Dieter Urbach, Marx-Engels-Platz, Blick vom Fuß des Fernsehturms auf Palast der Republik, 1973, (c) Dieter Urbach

Art in Store (Kunst auf Lager)

Restoring major works of photocollage depicting East German architectural designs of the 1970s

Like all museums, the Berlinische Galerie owns far more objects than it can ever exhibit. There are lots of reasons why works of art might be stored in a depot and not displayed. One major criterion is their condition. Many works require restoration before they can go on show.

The alliance "Kunst auf Lager" – the name translates as “art in store” – has made this cause its own. Its remit is to promote the cataloguing and conservation of museum holdings. Under that initiative, the Berlinische Galerie has been given funds by the Kulturstiftung der Länder that will enable it to restore an important section of its Architecture Collection.

At stake here are 18 works by the architect and printmaker Dieter Urbach (born in Beutnitz-Crossen in 1937) from the 1970s. With their unusually plastic, naturalistic feel, they illustrate architectural designs for developing Berlin as the capital of the German Democratic Republic. From the landscaping below the TV Tower, across to the great hall in the Palace of the Republic, pulled down in 2008, and on to the Palasthotel, likewise demolished after unification, they document key grand projets of post-war modernism in East Berlin.

Urbach was regularly asked by leading GDR architects like Hermann Henselmann or Josef Kaiser to create large-format, lifelike photocollages within a very short space of time. Urbach’s works were deployed to present designs to representatives of the government, then led by the Socialist Unity Party (SED). The intention was often to win the consent of East German politicians for large-scale projects. Besides, Urbach’s imagery was much sought after by various media: reproductions were hung in building exhibitions and even published in the newspapers and trade journals. Urbach’s idealised urban vistas provide an extremely graphic, easily understood illustration of urban visions and planning objectives for East Berlin. They are characteristic examples of how architects in the GDR envisaged official buildings. The particular significance of these works is that costly three-dimensional models of planning proposals were relatively rare in the GDR. From today’s angle, Urbach’s pictures revive memories of forgotten approaches to building and of architectures that in many cases have not survived.

The works were composed of many different materials. Urbach used photographs he had taken himself for the purpose, cuttings from magazines, drawings in ink and pencil, airbrushing and opaque white. The symptoms of damage are correspondingly diverse and now pose a challenge to restorers. Ageing adhesives and photographic paper have left substantial marks. The Berlinische Galerie is delighted to have been awarded funding from the Kulturstiftung der Länder that will permit the restoration of Dieter Urbach’s collage. Once the restoration is complete, there will be no further obstacles to exhibiting these works.

Dieter Urbach, Panorama, Marx-Engels-Platz, Dom, Fernsehturm, 1972, Silbergelatinepapier, Bildcollage auf Hartfaser/ Karton, © Dieter Urbach
Dieter Urbach, Roland Korn, Ferienhotel / FDGB-Heim, Ort unbekannt, 1974, Silbergelatinepapier, Bildcollage auf Hartfaser/ Karton, © Dieter Urbach
Dieter Urbach, Marx-Engels-Platz, Blick von Osten auf Palasthotel und Dom, 1977, Silbergelatinepapier, Bildcollage auf Hartfaser/ Karton, © Dieter Urbach
Dieter Urbach, Marx-Engels-Platz, Palast der Republik, Staatsratsgebäude, 1973, Silbergelatinepapier, Bildcollage auf Hartfaser/ Karton, © Dieter Urbach
Dieter Urbach, Haus der Presse, Berlin, 1970er, Silbergelatinepapier, Bildcollage auf Hartfaser/ Karton, © Dieter Urbach
Dieter Urbach, Palast der Republik, Innenraumbespielung, Berlin, 1974, Silbergelatinepapier, Bildcollage auf Hartfaser/ Karton, © Dieter Urbach

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Berlinische Galerie

Landesmuseum für Moderne
Kunst, Fotografie und Architektur
Stiftung Öffentlichen Rechts

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10969 Berlin Germany

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