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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Pergamon Panorama: Discover the ancient city of Pergamon

The culture of the instantaneous intrudes into state museums.

The Asisi Panorama at the Pergamon Museum offers a 360° view of the ancient city of Asia Minor. While the whole thing is the result of meticulous historical reconstruction, it is also a tribute to intellectual laziness.

A visit to the Panorama at the Pergamon Museum is optional.

Since the 2000s, the architect and artist Yadegar Asisi has made a name for himself in the production of monumental panoramas depicting natural landscapes, cities or historical scenes. The modus operandi is much the same. Digital special effects are applied to a curved surface to give the impression of depth. The image remains fixed and only the sound and light effects change the perception. For an even more striking effect, the panoramas are exhibited on the inner surfaces of old gasometers, whose circular shape allows for optimal rendering. Asisi renamed them "panometers", a neologism derived from the combination of the terms "panorama" and "gasometer.

In Berlin, Asisi is best known for the "Asisi Panorama: Die Mauer". Located near Checkpoint Charlie, this work shows the Berlin Wall in a spectacular setting. Its success with the general public has not left the museums of the national collections in Berlin unmoved. In 2018, the Pergamon Museum, one of the most important museums in the German capital, opened an Asisi Panorama, this time dedicated to the ancient city of the same name.

When sensationalism is enough

The monumental dimensions of the Asisi Panorama at the Pergamon Museum make it impressive. The vast circular room provides a unique feeling of proximity and immersion. A first approach is to walk around it to notice the diversity and generosity of the scenes suggested by the panorama. The stage is also vertical. In the centre of the room, a huge observation tower allows you to gain height several dozen metres above the ground. By climbing the stairs, the stage is rediscovered. Ancient Pergamon reveals its cattle market, its temples, its theatre and countless scenes of life in a dazzling horizon.

The panorama is fixed, without any movement and only disturbed by the sound effects of everyday life and the music of the occasion. The whole thing is meant to be grand but is hardly convincing. The alternation of day and night brings a change in colours but the rhythm is too hasty. Indeed, this cycle is repeated in a loop of a few minutes. This boring and predictable staging makes it difficult to immerse oneself and one will quickly head for the exit.

Some explanations are made available to visitors, either through descriptive panels or the audio guide offered at the entrance. However, this information is rendered unintelligible due to the conditions of the visit, where the darkness remains and the background noise prevents reflection. As such, the contemplative experience feels like the discovery of an emblematic or wonderful landscape. In this case, the Asisi Panorama is more like a television screen. One would almost forget the adjacent parts where numerous reliefs are presented, which are by far the most relevant sets in this annex of the Pergamon Museum.

The cultural fast-food experience

The Asisi Panorama in the Pergamon Museum offers an attractive and easily accessible concept. The whole thing appeals to spontaneous impressions, where wonder is provoked by the monumental and grandiloquent staging. If culture is to be accessible to all, there are pitfalls that it must avoid. Classical culture does not have to seek out one-upmanship, spectacle at all costs and an approach based solely on the instantaneous.

The work is distinguished by its remarkable completeness and its detailed reproduction of a historical scene. This praise is well deserved. On the other hand, the result is mixed from a technical point of view. Up close, the image is not sharp and shows some imperfections. Furthermore, the choice of a still image is debatable, which makes the whole thing a new Uncanny Valley. A huge wallpaper where sometimes dubious patterns appear. Thus, the room attendants have fun showing visitors the defects and anachronisms hidden in the huge fresco: a watch, a plastic bottle, a character with two left arms. Whether they are oversights or winks from the artist, these easter eggs seem out of place.

If Yadegar Asisi did not invent panoramism, at least he was able to renew it to the point of opening the doors to recognition. His work is in the realm of entertainment. The Pergamon Museum is opening up to modernity, but this openness comes at a price: "an immense accumulation of spectacles".

Reasons to go

  • A spectacular first impression

  • The initiatory climb to the top of the observation tower

  • The reliefs presented in the adjacent rooms

Reasons to avoid

  • An excessive price

  • A very limited visit time

  • Generally disappointing staging

  • No depth

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