Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pole transforms Nazis' giant Berlin bunker into a gallery of modern art

The five-storey bunker in the centre of Berlin was built by Nazi architect Albert Speer.

Hitler's architect built it to enable thousands to survive for Nazi Germany's "final victory" – but now the last massive and virtually indestructible air-raid shelter still standing in the centre of Berlin has been reborn as a private art gallery that will be open to the public.

The grey fortress-like building on Berlin's Reinhardtstrasse is still pockmarked with bullet holes from the Second World War. It was designed and built by the Nazi architect Albert Speer in 1942 and used to shelter more than 2,000 people each night from Allied bombing raids.

After being left vacant for years, the five-storey, 120-room complex was this week reopened as a private gallery containing 80 contemporary works by 57 artists, including Damien Hirst, Wolfgang Tilmans, Anselm Reyle, Elizabeth Payton and Olafur Eliasson.

The project is the brainchild of Christian Boros, a wealthy Polish-born advert-ising agent who claims to collect art that he does not understand. He bought the derelict bunker in 2002 declaring it was "love at first sight" and built a James Bond-style penthouse for himself and his wife Karen on its roof. During the next five years he transformed the interior.

Mr Boros, 44, said: "Others might have turned the place into a wine cellar. But that would have been wrong in my view. Our approach has been to fill a Third Reich monument with the highest form of intellectual freedom – art. For me, it is a very meaningful process."

This is one gallery where art connoisseurs need not be distracted by the annoying trill of a mobile phone – the bunker's walls see to that. At almost three metres thick, the concrete and steel sides ensure that even the hardiest mobile loses its signal inside.

Many of the exhibits in the collection are housed in windowless rooms. The Danish artist Olafur Eliasson's 1995 Berlin Colour Sphere is a suspended giant ball of mirrors that casts rainbow coloured geometric patterns across an entire chamber.

Another work by Santiago Sierras is comprised of eight, giant tar-coated steel girders that punch horizontally through one of the interior walls.

To create enough space for the collection three architects were employed to remove 40 of the bunker's original 120 rooms. The artists were invited to design their own individual bunker showrooms for each work and every one has a different shape, with some nearly 40 ft high.

From the beginning of June the collection will be open to the public, but those interested in viewing it will have to make an appointment via the Boros collection website. "It is a private collection, not a museum," Mr Boros said.

By Tony Paterson - Saturday, 26 April 2008

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