A raid on your artistic senses
It's a mesmerising, even disconcerting experience viewing the artworks of the Boros Collection in Berlin − not least because it's all housed in a World War II air-raid bunker
From an old train station turned into a museum of contemporary art to a former brewery turned into a private contemporary arts centre, the eclectic city of Berlin is full of remarkable cultural highlights set in some of the most unlikely and jaw-dropping locations.
Possibly beating them all is the venue of the Boros Collection, owned by German contemporary art collectors Christian and Karen Boros. Located in Mitte, the historical heart of Berlin, the Boros Collection is housed inside a converted 1940s Nazi-era air-raid bunker, acquired by the couple in 2003 to display their collection of art and also become their private abode.
Opened in 2008, "The Bunker", as they simply call it, displays different dimensions of the Boros' entire collection. Their former exhibitions, which ran from 2008-2012 and 2012-2016, housed works from artists like Ai Weiwei, Olafur Eliasson, Wolfgang Tillmans, and even Thai contemporary artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Now, their third and latest exhibition houses newly-purchased and site-specific works by artists Justin Matherly, Guan Xiao, Katja Novitskova, Kris Martin, Avery Singer, Martin Boyce, and many more. The focus, it seems, is on the newer and "post-internet" forms of art.
Christian and Karen Boros work directly with the selected artists -- whereby most of the artists get to decide with the collectors where to display their artworks and even install the pieces themselves -- creating unique connections between the artwork and the space itself.
The Außenansicht Bunker. Sammlung Boros
Walking towards the bulky five-storey bunker, whose exterior is still laced with bullet holes and fractures from World War II, visitors enter through a heavy-duty metal door and walk through a short, dark corridor which opens up to the gallery's low-ceilinged lobby. There's a feeling of total isolation from the outside world once you're inside -- especially when phone signals can't penetrate the bunker's 2m-thick walls. It's an eerie yet mesmerising feeling, knowing that you're in such a historical site that isn't at all shy in showing its murky past.
Built in 1942 by forced labour, the bunker was an air-raid shelter for railway workers and travellers coming to the city of Berlin. After the fall of Germany, in 1945 it was occupied by the Soviets to house prisoners of war. In 1949, it became a textiles warehouse. In 1957, the bunker was known as the "banana bunker" for storing imported fruits from Cuba, and in the 90s it amazingly became a hardcore club for techno music and fetish raves -- whose paintings and signs still feature inside the bunker walls today.
It's a viewing experience unlike any other. Art enthusiasts can't simply come and go as they please. To visit the bunker, visitors must make an advanced reservation through the official website. Tours only take place on Thursdays to Sundays, and the bunker can only be visited by groups of no more than 12 people accompanied by an in-house guide. It's for the safety of the visitors, they said -- understandable, as one could easily get lost in the 3,000m² labyrinthine structure of the stone fortress.
Once settled inside, the guides walk visitors through each floor, explaining each art piece and artist, and answering any questions asked. It's extremely helpful, as the only text seen within the gallery is simply the artists' names placed discreetly on the floor -- a personal choice by the collectors to purely focus on the artworks.
With the bunker being hollowed out at some points, it's possible to view said artworks, which consist of sculptures, paintings, installations and multimedia work, from different perspectives and angles. Standout pieces include Estonian artist Katja Novitskova's eye-catching piece in one of the largest rooms in the gallery, three gigantic paintings by the late Michel Majerus, and of course, the interactive art pieces like Johannes Wohnseifer's BLACK TAPE installation where visitors can deface the bunker wall with black duct tape.
Avery Singer's works. Noshe/ Andreas Gehrke
It's hard to focus on the art though, as the space itself is just so truly unique. One thing that struck everyone on the tour wasn't any art piece, but the building's M.C. Escher-esque double staircase, used for quick escapes back in the day. The bunker's mysterious rusted bolts and tiny doors are also extremely goosebump-inducing. You can't help but imagine the oppressive and terrifying situation that the people taking shelter were feeling.
The lack of focus on the artworks might also be contributed to by the generally head-scratching and highly conceptual works on display, which might not resonate with everyone. And there's an explanation for that.
"I'm attracted to works that I don't understand," said Christian Boros in an interview with International Auctioneers in 2006. "For me, a work of art should have something that displeases me; that irritates me. That's what makes me wonder, what is it about this work that manages to irritate me? Why don't I understand it? This for me is a sign of quality."
Christian and Karen Boros. Wolfgang Stahr
It makes sense, as many of the artworks displayed in this exhibition will leave you either scratching or just shaking your head in confusion -- even with the guide's detailed explanations. It says a lot when a group of international art curators (which I toured with) all agreed that the artworks were hard to swallow.
Though the art might not be for some, it's worth going for the space alone. Just make sure to reserve your tickets well in advance, as this is a truly one-of-a-kind venue.
Visit www.sammlung-boros.de. The admission fee is €12 (465 baht) per person. Concessions €6.
Address: Sammlung Boros Bunker, Reinhardtstr. 20 10117 Berlin-Mitte
Michel Majerus pieces. Noshe/ Andreas Gehrke