A Bunker Reborn

ARTINFO has gained an exclusive view inside a new Berlin gallery, not scheduled to open until next month, housing the collection of German advertising entrepreneur Christian Boros.

Sammlung Boros, a monumental collection of contemporary works by some of the biggest names in art — including Tomma Abts, Enrico David, Olafur Eliasson, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, and Thomas Zipp — is housed in a former Nazi bunker originally intended to safeguard 2,000 people and now boasting 32,000 square feet of exhibition space, in the Mitte district of Berlin. At a special preview, from which journalists were banned (ARTINFO swung a sneaky exception), VIPs were invited to tour the inaugural group exhibition of over a hundred “greatest hits,” the first of many rotating temporary shows to be organized in collaboration with the artists in Boros’s collection.

Boros bought the 1943 concrete edifice, which contains several floors and mezzanines, in 2003 and commissioned the Berlin architecture firm Realarchitektur to convert it from its almost derelict state the following year. The structure previously provided a venue for fetish and S&M events and semi-legal hard techno raves; the latter is how the 51-year-old Boros rather incongruously encountered the building. He has since had a 4,800-square-foot glass-walled penthouse, reportedly complete with swimming pool, installed on top of the structure as a home for himself and his family.

Boros’s interest in aesthetics and visual culture started early, leading him to study design before going on to launch Boros, a highly successful advertising and communications firm boasting Coca-Cola, Siemens, and the German music network VIVA in its client portfolio. He was one of the first collectors of Wolfgang Tillmanss work, purchasing two photographs in 1990 for a reported 300 Deutsch Mark each. His collection and buying power have since grown quickly, and he debuted on the British art magazine Art Reviews “power 100” list at number 56 last year.

Boros’s motto as a collector, emblazoned across the collection’s Web site, is “I collect art that I don’t understand,” and moving through the maze of passages and rooms in the former bunker, viewers encounter work after work that is best described as phenomenological in nature. Abstract minimal sculptures, a particular trend in the exhibition, are set against dark concrete walls still bearing bullet holes, scars, and traces of graffiti; the visual uniformity and confusing layout cause visitors to repeatedly come back on themselves, "discovering" and "rediscovering" rooms containing almost hidden-away works.

But while the space bears the weight of its World War II history, the works themselves are fresh and complex. Upon entering the building, visitors are confronted with a strong smell of chlorine. This, it turns out, emanates from a work by Berlin-based Eliasson, a favorite of Boros’s. Vortex For Lofoten (1999), a large cylindrical Perspex tank complete with a pump propelling a gentle whirlpool, is juxtaposed with another work by the artist, Gletscher (1999), a series of aerial photographs of glaciers.

Two works by German-born, Berlin-based artist Anselm ReyleHay Bales (2003), six neatly stacked bales painted silver, and Hay Wagon (2003), a traditional cart in neon yellow, both installed in adjacent cell-like rooms on the first floor — are at once deeply conceptual and seductively edgy, prime examples of the collection's complexity. Playfulness shines through serious abstraction in Monica Sosnowskas giant installation Untitled (2005), a hollow black angular sculpture that snakes through two gallery rooms. Visitors are invited to crawl into the sculpture, something we can report the guests at the VIP preview did with gusto.

While Boros does own representational work, his considerable holdings of paintings by the likes of Abts and Elizabeth Peyton are nowhere to be seen in the inaugural show. Rather we get a room full of dazzling Tobias Rehberger lamps; two John Bock video-and-sculpture installations highlighting the artist’s characteristic twisted charm; a Sarah Lucas here, an Elmgreen & Dragset there. In one room, obviously hand-picked, attractive young gallery attendants politely warn you to mind Kitty Krauss installation of spilled black ink. All in all, it's enough to make you realize that whether he understands these works or not, Boros clearly has not only money and taste but also a good curatorial mind.

Sammlung Boros opens in May.