24 Aug 2009, Posted by Eric Karstens in Off topic: Art, etc., 0 Comments

Art behind concrete – the Boros Collection in Berlin

Collectors Christan Boros and his wife Karen Lohmann belong to a new breed of high-level collectors – also including, for instance, Julia Stoschek and Ingvild Goetz -, who pursue a different policy than their predecessors. The old school, with prominent examples such as Peter Ludwig, Ulrich Ströher or Udo Brandhorst, kindly allow public museums to show their collections, but they also tend to be prone to either exert undue influence on the management of the tax-payer-funded institutions, or to be offended whenever they cannot have their way.

Boros and others are very different. They feel that their collections need public attention, that they thrive (not to mention increase their market value) only when many people can encounter the works of art. Yet, rather than integrate them into the framework of a museum, which always has its own agenda, they simply build their very own private museums and invite the art world to come. And these museums are quite often art works in their own right, or, at least, very special places to show art and to arrange for a fruitful communication between art and its sheltering architecture.

The Boros Collection is housed in an actual 1942 air-raid shelter in the middle of Berlin, close to the famous Friedrichstrasse railway station. The monstrous bunker has proved to be indestructible. It survived the Second World War unscathed, and post-war efforts to purge the city from the remains of Nazi architecture recognised the futility in trying to demolish it. Now, it is the only bunker of its kind in the inner city of Berlin, and has official landmark status. During the 1990s, the five-floor windowless building became famous as the location of underground techno and fetish parties, but after 2003, Boros had it converted into an art gallery.

This conversion was clearly a Herculean task. In order to better accommodate the art works, the 120 original low-ceilinged rooms were re-configured into 80 rooms of different heights by sawing through thick floors of reinforced concrete. Even two windows were cut into the two-metre-thick outer armour. The new interior has many white-washed walls, but a lot of walls and floors were also left in the same state as they were when Boros acquired the shelter, or were, in some cases, specifically preserved. Therefore, visitors encounter original inscriptions and installations from the 1940s as well as graffiti from the techno era.

In such a way, the refurbishment has achieved that the bunker experience becomes neither depressing nor a wartime Disneyland. Instead, the shelter’s atmosphere supports concentration on the art works and provides surprising perspectives behind every corner. There is even an odd beauty to the stark staircases and labyrinthean entryways.

The collection itself gravitates strongly toward minimal and conceptual art. Among the limited number of artists on display are contemporary Berlin-based stars Olafur Eliasson and Anselm Reyle, or controversial Spanish artist Santiago Serra; most artists are represented by several works distributed throughout the gallery, which contributes to a better picture of their respective creative scope. Many works were made specifically for the bunker or at least adapted to it by the artists.

While there is almost no video art, the Boros Collection however has a very coherent style and bears witness to the collectors’ impeccable and sophisticated taste, which belies his famous statement “I collect art that I don’t understand”. The exhibits really prosper in the bunker environment and benefit from their well-considered deployment, and the whole exhibition thus adds up to way more than the mere sum of its parts.

Please see a related post at FAD, look at the conversion archtitects’ site Realarchitektur, and read the Le Figaro article (in French).