Art Seen: International

Sammlung Boros // Highlights

by Stephanie Cristello

While in Berlin, I was fortunate to gain access into Sammlung Boros, an incredible collection of contemporary art owned by Christian and Karen Boros.  As an exhibition context, the space provides one of the most interesting paradoxes I’ve seen.  Built in 1942 by Nazi architect Albert Speer, the WWII building has been repurposed as an exhibition site, and while the building went through nearly five years of renovations, the exterior remains unchanged, and many of the interior corridors as well. While the architectural layout remains oppressive – low-ceilings, five meter deep concrete walls, no windows, one entrance and exit only, and DaVinci staircases (by which you can see other patrons ascending/descending, though the paths never cross), there is also something innately poetic and protective about where the works are housed – like a one way labyrinth.

Außenansicht Bunker Foto: ©NOSHE

As one of the richest private collections of contemporary art in Europe, it is also unique in the sense that the couple never collects backward – meaning that whatever year the piece was made was when it was bought, the oldest piece in the current exhibition dating to the late 1980s.  Context is therefore always building around the pieces within the bunker, since the works are so current, and constantly being influenced by the artists’ continuing practices, as well as by current events.  Perhaps it is for this reason that exhibitions in the bunker have such a long run time; now only in its second exhibition phase since opening in 2008, it is possible that the current selection of the Boros’ collection (nearly 700 works) will be on view for five years, though timing is unsure.  The most current installment has works by 21 artists, each piece installed by both the collectors and the artists themselves.  The results are stunning – each artist gets at least one room in which they can install their work, meaning that they have the ability to control their viewing conditions within the bunker.  While most pieces were purchased in a certain condition, many artists retrofit and tailor their installations to fit the space site-specifically – a sort of democratic distribution of curatorial responsibility.  Ripe with political contradictions and potential irony, the context of the work in the collection takes on a life of its own.

Danh Vō, Numbers (6), 2011; Trio, 2010; We the people (detail), 2011 Foto: © NOSHE

History appears to have a mythical context within the bunker walls; politically charged works read as fragments of a fairy tale, large-scale installations are transformed into false monuments that reference the building itself, and slippages between language, image, and object create a sense of unsettling fiction, given the currency of the works on display.  In the bunker, documents of the current moment resemble ruins. Among the best work on display is Danh Vō’s installation of We the People, which includes a small component of a full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty he outsourced to have beaten out in copper.  The entire sculpture is cut up in horizontal slices and distributed elsewhere, in other exhibitions and collections around the world, though the piece secured in the Boros collection is a section that details a fabric fold, perhaps from the statue’s torso.  On the opposing walls are framed cardboard boxes, gold-leafed with symbols of America – on one, the flag, on the others simply numbers.  Where the most expensive and the most discarded materials meet, we hear the echo of Vō’s title resonating in our ears, the first line of the constitution raised to a nightmare pitch.

Ai Weiwei, Tree, 2009-2010. Foto: © NOSHE

In a similar vein is Ai Weiwei’s Tree; a massive assemblage that at once appears natural, yet uncharacteristic and abnormal.  The scale is unsettling within the confines of the bunker’s limited space.  The irregular bends and contortions meant to mimic that of a real tree create instability instead of harmony, in addition to seeing the obvious bolts and screws with which the sculpture was crafted.  While seemingly beautiful at first, in the most romantic sense, the piece is unnaturally cobbled together – it appears to have stolen everything it needs through disparate means, using whatever haphazard parts available in a vain attempt to make something of a passable whole.

Alicja Kwade, Andere Bedingung (Aggregatzustand 4), 2009

Appearing many times over the five stories of the bunker, Alicja Kwade’s installations offer a different perspective on how things are not what they seem.  Forcing materials to act contrary to their expectations, Kwade manipulates physical manifestations into something more poetic and tactile.  At once banal, tragic, and humorous, Kwade stages impossible events – such as a thick slab of steel laser cut to mimic a shattered pane of glass installed on the floor of what was once the bunker bathroom.  Pictured above, a variety of household materials – wooden beams, mirrors, and metal sheets, look as if they had melted off the wall.

Cerith Wyn Evans, Untitled, 2008 Foto: © NOSHE

Where the bunker succeeds most, as a viewing context, is the multitude of ways the collection can reach levels of double negatives, offering a liminal, fragile experience within the stark, oppressive concrete walls.

 —
Stephanie Cristello is the Special Exhibitions Assistant for EXPO CHICAGO.

Learn more about Sammlung Boros and schedule an appointment to view the Boros Collection here.

Comments are closed.