garde it helped set in motion.

Jennifer Allen