Innen Stadt Außen (Inner City Out) is the first solo exhibition by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson (b.1967) in a Berlin institution. The show’s central theme stems from Eliasson’s close relationship with this city, in which he has lived and worked for many years. His site-specific investigations within the Martin-Gropius-Bau are amplified and commented on through various ephemeral projects in public space, thus linking the museum to other places within the city.
The exhibition is curated by Daniel Birnbaum, art critic, curator and Rector of the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main, and its associated contemporary exhibition space Portikus.
In the words of Daniel Birnbaum:
Innen Stadt Außen is the first extensive presentation of Olafur Eliasson’s work in Berlin, the city that has become his home and prime site of production. Perhaps it is also the other way around: the life of Berlin is integrated into Eliasson’s work. Similarly, while the Martin-Gropius-Bau is a place in the city, in this exhibition, the city is brought into the museum. Large slabs of granite from the sidewalks of Berlin, for instance, form a pedestrian space inside the galleries.
The impression sometimes arises that Eliasson’s art is mostly about nature, and, more precisely, about powerful natural phenomena such as wind, water, fog, and light. However, he uses these merely as means to make artworks whose construction is often laid bare to visitors, as when the structural support of a lawn, ‘flying’ outside a first-floor window, is left in full view. Focus is on the very process of seeing and experiencing the world. Your experience.
The mirror recurs throughout Innen Stadt Außen and turns insides into outsides and vice versa. Bicycles with oddly dematerialising mirror wheels appear across Berlin, as do mirrors in unexpected corners. In one work, a van with a very large mirror attached on one side drives slowly through the city, thereby streaming its live, ephemeral filmic portrait. The mirror introduces a surprising split-screen effect where the actual and the reflected surroundings coexist, simultaneously but differently. It brings into motion the static houses and buildings through gliding distortions. This offers not just a doubling of space, but reversed extensions of space into space, carrying the brief imprints of pedestrians, cyclists, and cars, as they make their way through the city.
Eliasson’s capacity to double, extend, and turn inside out is nowhere more visible than at the heart of the Gropius-Bau. He eclipses the ornaments of the interior facade by installing a gargantuan kaleidoscope, reaching to the skylight, that catapults the viewer into a perplexing architecture of infinite reflections. With simple means, the artist stages the visible illusion of a crystal palace where the visitors, enveloped in this porous architecture, are suspended between inside and outside. Welcome inside; welcome to the outside.