Hamburger Bahnhof Switches Off Iconic Flavin Work as Energy Crisis Looms

In an effort to save on energy costs, officials at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof have turned off the green and blue fluorescent lights of the massive Dan Flavin work that has greeted visitors since the museum opened in a nineteenth-century former train station in 1996. Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, the institution’s codirectors, on October 18 cut power to the artist’s Untitled, 1996, a site-specific work illuminating the museum’s stone facade and historical wings and visible from far across the city. Flavin, who died four weeks after the museum opened, intended the work to remain on at all times throughout day and night.

“It is important that we as an internationally renowned museum set an example in the current situation and make our contribution to saving scarce resources,” said the pair in a joint statement published on the museum’s website. “We hope that this difficult step for us will also inspire rethinking sustainable museum planning in general.”

The action came as energy costs skyrocket in Europe in the wake of the continent’s sanctions against Russia over its attack of Ukraine. Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant, reduced gas flow to Germany 20 percent earlier this year: Though the company cited technical difficulties as the reason for the reduction, the German government called the measure retaliatory. This past July, Bettina Jarasch, Berlin’s senator for the environment, announced that the architectural lighting for the city’s monuments—including the Brandenburg Gate and Victory Column—would be shut off to conserve power. Germany in August approved a set of energy-saving measures that additionally included reduced heating in public buildings, darker streets, and a ban on heated swimming pools. Though only public buildings are required to comply with the rules, many private cultural institutions are adhering to them out of solidarity.

“Anyone that has a public voice, whether in a small organization, or the Hamburger Bahnhof as the national gallery of contemporary art, has the responsibility to use it wisely in contributing to the general questions of the society it operates in,” Fellrath told The Art Newspaper. “In that sense, we do see it as one of our main tasks to lead the discourse on issues of sustainability, diversity, and inclusion.”

At present, the Flavin installation is set to be re-illuminated in April 2023.


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