MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
The old American Library shines once more thanks to the C/O Berlin art center. Solveig Steinhardt stopped by to get her passport picture taken in Robert Capa style.
The old American library transformed into an exhibition center for photography and art.
Literally around the corner from the Zoologischer Garten station is a quirky retro building with a light blue and orange façade: it is the Amerika Haus, the former American library and cultural center. This concrete box has sentimental value for many West Berliners, epitomizing those strange 30 years during which Berlin was an island occupied by foreign military forces. Recent rumor has it that the Haus actually served as a work space for US intelligence – which reminds me of all the times when I came here as a 15-year-old high-schooler to borrow English books and videotapes. So they are saying that all those old ladies and English teachers weren’t really there to read Good Housekeeping, but were exchanging information instead?
Who knows. But what really counts now is that the Haus still stands despite demolition threats, and that it’s still hosting something as noble as books: art. The building was reopened on 30 October as an exhibition center for photography and hub for cultural (rather than information) exchange, run by the C/O Berlin art foundation, which was evicted from its prior location in Mitte in March 2013. One of the opening exhibitions, Magnum
Contact Sheets, provides fascinating insights into the working methods of renowned photographers such as Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Leonard Freed through the use of contact sheets, which are pieces of photographic paper printed with strips of photo negatives. A second show called Picture
Yourself, Magnum Photomaton explores the more anonymous world of the photo booth in its static functionality, illustrating how it counters the individuality and narrative of portrait photography. During the exhibition, C/O Berlin will also be presenting six different photo booths that perfectly simulate the portrait styles of Magnum photographers Elliott Erwitt, Robert Capa, Paolo Pellegrin, Steve McCurry, Philippe Halsman, and Bruce Gilden, encouraging visitors like you and me to step in and have their passport picture taken, this time with a pose artsier than usual.
“The building reopened on 30 October as an art center.”