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The Bunker Experience: Berlin’s Boros Collection

This summer in Berlin I got to experience art as The Bunker intended.

The Bunker. All images courtesy of The Boros Collection. Photography by NOSHE.
Berlin’s Boros Collection is an art viewing experience unlike that at public museums, inviting visitors to view the collection only as the collectors themselves have intended. Since 2008, Christian and Karen Boros have shared highlights from their epic collection of contemporary art with the public – in a slightly unorthodox way. First, visitors cannot come and go as they please.  Instead they are required to take a guided tour at an appointed time with a well-spoken docent, viewing the collection piece by piece. The collection, which includes pieces by Ai Weiwei,Wolfgang TillmansThomas Ruff and Klara Lidén, is on display in an unusual venue – a Nazi-era bunker. Soaring five stories into the sky, the Boros family renovated and customized the stone fortress transforming it into a premier museum, topped with a sprawling residence for the family and the works from their collection that they chose to live with day-to-day.
Christian and Karen Boros. Photography by Wolfgang Stahr.
The now elite section of Mitte in Berlin was once the center of Nazi activity in the early 1940s. The Bunker, as it’s known, had a long life before Christian Boros bought it in 2003.  The building was first built in 1942 as an air-raid shelter for civilians, with protective concrete walls that are up to two meters thick in some places. Bombings and bullet holes from the war can still be seen on the building’s external walls, as can paint and signs from when the space was a techno club in the early 1990s. The Bunker also spent time as a prisoner of war camp in 1945, a textile storeroom in 1949, and was later used to store tropical fruit imports since it was so naturally cool inside. The building’s historic past inspired Christian Boros, who hired architects Jens Casper and Petra Petersson to convert the bunker into a beautiful 32,000-square-foot exhibition space, with an added 4,800-square-foot glass penthouse for he and his family.
Since opening in 2008, the Boros Collection has hosted two long-term exhibitions comprised of selections from the family’s collection of 700 works. The most recent, Sammlung Boros #2,opened in 2012, and shows off a whopping 130 artworks. This second exhibition sets work from the early 1990s alongside recent acquisitions, some purchased weeks before the show opened.
The installation of these pieces is as unique as the space itself. Fostering relationships between collector and artist, the Boros’ invite each artist to install their works themselves when possible, creating connections between the work, the artist and the space from the very start. Visitors are lead between the art filled floors, which include sculpture, painting, multimedia, drawing, photography and sound pieces, each installed in varying rooms around the bunker. The Boros Collection is devoid of press releases and wall labels.  Instead viewers learn about each piece from the knowledgeable staff docent, who will give insight on each artist, as well as answer questions about any individual work, including how it was acquired.
Klara Lidén, Teenage Room, 2009. Photography by NOSHE.
Created especially for the Boros Collection, Klara Lidén’s Teenage Room occupies one of the double-height galleries that were carved out of the original structure. Visitors are greeted by an ax dangling from a rope attached to a closed door; as the door opens the ax moves up and down making a noise when the door is shut. Inside, the room echoes with elements from a teenager’s room, creating a grim set that evokes the feeling of teenage angst. A furry carpet is lit by a familiar Chinese lantern hanging in the center, next to an arrangement of furniture that brings to mind both a bunk bed and scaffolding. Spray-painted crudely in black, the bed is unwelcoming, clearly not a place of rest. The bed structure faces a hatch cut into the wall, which visitors are led through, crawling on all fours into the next gallery. This escape-action brings the visitor group together in a bonding experience, while also calling to mind the troubled time of teen years spent longing to escape from parental chaperoning.

Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther, Latent Measures (Component 17), 2011. Photography by NOSHE.

Ai Weiwei, Tree, 2009-2010. Photography by NOSHE.
Tomás Saraceno, Flying Garden/Air-Port-City/32SWˆ, 2007. Photography by NOSHE.
Another piece which disrupts the architecture of the building is Manon Awst and Benjamin Walther’s Latent Measures (Component 17). Piercing through the thick concrete walls, the piece incorporates metal tubes that are up to eight meters in length, requiring visitors to walk under and around them as they navigate the space. Ai Weiwei’s Tree dwarfs visitors inside the gallery, bringing attention to the Boros’ renovations that extended the structure’s ceilings. Cobbled together from driftwood, found objects and salvaged wood, the tree soars six meters into the small gallery, inspiring awe as visitors weave around it. Tomás Saraceno’s Flying Garden/Air-Port-City/32SW also directly interacts with the space, interrupting the visitors’ flow by intersecting open space like a spider web, with cables held taut in every direction.
Cerith Wyn Evans, Untitled, 2008. Photography by NOSHE.
Rising like a futuristic architectural element, Cerith Wyn Evans’ Untitled is a glowing column of light that invites the viewer to experience its warmth, but also to examine the patterns and textures of the walls of the bunker itself. Brightly illuminated, Evans’ piece feel like homage to architecture, making the visitor keenly aware of the historic structure. Further tying in the museum’s location isMichael Sailstorfer’s motion-sensor activated installation, Zeit ist Kein Autobahn. Affixed to a gallery wall, the sculpture appears as a fragment of an automobile, with a thick tire popping out of the concrete wall. When a visitor enters the room, the motor is triggered, spinning the tired which gradually erodes into a pile of rubber fragments on the gallery floor. Translated to “Time is No Highway,” the piece can be thought to refers to the famous German Autobahn, while also acting as a metaphor for the passage of time, as the tire gradually wears down to nothing as time goes on.
Michael Sailstorfer, Zeit ist Kein Autobahn, 2008. Photography by NOSHE.
Peppered throughout the five floors are a variety of photographs by Turner Prize winner, Wolfgang Tillmans, as well as sculptures by Danh Vo, and astronomical pictures by Thomas Ruff.  Shown within the historic and stark walls that bear the evidence of years past, the collection inspires a dialogue that goes beyond the gallery space, conjuring an all-encompassing feeling that brings history together with the now of art viewing. A visit to the Boros Collection goes way beyond a trip to a museum, fusing world history with modern art in a carefully curated experience made possible by the patrons of the art works themselves.
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