Art in the Underground has a long history that began in 1958 on the platform of the U2 underground station at Alexanderplatz and was present there up to 2008. Since the start of the 1990s, open competitions entitled have been organised by working groups under the auspices of NGBK. Initially, these competitions only involved the advertising panels on the walls behind the railway tracks, and from 1999 onwards they also included the platforms. In these competitions, artists are encouraged to treat the locations in a less “museum-like” manner and instead to work with them more within the context of their functions as public transit spaces.
In 2008, the advertising sector staked its claim to the Alexanderplatz underground station: due to the high number of passengers using the station, it had now become a financially valuable advertising environment – and continuing to allow it to be dedicated to art had become unthinkable!
The loss of this traditional location caused significant upheavals within the NGBK, and the organising working group disbanded in protest. After much deliberation, NGBK finally decided to continue the competition – with new conditions and not tied to a single underground station. In 2008/2009, a poster competition was organised again as an interim solution. Individual works were sought that were displayed under the title of “Glück gehabt/That was lucky” at the Bernauer Strasse, Voltastrasse and Weinmeisterstrasse stations.
From 2009 the competition’s emphasis shifted to collaborations between artists, Underground staff and experts. With its project “U10 – from here to the imaginary and back again” until 2011, the new work group saw the Underground network as a mirror of Berlin’s history, a seismograph of current urban change and a place in which to project the future of „public“. The title „U10“ refers to Berlin’s once planned but never built U10 line. Some of the selected artists projects were presented in parts of the U10 line’s exisiting platforms and tunnels, built but never used.
The open competitions held in 2012 (“Vorne fahrn/Up front”) and 2013 (“Nach der Arbeit/After work”) investigated the artistic communication and intervention potential of the medium of posters that were installed on the poster panels (on the walls behind the railway tracks) in certain underground stations. The competition thus referred back to the beginnings of the artistic poster competitions that transformed the Alexanderplatz underground station into an exhibition space with poster installations from the 1950s onwards. In contrast with these historical competitions, the geographical spread within the city and the underground network was significantly greater, and dedicated artistic works were produced that were both location-specific and context-specific.