The bookshelves of one of New York’s greatest bookstores, St. Mark’s Bookshop in the East Village, are slowly emptying for the very last time.
German artist Wolfgang Berkowski spent four years shopping those same shelves for books that he said helped define who he is, so when he learned about the closure he decided to get involved by doing what he does best, creating art.
Unlike his past installations though, this art isn’t on display at any of the dozens of galleries that exhibit his work around the world, but on the very shelves of St. Marks Bookshop that once brought him so much joy and knowledge.
“With the bookshelves emptying out, we make them unusable,” he said. “We fill them up with wall, with nothing—every shelf that has at least one book on it is still alive, but the rest is just dead space.”
Berkowski’s installation, which turns unused shelves into mere frames for white pieces of wall was inspired by his work last year in the former studio of French Art Deco and Modernist architect Robert Mallet-Stevens (March 24, 1886 – February 8, 1945).
With Mallet-Stevens—best known for his design of Marcel L’Herbier’s silent film L’Inhumaine (1924)—long since passed away, and his studio vacated, Berkowski was faced with the task of trying to capture the spirit he said he felt there, but with none of the actual artifacts to help. His solution was to turn Mallet-Stevens’ old shelves into frames for empty spaces, as seen in the photo above.
“We used the same principle to make a monument—and anti-monument, really—that deals with the situation of this bookshop slowly dying,” he said.
Berkowski, who is now based in London is donating his time to create the installation, called (This is how you disappear) Case Study Nr. 5, 2014, which officially “comes to life,” as he put it, next Tuesday, April 8, and only lasts two days.
The event is part of a series of efforts to try fund the bookstore’s move to another more affordable location in Alphabet City—including a crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000 for the downpayment on a new location, and pay other costs.
Of course, the move is only the second best option, at least in Berkowski’s eyes.
“My hope is the that the panels go away and the books come back,” he said. “That’s the hope.”