Art and Attention – The Boros Bunker

by Nuno Rocha

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Foto: © NOSHE

The Boros Collection is a private collection of contemporary art of all media that is owned by Christian and Karen Boros. The couple presents a part of their collection to the public inside a World War II Air Raid shelter, the Reichsbahnbunker Friedrichstraße, located at Reinhardtstraße 20 in Berlin Mitte – it is also the home of the collectors. The success of the Collection and its curse rely on the same aspect: the building.

The building is publicity for itself; there is no advertisement being done and one can only be part of the fully booked 90 minute tours with previous appointment, that will take the small groups of maximum 12 people (due to fire safety) through the five floors of the Bunker. As this is a private place, it imposes a number of barriers to visitation. It is the owner’s choice not to put fire exit signs inside the building and it is one of the reasons why one can only visit it on a limited capacity tour guided by an in-house art mediator.

The building itself and its history attracts many visitors – most of them foreigners, eager to have some real Berlin experience –, and some of them unwilling to take a tour about contemporary art. In a good case, those end up with some kind of interest towards the works of art being shown there.

It is necessary to stress the importance of terms associated with the location – what place this is and what function does it have –, especially when dealing with places to display art and the expectation of the guests towards the visit.
People commonly relate the place of art with museums or galleries. Summarizing, museums are places opened to the public, normally financed with public money. For this reason, museums are places with a certain responsibility towards society and its history. Objects and exhibitions being shown there are carefully selected for its main mission is education and debate through art. Galleries on the other hand are commercial stores and their product is art. They present their products in form of exhibitions. Galleries have always free entrance, this means, anyone can go there, see the exhibitions and go without paying anything. Most people do not go to exhibitions in these spaces; common sense tells one can only go there to buy art. But it is, on the contrary, an interesting place to discover new artists and new tendencies on the art field.

Back to the Boros Collection. As the name suggests, this is a private collection. This ultimately means that the objects displayed there are privately owned by the collectors. The process of selecting, buying and collecting represents a

particular and singular point of view, in this case of Christian and Karen Boros. It is their collection of contemporary objects and they make it possible for people to see them, on the environment they think is good for it. Christian Boros himself says “This building isn’t meant for art” – not only because it was built with a different intention, other than to display art, but also because it imposes many challenges to the development of the exhibitions.

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Foto: © NOSHE

The original use of the building served the people of Berlin and their protection as a Bunker. Nowadays, the place serves art; it is empty when there are no visits. Because the visits can only be done within guided tours, there is little relationship developed between guests and how the original architecture by Karl Bonatz, build 1941-1942, is organized. The former four pairs of staircases do not lead to all of the levels today, as they did on the Air Raid period, which makes the building unreadable and at times not understandable. There is also no direct relation to the outside, since there are no windows, so people are on one hand confronted with the art and focused on it, but on the other hand they develop a total disorientation while inside the building. Whom should this kind of architecture serve, art, collectors or guests? Who profits from this experience? Bought in 2003 by the collector couple, it was only after almost five years that the renovation ended and, in April 2008, opened on Saturdays to visitation. The renovation project, done by Jens Casper and Petra Petersson of Real Architektur, took in consideration that one could only visit it with a guided tour. An elevator was added and, even though it is also used by the collectors as access to the penthouse, it enables disabled guests taking part of a tour.

During this renovation process, parts of the history of the building were left visible, so that the experience of art is also an architecture and history experience, which is a very positive characteristic of the visit. After serving as shelter until the end of the war, the massive building – with walls that are as thick as almost two meters of reinforced concrete – it was used as a prisoners camp and storage for textiles and tropical fruits during the 50’s and the 60’s and it was then more or less unused until reunification. Two years after the Wall came down this place was a techno and S&M club, called The Bunker (from 1991 to 1996). From this period, colours on the walls shows the different environments of parties that used to happen there: red, blue, black walls and graffiti – in a more or less harmonic balance with concrete walls and the “neutral” white layer of painting added during the renovation.

Between 2003-2008, some ceilings and internal walls were also removed, in order to open the space and accommodate some of the pieces. “How the art fights against the ugly building is very interesting to me”, means Karen Boros. No interference was done on the exterior of the Bunker, which is listed as a protected monument since 1990. This fact hinders what kind of works can be put there, how they get inside and how they get outside. So the artists are usually invited to install the works themselves and to change – to certain extent – characteristics they dislike of the rooms.

Among the public of contemporary art, the private collection has recently emerged as an alternative model to the mega-museum or the “block buster” exhibition, not only due to the type of art and its currentness, but also because of the more independent way of acquiring pieces and presenting them in a different and sometimes unusual context – in this case giving a new use and a new meaning to a long unused building.

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Foto: © NOSHE

Fotos: © NOSHE

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