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Culture

Art Under the Tree

Just in time for the festive season, the "Art Supermarket", offering renowned art at low prices, has opened its doors in Berlin. It's already proving one of this year's favorite stocking fillers.

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Art in all shapes and sizes is on sale at the "Art Supermarket"

The yearly quest for an original Christmas present costs the average shopper a fair amount of both nerves and time. And worse, coveted objects of desire such as the diamond-studded wristwatch, flaming red Lamborghini or even a Louis Vuitton handbag, are often way beyond reach of the average shopper.

But if it's good art you're looking for and at affordable prices, Berlin has something to offer: At the "Art Supermarket" in one of the city's favorite shopping malls, Berliners can find both the exclusive and the original – art at a surprisingly moderate price.

More for less

Only a day to go until Christmas eve, and the shopping mall "Quartier 205" in Berlin's city center is buzzing with busy Christmas shoppers. In the "Art Supermarket", people browse quietly through boxes of art works, from large, colorful oil paintings, to tiny pencil sketches and small, blurry watercolors.

According to shop manager Helga Berger, the principle behind the shop is to offer more art for less money. "Here, prices are a lot lower than at exhibitions", she says. Each artist - whether famous or less renowned - has one square meter to present his or her art, she explains, pointing at the wooden cases at her feet. "The artists give us 40 art works, which we then put up for sale in four different price categories". The cheapest costs 50 Euro ($ 51.41), the most expensive 299 Euro - prices far below that often demanded for art by galleries or collectors.

"Our aim is to bring art to the people", Helga Berger says - one of the reasons why the "supermarket" is furnished with just the bare essentials: whitewashed walls, concrete floor, the lighting reduced to a few bright, neon bulbs. Berger and her team want to avoid the "elitist" atmosphere often automatically associated with art galleries and exhibitions. Instead, they want people just to drop by, on their way from work, in their lunch breaks, or on a trip to Berlin. "We have found that people come to us who don't usually go to galleries, simply because they feel observed there, and here, the way we deal with art is so relaxed".

Barcelona, Berlin

The "Art Supermarket" in Berlin is not the first of its kind: The original idea has its roots in the Spanish seaside town of Barcelona, where artists got together to sell their art collectively. The concept worked there – and has proved extremely fruitful for artists in Berlin too.

However, since artists at the "Art Supermarket" also tend to produce more art in a short time, the quality sometimes suffers. Berger is often accused of making "trash" out of art. "We are very much against these accusations, as we exhibit only quality, and sell art at these moderate prices only at the current venue," she says.

Indeed, paintings and sketches at the "Art Supermarket" in Berlin are only on show and for sale to the public for a limited amount of time: for two months at the most. Not only is the rent at the shop's city central location high. The managers want to make sure the "supermarket" retains its special allure, too.

However, art lovers, and desperate Christmas present seekers can be reassured if they miss the boat this time: The "Art Supermarket" is expected to open its doors again next year – just in time for the festive season 2003.