KW Institute For Contemporary Arts

Contemporary art in a former margarine factory…

Image: Philippe Van Snick Dag/Nacht, 1984. Contemporary Art Foto/Photo: Frank Sperling Courtesy Tatjana Pieters. CC BY-SA 4.0

Berlin’s Auguststrasse isn’t short on galleries. This well-known Mitte street is a main artery for contemporary art in the city, long ago earning the sobriquet ‘East Berlin’s art mile’ for its impressive wealth of independent galleries that line both sides of the street and show everything from sculpture and fine art to photography.

Of all the street’s venues, the KW Institute For Contemporary Arts (Kunst-Werke) at number 69 is perhaps the most acclaimed. The former margarine factory, built in the late nineteenth century, was seized as an art space in the early 1990s by Klaus Biesenbach and his posse of young art enthusiasts. Its opening was a major factor in the development of this area as an artistic hub, and Biesenbach and his colleagues have worked hard to maintain its reputation as one of the city’s best places to see cutting-edge works.

Pass through the handsome (and listed) façade and you’ll find yourself in a gorgeous courtyard, worn-smooth cobbles underfoot, chestnut trees dangling overhead. The modern, glass-walled building on the left is Café Bravo, designed by American artist Dan Graham and architecturally realised in collaboration with Hanne Nalbach. It’s a great place for a coffee anc cake, even if you’re not visiting the gallery.

Courtyard of the art gallery Kunst-Werke in Berlin. The double glass box pavillion houses a cafe, and was designed by architect Dan Graham. Photo via Wikimedia.

Behind lies the restored factory-cum-art-space, which together with the white-cube style exhibition hall added by Berlin architect Hans Düttmann, consists of more than 2,000 square metres, extending over five floors.

Testament to its commitment to stay at the edgier end of art spectrum, KW has no permanent collection, but instead acts as a ‘testing ground’ for emerging artists (many from Berlin and Germany), and as an exhibition space for international works. Over the years it has hosted a slew of major names from Anna Daučíková and Hassan Sharif to Paul Pfeiffer, Santiago Sierra and Keren Cytter.

There are often additional events at KW such as talks, screenings or concerts, and the gallery enjoys close links with other international spaces with a similar ethos—MoMA PS1 in New York, the Venice Biennale, and Documenta in Kassel, for example. In 1998 the KW initiated the Berlin Biennale, which is still going strong.

If you feel like checking out more of Auguststrasse’s art scene, check out galleries like Eigen + ART, CWCDeschler and Michael Fuchs. For more info on KW, check out the gallery’s website.

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