The Bunker, Reinhardt Str 20, Mitte. Photograph courtesy of Sammlung Boros and NOSHE
Within a WWII structure in the heart of Mitte, composed of concrete walls two meters thick, sits an expansive range of Berlin’s cutting-edge contemporary artworks. This is indeed the razor’s edge of the local avant-garde; in some cases works are purchased close to the installation, or commissioned for the collection of Sammlung Boros. Works by Thomas Ruff (large scale telescopic images of space, completed from astronomical negatives) were the oldest works on display, dating back to 1990-1.
There is no queue at the front of this imposing fortress, only a booking list. At the time of writing bookings are several weeks in advance. Groups of up to 12 must be guided on a tour of over 80 rooms of the complex; there is no free roaming possible due to fire hazard laws. As our guide informed us, the bunker has had a long, varied history from its original construction to the present.
It was constructed in 1943 by architect Karl Bonatz, intended as a shelter for Reichsbahn train passengers, and served as a bunker during bombings. Indestructible thanks to its dense exterior, under the East German Government its low temperature made it an ideal storage space for fruit. When the wall came down, it opened as a techno and s+m club on various levels, straightforwardly named ‘Bunker’.
Klara Liden, image courtesy of Sammlung Boros and NOSHE
In 2003 it was purchased by ad agency founder and publisher Christian Boros and his wife Karen, with the intent of making it both their home and a suitable house for their ever-expanding collection (at this stage around 700 works) of contemporary art. The bunker underwent five years of interior renovations (the exterior protected as a historical site) to become the space we see; over six months was spent removing three meters worth of concrete roof alone, to create the stairway for the Boros’ home atop the Bunker.
Our guide directs our attention away from the works to steel beams intersecting some of the walls. There were originally floors here, with ceilings just over two meters high, to allow a maximum capacity of 5000 people inside the complex. Many have been removed in the renovations, allowing the artists towering space to display their work. The installation is a real marvel, works range from looming and expansive to cloistered and subdued, tucked-away within the bunker. Due to the maze-like floor plan works always have a sense of separation and space, no matter how close they come to overlapping. In some cases they do; an escape hatch from Klara Linden‘s installation leads out into the space for Ruff’s works, and a wall-intersecting work by Awst+Walther provides a separate glimpse into a kinetic sculpture by Michael Sailstorfer.
As correspondent, I am sorely tempted to richly describe to readers what I have seen. Indeed, the works within the bunker leave impressions that will last a lifetime. This is, however, one of the joys of the collection; with every turn of the concrete labyrinth a new, stellar work emerges. For all who witness it, the feeling is like a dream.
Thomas Scheibitz. Image courtesy Sammlung Boros and NOSHE.
Suffice to say the sky’s the limit within the indestructible fortress; Ai Weiwei has installed a sculpture which towers six meters high. Grandeur is not the only focus of the exhibition; Salistorfer’s works challenge sculpture as a static form, employing kinetics and the senses beyond sight and touch, Klara Liden’s installation of objects appeals to anarchy and everyday banality, Alicja Kwade‘s works absurdly twist the physical properties of objects.
Michael Salistorfer’s work, challenging the limits of sculpture. Photograph by Edward McAliece.
In many cases, the artists are able to work to grand and intimate scale. Dirk Bell presents us first with a suite of surreal drawings, leading on to an expansive installation of a dreamy fresco-style ceiling work, mirrored on the floor. Cerith Wynn Evans displays modified pages torn from Yousuf Karsch’s “Portraits of Greatness”, next to a towering column of halogen lights.
In the current installation many works can be viewed at ground level, and then seen from a balcony on a higher floor. This exhibition is the second, the previous one running 2008-12, including artists such as Anselm Ryle and Tobias Rehberger. There is no format or preference for installation and no curation, only the artist’s vision and the zeal and taste of their patrons. Combined with the architectural singularity that is the bunker, this allows for an art experience no gallery can offer, a chance to view Berlin’s best unfettered by standard institutional trappings: art history, curatorial themes, white cube space.
Stephen G. Rhodes, “Self Portrait”. Photograph by Edward McAliece.
Art appears in all possible forms here: sculpture, installation, painting, sound, video, found objects. The collection itself has only one key criteria – that the artists displayed must be working in Berlin. This allows the artist’s vision and key involvement with the installation. Wolfgang Tillmans for example personally hung each of his photographs throughout the gallery, and indeed all artists in the collection come in to oversee the installation of their work. The Boros’ have a working – and in many cases personal – relationship with the artists they support, providing them with a platform for their ideas to achieve full potential and scope.
“Flying Garden” by Thomas Sacareno. Photograph courtesy of Sammlung Boros and NOSHE.
The Boros’ passion is such that they understand work like this should be shared, and the artists they collect should have free reign over and vision for their work’s display. They have achieved unique conditions for viewing art, juxtaposing the cultural relic of the bunker with works fresher than the fruits that once sat within. While this is a vitally important landmark for any Berlin-based artist, it should be experienced by everybody. Graciously, Christian and Karen Boros invite the public to witness their triumph of art.
Guided tours of Sammlung Boros are conducted in German and English,
and available only by advance booking,
running Thurs from 4-9pm and Fri-Sun 10am-6pm.
Installation by Alijca Kwade. Photograph