Rocks, ART and Controversy in Berlin

Jim Hodges’ “Sculptural Boulders,” Photo: Gene Pittman

We seem to be drawn to stories about rocks and ART. Consider Jim Hodges’ “Sculptural Boulders” installation currently at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.  He covered the surfaces of four 400-million-year-old stones with shimmering stainless-steel skins. Sometimes these chunks of our planet inspire awe and fascination (see a previous ARTprojectA BLOG about the giant boulder sculpture at LACMA). But when rock ART and native interests collide, the result often inspires controversy. An unusual rock ART installation in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park has been a popular place for Berlin residents and visitors since 1999. Artist Wolfgang von Schwarzenfeld created the outdoor exhibit of 33 giant rocks he collected from five different continents and had shipped to Berlin. He then spent several more years polishing and shaping them into an outdoor exhibit, which he intended to “express peace and unity of all people across the globe” (NYT).

Pemon Indians protest outside the German embassy demanding for the return of the ‘Kueka Stone’ in Caracas, Venezuela, June 21. Christian Veron/REUTERS

One of the rocks is from Venezuela and is considered by the indigenous Pemon people to have holy properties. The Pemon call it “Kueka” and now they want the 35 ton boulder back (not an easy undertaking). According to a New York Times article, “… more than 100 Pemon, many of them wearing traditional clothing and brandishing spears, marched on the German Embassy in Caracas, raising ornamental spears and chanting: “Return the stone!” They cite a myth telling that the stone is the female half of a pair whose male counterpart remains in Venezuela. Separation of the two, they say, has caused poor crops and severe weather changes over the past 15 years.” (NYT)

German artist Wolfgang von Schwarzenfeld – Reuters

The artist “insists that he removed the stone legally and in consultation with the Pemon.” (NYT) However, Mr. von Schwarzenfeld, seems to want to do the right thing, and he, along with the Germany foreign ministry and the Venezuelan authorities, are engaged in discussions on coming to a resolution. To his credit, Mr. von Schwarzenfeld says “The indigenous people have gained a self-confidence and recognition through this process and I do not want to destroy this” (NYT). Read more about this story in the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor

The stone in a Berlin’s Tiergarten park that is at the center of an international dispute. Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Art is no stranger to controversy (consider the long-standing debate over whether the renowned Elgin Marbles should leave the British Museum and go back to the Parthenon). What do you think? The team at would love to hear your thoughts!

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