March 14, 2012 / 5:21 PM / 8 years ago

Wunderkammer offers escape from Berlin art scene

BERLIN (Reuters) - To reach the Secret Cabinet, you pick up a map at a kiosk that leads you around the street corner to a tall, bottle green door that you enter to reach a flat whose backroom is carpeted with mirrors and stuffed with artworks.

This modern-day cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammer, exhibiting the works of some 45 Berlin-based artists, is a protest against the way the social merry-go-round of Berlin’s art scene increasingly risks overshadowing the actual art.

Curator Cristina Navarro, one of the tens of thousands of creative types who have flocked to Berlin in recent years, said she was fed up watching people come to wine-soaked vernissages to see and be seen, all the while forgetting the artworks.

“I wanted to avoid all the social part of an exhibition, and was thinking how much I missed intimacy with the artworks,” said Navarro, a 29 year-old Spaniard from Madrid sporting curly auburn hair and large orange-rimmed glasses. “Cabinets were a very private space, the microcosm of one person.”

A Wunderkammer was a collection of curiosities in Renaissance Europe designed to reflect one’s own encyclopaedic knowledge from the arts to the sciences, and many museums such as Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum or Saint Petersburg’s Kunstkamera started out as private wonder-rooms.

The Secret Cabinet is destined to welcome just one to two visitors at a time, who explore the artworks unobserved, picking up curiosities and finding among the shelves the DVDs they want to insert into the players.

If you open the leather suitcase on the floor, you find a book of clippings about the East German Palace of the Republic that was destroyed after reunification and a sketch showing the city as a mosaic of building sites.

On the shelves, you find a book about flora containing a porcelain fragment representative of the rubble Berlin was built on, frames of photographs of world leaders with shattered glass, and a book with a handwritten explanation on curiosity cabinets.

The exhibition, which runs until the end of July, had no formal opening and artists’ names are mostly not displayed. Visitors are not lured in by alcohol but have to actually hunt the space down with a map.

The aim is to get the visitor involved in the cultural research that artists and curators undertake, says Navarro. “They have to actively show interest and curiosity, which is crucial for an investigation.”

Berlin has flourished as a centre for art production in recent years, with artists drawn from across the world by the city’s low rents, cheap food, state support and buzzing creative community.

Reporting By Sarah Marsh, editing by Paul Casciato

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