Photography Mecca C/O Berlin Reopens

Forced out of its former home, the institution is now back in action.

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C/O Berlin Amerika Haus
Photo: Courtesy David von Becker, C/O Berlin
C/O Berlin Amerika Haus - Café
Photo: Courtesy David von Becker, C/O Berlin
René Burri, Ernesto 'Che' Guevara (Havanna, Cuba. January 1963)
Photo: Courtesy C/O Berlin
René Burri, Contact Sheet (Havanna, Cuba. January 1963)
Photo: Courtesy C/O Berlin
C/O Berlin Amerika Haus - Exhibition view
Photo: Courtesy C/O Berlin
Will McBride, Flaschenspiele im Strandbad Wannsee (1958)
Photo: Courtesy C/O Berlin
C/O Berlin Amerika Haus - Exhibition view
Photo: Courtesy C/O Berlin
Luise Schröder, Arbeit am Mythos (2011)
Photo: Courtesy C/O Berlin
Philippe Halsman, Fernandel (New York City, USA; 1948)
Photo: Courtesy C/O Berlin
C/O Berlin Foundation Amerika Haus - Café
Photo: Courtesy David von Becker/C/O Berlin Foundation

After nearly two years without a space and without hosting an exhibition, C/O Berlin finally debuts its new digs today in the German capital. One of Europe’s most renowned institutions for the photographic medium, C/O was forced out of its former home, the Postfuhramt, a grand 19th century post office in Berlin Mitte, in January 2013. Now, following over a year’s worth of renovations and an interior overhaul by Bauhaus experts mvprojekte, the institution calls West Berlin’s mid-century architectural gem, the Amerika Haus, home.

“The Amerika Haus chose us,” said Stephan Erfurt, the CEO of the newly created C/O Berlin Foundation in an interview with artnet News. He explains that they searched for another location in Berlin Mitte for years to no avail. “There were no alternatives,” Erfurt adds, but “in the end that was quite lucky.”

The building was originally designed by SOM Architects’ Bruno Grimmek and served in the postwar years as a cultural hub for the United States in Berlin as part of the United States Information Service, a pseudo-propaganda arm of the State Department, which was wound down in 1999. The structure, which sits steps from Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten transportation hub, was handed over to the German government in 2006 and remained essentially unused until C/O Berlin proposed to take it over in 2012.

The Building’s Renovations

The renovations were no easy task. According to mvprojekte’s Wolfgang Zeh, a central problem his group faced in transforming the glass-walled structure was how to “preserve the transparency of the house while, at the same time achieving ideal conditions in which to exhibit photography.” Zeh and his team nearly gutted the Amerika Haus in the process, tearing out numerous walls, over-trodden laminate flooring, and countless other outdated elements.

Aside from fully-modernized galleries, the new space now also includes a café, featuring a rotating exhibition of its own. It debuts by stepping outside the photographic medium with two large-scale wall sculptures by Michail Pirgelis.

But, fresh walls aren’t all that’s changed about C/O Berlin during its two vagabond years. The independent organization, which was founded in 2000 more or less as an experiment, has now been officiallized as a foundation. However, fans of the old institution shouldn’t worry that its programming will be effected. CEO Erfurt says that “the program will be the same, showing renowned photographers and new talents.”

But now, he says, getting the funds to do so will be much easier. Already, German entrepreneur and founding patron of London’s Serpentine Galleries Lars Windhorst has signed on to support C/O Berlin, as have business giants Audi and KPMG.

Erfurt also plans to take cues from the mid-century modernist architects who designed C/O Berlin’s home in the institution’s programming. He plans to “incorporate the characteristics” present in the “open, democratic house” and “focus intensively on mediation and increasing participation of visitors of all ages.”

C/O Berlin starts that engagement with a blockbuster lineup of four shows. Two feature Magnum photographers such as the recently-deceased René Burri (see “René Burri, Iconic Magnum Photographer, Dead at 81“), Elliott Erwitt, Martin Parr, and others. Will McBride, who was the first photographer ever shown in the Amerika Haus back in 1957, gets a solo show. And Luisa Schröder and Hannah Petersohn are featured as part of C/O’s ongoing “Talents” exhibition series.

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