YouTube sensation Tim Bengel, the young German artist who makes hyper-detailed gold leaf-embellished sand paintings, has stepped forward to identify himself as the creator of a mysterious and foreboding public artwork that appeared during the recently concluded Berlin Art Week.
The work appeared without fanfare one morning on the property of Factory Berlin, a trendy co-working space for tech start-ups named after Andy Warhol’s famous studio. Made from a field of red and white heather shrubs planted around a grid of gold-engraved white marble gravestones and stone pathways, the work forms the shape of a skull and crossbones when viewed from the upper floors of the surrounding buildings or the slight hill that rises just beyond the work.
The piece does not have an official name. “I want the people to give it a title,” Bengel, who also has two gallery shows on view in Germany, told artnet News. So far, he’s heard people calling it Flower Skull and Graves of Our Generation.
“I hear people are not sure what it means. They think it is a QR code and you need to scan it with a drone to learn its secret,” Bengel said. “Another rumor is that it has something to do with the wall,” he added, noting that the Berlin Wall stood just across the street from where he created the artwork. (The city marks the 30th anniversary of its fall in November.)
But a closer look at the headstones reveals messages that speak specifically to life in the 21st century. Both humorous and critical, the epitaphs reflect the realities of a world shaped by our obsession with social media, the emptiness of consumerism, and, more seriously, political concerns like climate change.
Some burial plaques reveal regrets (“next time I will dance more”) or admissions of guilt (“I spread hate on the internet”), while others suggest a sense of satisfaction (“I spent my life with people I loved”). Many are concerned about social media, even in death (“Get reach! I died trying.”).
“It’s super stupid to worry about Instagram likes,” Bengel said. “There are so many things you worry about in your everyday life that are not worth worrying about.”
The epitaph that Bengel personally finds most troubling reads, “I was afraid to create,” a fear that lingered in the back of his mind during the year that he was planning the installation.
The massive undertaking, which is unlike any project he has done before, involved creating a brand new, contemporary font for the gravestones, which were produced by a company that makes headstones. It also required getting an inside line to Berlin’s flower cabal. (Florists don’t sell bulk orders of 10,000 flowers to just anyone, Bengel learned.)
He was inspired to create the work when the owner of the nearby co-working space gave him carte blanche to create a piece on the property. “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone,” Bengel recalled. “People might say, ‘oh, you’re the sand and gold artist, you’re the Instagram artist.’ People put you in a box, and you want to break out of the box.”
Bengel and a team of about 15 assistants installed the work under cover of night, without attracting any suspicion—other than that of “some drunk guy sleeping in the park,” the artist recalled. “He sat up and was wondering what was going on.”
The work will be on view indefinitely, weather permitting. Luckily, it’s been quite rainy in Berlin, so watering the flowers hasn’t been an issue—but there are other concerns about its longevity.
“Once the story comes out, I think people will steal the gravestones,” Bengel said. “They’re just lying there, and they’re not that heavy.”
See more photos of the work and its installation below.
Tim Bengel’s public work is on view at Factory Berlin Mitte, Rheinsberger Str. 76/77, 10115 Berlin, Germany.
“Tim Bengel: Der Goldjunge” is on view at Galerie der Kreissparkasse, Haus der Kunden, Bahnhofstraße 8, 73728 Esslingen am Neckar, Germany, August 15–September 30, 2019.
Tim Bengel’s “Black Is Beautiful” is on view at Galerie Rother Winter Wiesbaden, September 14–November 2, 2019.