Visual Arts: Museums, Collections and Institutions in Germany

The New Past: The Boros Collection in Berlin

Christian Boros. Photo: Oliver Mark.A place with a turbulent history, now lavishly remodelled as a showplace for art: the collector Christian Boros had a Second World War bunker in Berlin rebuilt – as his private museum and personal home.

Boros lives and breathes the new media, he is extraordinarily well networked and oriented towards the present. The son of Polish-German immigrants, he runs the Boros advertising agency in Wuppertal, which not only works for standard clients such as the fashion label Burlington or Coca Cola Light, but also for the museum of the art collector Brandhorst and the “Gruner + Jahr” art magazine, ART. His collection encompasses over 500 works of contemporary art, from Damien Hirst to Bojan Sarcevic. So how is his art doing in the bunker?

Tales from the Bunker

Exterior view of the Bunker. Photo: Noshe.More exactly, it is an above-ground air-raid bunker on the corner of Albrechtstrasse/Reinhardstrasse in fashionable Berlin-Mitte, not far from the Reichstag on the banks of the Spree. It is a relic of Germany’s wartime past, built with reinforced concrete from its foundation plates, outer walls and ceilings. Erected in 1942, it was intended to provide shelter for the civilian population during air raids, and its concrete protective casings, some of them 2 metres thick, were planned to withstand the hailstorms of bombs raining down on the city.

Such stubbornly defiant square-shaped buildings are to be found in many major German cities. They stand about, windowless, in the midst of German reality today. They are vacant, unused, and sometimes are unceremoniously given new functions. Before the élite of the German-language art scene came flocking to attend the “First Preview” of Boros’ private museum in April, 2008, the building had already gone through a number of changes. After the end of the war, the Russian Allies turned it into a prison, in the 1950’s the DDR used it as a state storage facility for fruit and vegetables because its reinforced concrete kept a constant low temperature of 16° C. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the crumbling, derelict rooms provided the requisite creepy backdrop for Berlin’s Techno and fetisch-scene parties.

Santiago Serra: „Construction and installation of tar-layered forms measuring 75 x 75 x 800 cm, arranged in two rooms, 2002. Photo: Noshe.But the recent past still remained entombed in the cold labyrinth of rooms. The fear of the Nazi period, the pragmatism of the DDR, the radical hedonism of Berlin’s “fun society” in the transition period following the fall of the Wall. And thus this – in more than one sense – “black box” was in a certain sense finally ready to serve a higher purpose. As early as 2002, it was the venue of the Berlin art festival Insideout. In the following year, Herr and Frau Boros, both art collectors, purchased it from the Nippon Development Corporation, which had also planned to turn it into an art centre. Boros commissioned the architecture firm Realarchitektur (Jens Casper, Petra Petersson, Andrew Strickland) to redesign it, and thus became part of the bunker’s history himself.

A new structure arising from narrow chambers

Anselm Reyle. Left: „Life Enigma“, 2008, Right: „Untitled “, 2008. Photo: Noshe.Subjugated to Boros’ determination to reconstitute it, this hermetic block of concrete was to be transformed into something new, leading from darkness to light. For this purpose, about 750 square metres of concrete were to be sawed out with diamond saws, crushed into small pieces and removed by hand from the bunker within the four years planned for remodelling. A new structure of 80 rooms arose from the narrow chambers by removing individual ceilings and walls.

But the construction project’s crowning glory is the 450 m² penthouse with a leafy roof garden and a swimming pool that was added to the bunker as its fifth storey. An entrée that leads through the bunker’s old, 3-metre thick concrete roof to the living areas provides the connecting link between the bunker and the new private living quarters of the collector and his family. The resulting ceiling heights vary from 2 to 20 metres. The living quarters open up onto a spacious view of the roofs of Berlin through floor-to-ceiling glass facades. Realarchitektur was honoured for this truly unique construction project with the Architecture Award for Concrete in 2008.

A highlight of the new Berlin

Olafur Eliasson: „Berlin Colour Sphere“, 2006. Photo: Noshe.But to return to our original question: So how is Boros’ art doing in the bunker? It’s doing just fine! The material weight of Santiago Sierra’s tar-layered forms (2002) multiplies the concrete heaviness of the walls, while in another room Olafur Eliasson’s installation, Berlin Colour Sphere (2006), conjures up weightless colour projections and bathes the spatial emptiness in a poetic disco light.

This specific connection between contemporary thought and dreams and a concatenation of decidedly grim past realities ensured that the bunker would become a highlight of the new Berlin. On December 1, 2008, the American designer Tommy Hilfinger and his fiancée guested at a private viewing, following in the wake of Christiane Arp, editor-in-chief of Vogue Germany, KaDeWe (a leading Berlin department store) CEO Patrice Wagner, and actress Natalia Wörner.

Boros Collection
Reinhardstr. 20, 10117 Berlin
Visiting hours: Sa/So 10:00 AM-17:00 PM
Susanne Nusser
is an art journalist and editor of the Internet magazine nachrichtenkunst.

Translation: Ani Jinpa Lhamo
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V., Online-Redaktion
Januar 2009

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