In recent years, Berlin has been much vaunted as ‘poor but sexy’. This reputation has attracted the young, the arty and the creative from all corners of the globe. For tourists, street art tours are all the rage. But now an increasing number of private collectors are choosing to make the German capital their home and this is changing the art landscape. The artists’ squats are disappearing and being replaced with ‘Privatsammlungen’ (private collections). The 9th Berlin Biennale, a contemporary art exhibition which comes to Berlin every other year, will run ‘at various venues’ from 4th June until 18th September and one of the most exciting locations to have been announced is the home of the new ‘Feuerle Collection’, due to open permanently in October 2016.
DIS – the curatorial team of the 9th Berlin Biennale
The ‘Feuerle Collection’ is a private museum located in a World War II telecommunications bunker opposite the Landwehrkanal in Kreuzberg, in former West Berlin. The land originally belonged to the Reichsbahn (‘Imperial Railway’) and was under GDR ownership until the fall of the Wall, so the bunker remained fenced off and disused for many years. Now it has been transformed by the British Architect, John Pawson, and will be dedicated to Désiré Feuerle’s art collection, which ‘juxtaposes international contemporary artists with Imperial Chinese furniture and South East Asian sculptures’. For further information, follow this link.
The refurbished bunker which will house the Feuerle Collection
Over the past few years, Axel Haubrok in Lichtenberg, Thomas Olbricht in Mitte and Timo Miettinen in Charlottenburg have become well-established names on the private collection scene. The Morenz Lettrist Collection in Charlottenburg is attacting a lot of interest and the Julia Stoschek media art collection in Düsseldorf is opening exhibition rooms in Leipziger Strasse in June. But the Sammlung Hoffmann and the Sammlung Boros, in the vanguard of Berlin’s private collections, both remain a huge draw and are a must for contemporary art lovers. I last visited the ‘Boros Bunker’ in 2011 and it was an amazing experience. Go and see for yourself. Entrance is only with a guided tour and these have to be booked well in advance. Further details about this collection can be found on Page 71 of ‘Berlin Unwrapped’.
Inside the Boros Bunker
A couple of weeks ago, I joined an English tour of the Sammlung Hoffmann, which opened its doors to the public as far back as 1997. It’s only open on Saturdays and again you need to make an appointment a few weeks ahead. This private collection was started over 40 years ago in West Germany by Erika and Rolf Hoffmann and was moved to the heart of old East Berlin when the Hoffmanns bought a former factory there after the Wall came down. They turned an industrial space of 1400 square metres over two floors into a home for their collection – and for themselves. Rolf Hoffmann died in 2001 but his widow still lives in the vast apartment off the courtyard complex in Sophienstrasse. She sometimes even shows visitors around herself. Rory Maclean’s 2013 interview with Erika Hoffmann on the Goethe Institute website makes fascinating reading. Just follow this link.
Stop for a coffee in the courtyard below the Sammlung Hoffmann
On the day we visited the collection, Erika was abroad. Our guide was a charming Art Historian who greeted us at the reception desk and handed out pairs of felt slippers. From there we noiselessly followed her into a room lined with Andy Warhol paintings of sunset once intended for a hotel. We were invited to say a few words about ourselves and discovered that our small group consisted of visitors from Sweden, Turkey, Israel, China and Britain, some of them clearly knowledgeable artists. Our guide explained that the aim of the tour was to provoke a dialogue about the works and offer an insight into living with art on a daily basis. My first thought was that some of the discussion might go way above my head. But I needn’t have worried – the whole experience proved to be both enlightening and inclusive.
An Andy Warhol sunset
In the hour and a half allocated to each tour it is impossible to see the entire collection, but we were introduced to a fascinating selection of works of art and encouraged by our guide to enter into an exchange of views. The exhibits are not displayed with information panels as they would be in a museum, so the guide gives a brief background then invites comments and questions. Photography was forbidden, as we were walking around a private home, so the pictures that illustrate this blog are all from the internet.
The living room – ‘decorated’ by Katharine Grosse
At the end of the tour we were handed a list of the works of art we had seen. This has prompted further research about the background of the artists. Many of them are local, such as Katharina Grosse or Chiharu Shiota, but the exhibition displays works beyond the current scene and time.
Chiharu Shiota’s ‘Inside-Outside’ installation using old window frames
The Hoffmann Collection includes a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture, photography, video and sound. The sheer space in many of the rooms allows for some large installations – my favourite was the St. John-Series by Gretchen Faust, a huge assembly of brass plates that looked as if they had been taken from the entrances of apartment blocks. But instead of the names of residents, they were engraved with the words of the St John Passion. Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down a photoand will have to keep the evocative picture in my mind.
Eran Schaerf’s ‘Wanderblog’ on Little Red Riding Hood, now in Erika Hoffmann’s office
Once a year, in July, Erika Hoffmann changes things around. This is a good time to see the collection. Some of the works of art are put into storage, while others are moved to another room. Works from the depot are joined by new acquisitions. The collection is then closed for August. Otherwise tours are between 11am and 4pm on Saturdays. All booking details can be found on the Sammlung Hoffmann website.
‘Caviar-Painting’, Georg Herold
It will be interesting to see how the growing number of private art museums will affect the public art gallery landscape in Berlin. After all, they are competing for the same audience. Private collectors, however, have the luxury of picking and choosing for themselves, creating a dialogue between the old and the new, linking different eras with different cultures and presenting ideas in every possible medium. The desire to ‘connect’ sounds remarkably similar to the stated aim of the Humboldt Forum, due to open in 2019 in the historical heart of Berlin. “It will be entirely dedicated to the dialogue between the cultures of the world and will act as a forum for debate and analysis of historical and current issues of global significance, viewed from a multitude of fresh perspectives.” There are exciting times ahead in the Berlin art museum world – whether the collections are in public or private hands. Still sexy, but no longer so poor.
The design for the entrance hall to the Humboldt Forum
N.B. As a final footnote, in German a ‘Public Viewing’ is a public event with a large TV screen. For the English term ‘private viewing’ they use the French word ‘Vernissage’.