Berlin Wall Art Lives on Artists Are Using Pieces of the Berlin Wall to Create Works That Help to Continue the Tradition of Public Protest That Grew Up around the Wall

By Laura Van Tuyl, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 13, 1991 | Go to article overview

Berlin Wall Art Lives on Artists Are Using Pieces of the Berlin Wall to Create Works That Help to Continue the Tradition of Public Protest That Grew Up around the Wall


Laura Van Tuyl, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


EVER since the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, people on its Western side have painted miles of protest art on its cold, barren face.

The wall and the art are gone, but artists are again painting messages of hope on the remaining fragments.

Using 100-pound chunks of the wall, American artist Gerald Geltman is currently creating a work of art, not as a salute to the wall's demise, "but rather as a sad reminder of the artificial, man-made attempt to limit and confine the human spirit," he says.

Robert Indiana, a leading Pop Artist, has reproduced his famous 1965 "LOVE" image on one of the rocks, and several prominent Soviet artists have used the stones, instead of canvas, for their creations.

The unwieldy fragments, pocked, and pierced by rusty reinforcement rods, come from Calvin Worthington, an American businessman who purchased 170 tons of the Berlin Wall from the East Germans last year. Mr. Worthington recently retired from civilian work for the United States Department of Defense in Berlin.

Worthington, who now lives in Freeport, Maine, got the idea to save parts of the wall for artists after a conversation he had with Rainer Hildebrandt, director of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. Dr. Hildebrandt was lamenting the loss of Keith Haring's gigantic 1986 painting and other wall art to "wallpeckers enthusiastic celebrators and souvenir seekers who attacked the wall with chisels.

"It occurred to me at the time," says Worthington, "that if we couldn't save the original art, we could save pieces of the wall, and give artists from all over the world an opportunity to paint on it, artists who might never have gotten to Berlin."

He is not the only one who purchased part of the Berlin Wall: Ronald Reagan, members of the Kennedy and Churchill families, the pope, and the City of Jerusalem are among other buyers, according to Hildebrandt.

Worthington says his interest in the wall was sparked by his former work for the defense attache system at US embassies in Moscow, Budapest, and The Hague. He admits to being "closely associated" with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and to having colleagues in international intelligence organizations. Though he has no art background, his preoccupation with art made up of the coldest of cold-war memorials is, perhaps, understandable.

With the help of Hildebrandt, who verified the fragments' authenticity, Worthington invited three Soviet artists who were in West Berlin at the time to paint more than 100 chunks, which would become the inaugural pieces of the "Berlin Wall Art Collection."

"Here were artists who had felt the oppression of communism as much as the East Germans had experienced it in being blocked behind the wall," Worthington says. The Soviet artists' work is on view at Boston's Sohy Gallery through August and will be traveling around the US thereafter.

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