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Pergamon Altar 2

The Pergamon Altar 2 is a recreation of the immense frieze of the Pergamon Altar, which was presented on and off in Berlin from 1904 until 2014. On the Altar frieze is a depiction of the Gigantomachy, a battle between the gods and titans of Ancient Greece. While remaining loyal to the same motif as the original frieze, Pergamon Altar 2, by contrast, is a soft replica of the surviving pieces of the frieze, half the scale of the original. In comparison to the monumental marble construction, the recreation is made of raw canvas stuffed with straw. The doll-like forms collapse into warm, slightly amorphous shapes of gods, titans, winged horses, serpents and weaponry. The work is durable, scented, movable, inviting, and easy to maintain; the opposite of its original marble counterpart.  

Pergamon Altar 2 presents a series of reversals of the Pergamon Altar. The marble altar is remade in fabric giving it both softness that creates a resemblance to eroded statues and an unrendered computerised model of the original. Through the recreation, the large original frieze on the walls collapses into a small space, creating both a sense of comfort and possibility while filling the air with the warm scent of hay. Instead of forms “pointing at perfection” as in Peter Weiß’ descriptions, they are instead soft, pliable, and fallible. Rather than towering over the audience, teaching them about the greatness of the gods, they are human sized and movable, inviting the public to engage kinaesthetically and to play around directly with the stuffed fabric forms. Even the material is chosen as an opposite of the original – instead of expensive marble that lost its bright colours over time, cheap raw canvas, with the potential to one day be painted, is utilised instead. The original Altar can be read as a tool of populace education designed to be intimidating to the viewer, a tool for teaching about one’s place in the world. However, the sculptures of the recreation are not there to scare or intimidate, but to invite movement – to play with, to sit on, even to sleep in. 

The logic of museums as educational tools and our relationship to the production of culture are called into question through Pergamon Altar 2. It does so by bringing to light its place in the conceptualization of society as a continuous endeavour. It uses the Pergamon Altar as a jumping off point because of its oversized importance in German culture and the myriad interpretations given to it throughout the ages. For example, it was used by both the Third Reich in 1936 and the reunited city of Berlin in 2000 as a backdrop for a banquet for members of the International Olympic Committee. In contrast to its historical use, the Pergamon Altar 2 is a joyful invitation open for viewers to embrace the possibilities of playing around with historical figurations, how they are constructed and utilised, and how “high culture” can be questioned and re-interpreted. 

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