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Iron Curtain artifact approaching final months on UVA Grounds

Time may be running out for students and community members to view the four pieces of the collapsed Berlin Wall that have been on display at UVa for eight years.

“The [collectors] have been looking at the possibility of moving the installation to another facility, we’re not sure where,” said Jody Kielbasa, Vice Provost for the Arts and Director of the Virginia Film Festival at UVa.

Titled “Kings of Freedom,” the installation includes four panels from the Wall that stood between the warring sides of the same city. One side of the panels—the side that faced democratic West Germany—has graffiti by West German artist Dennis Kaun, while the other side—which faced communist East Germany—is blank.

Germans chipped away at the length of the 103-mile wall in peaceful resistance until the Soviet Union fell in 1989.

“The installation has been a focal point for a number of years,” said Kielbasa. “The pieces are significant on our Grounds as a representation of freedom. They are located right next to the University’s Declaration of Independence, which is also a powerful symbol of freedom.”

The Cold War artifact has been on Grounds since 2014, when art collectors and philanthropists Robert and MeiLi Hefner, of the namesake Foundation and Collection, loaned the installation to the University to commemorate the 25-year anniversary of the Berlin Wall removal. The couple originally loaned the Wall pieces for just one year but extended the agreement. The pieces are displayed in front of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

Removing the 16-foot long, 12-foot high, 8,818-pound relic will be a process. UVa’s Facilities Management employees installed a glass and steel structure with lights to protect the panels and illuminate the artwork.

Likely making their final loan extension, the Hefners are allowing the University to hold on to “Kings of Freedom” for the rest of this year.

“There is an opportunity in the fall and spring to see it for those who haven’t seen it already,” said Kielbasa. “We are a state school, which means we are open to the public, so I invite and encourage everyone to come.” The exhibit is free and accessible.

The piece of history embodying German oppression, rebellion, and freedom all at once is located next to the Albert and Shirley Small Collections Library on Central Grounds.

UVa Arts does not have a replacement installation lined up at the moment, Kielbasa said.


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