From Banana Bunker to Boros Bunker

L1160508 (Large)It’s a place full of history. The Bunker in Berlin-Mitte near Friedrichstrasse was built during World War II as an air-raid shelter. Later, during the time of the Cold War, the East German government stored in it exotic fruits and bananas from Cuba. Since fruits were very rare in East Germany the people called the Bunker “Banana Bunker” or “Christmas Bunker”. After the wall came down the Bunker changed into a place for Techno freaks. It became an illegal hardcore club for young ravers, with underground parties and dark rooms, which soon was the “to be place” for Techno lovers all over Germany.L1160509 (Large)

Christian and Karen Boros bought the Bunker in 2003 as an exhibition place for their private art collection.L1160511 (Large)On show in the Bunker are works from the Boros Collection by diverse figures in contemporary art, including site-specific works by Klara Lidén, astronomical pictures by Thomas Ruff, photographs by Turner prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans, and a six-meter high, newly constructed tree by Ai Weiwei, composed of old, found objects. The cables in Tomás Saraceno’s installation, are strung up like a giant spider web across the space.L1160533 (Large) L1160524 (Large)The exhibition on 3.000 square meters is characterized by the dynamic encounter between a broad array of media, such as sculpture, painting, video work, and photography. Many of the installations work with sound so that visitors are confronted with various, overlapping sounds on each of the bunker’s five floors. The artworks on display have been installed in the rooms by the artists themselves.L1160546 (Large) L1160529 (Large)Using a series of microphones, Alicja Kwade records the humming of the fluorescent tubes that hang on the ground floor and projects the sound onto curved steel plates, while in another work she amplifies the sound of a clock’s ticking, making the Bunker resonate to the passage of time. Michael Sailstorfer’s works, by contrast, are taken from the context of everyday life: The rustling of the leaves of a tree, dragged along the ground, the constant hot puff of a popcorn machine and the audible abrasion of a spinning car tire on the Bunker’s wall.L1160545 (Large)L1160534 (Large) L1160532 (Large)“We are delighted to see that the art that has enriched our lives is also a source of interest for others. We are glad to share with other people the experiences we’ve had with the works.”
Christian BorosL1160523 (Large) L1160522 (Large) L1160517 (Large)“We haven’t seen many of the works for several years. It is an exciting challenge for us to bring together the artists and their works under one roof and to spark a dialogue between the artists and between the visitors. The fact that the artists lend their support in this process means a lot to us.”
Karen BorosL1160514 (Large) L1160515 (Large)The following artists feature in the current show:

Ai Weiwei, Awst & Walther, Dirk Bell, Cosima von Bonin, Marieta Chirulescu, Thea Djordjadze, Olafur Eliasson, Alicja Kwade, Klara Lidén, Florian Meisenberg, Roman Ondák, Stephen G. Rhodes, Thomas Ruff, Michael Sailstorfer, Tomás Saraceno, Thomas Scheibitz, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Danh Vo, Cerith Wyn Evans and Thomas Zipp.

L1160551 (Large)In the last four years more than 120.000 visitors came to the Bunker. All visitors were guided through the more than 80 exhibition rooms by a team of young art historians, in 7.500 separate tours. The guests have had to contend with waiting lists weeks in advance, caused by fire regulations which stipulate that all visitors be accompanied by guides, with a maximum of only twelve persons per group.

The Boros Collection will be open to visitors every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Visits arranged by appointment only: www.sammlung-boros.deL1160516 (Large)

Ai Weiwei in Berlin

mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_portrait_2012_c_gao_yuan (Large)„Modernism is the original creation of enlightened human beings, it is the ultimate observation of the meaning of existence and the misery of reality; it keeps a wary eye on society and power; it never makes compromises and never cooperates.“

Ai Weiwei 1997 (quoted from “Ai Weiwei – Der verbotene Blog”, Galiani: Berlin, 2011)

In spite of all the hostile oppression he has been facing in his own country, Ai Weiwei has decided to put on his largest one-man exhibition yet at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau. Across 3,000 square metres, 18 rooms and in the spectacular Lichthof he displays works and installations that were either designed specifically for the Martin-Gropius-Bau or have not yet been shown in Germany. The name he has given to his exhibition is “Evidence”, a word that will be, a term well known beyond the English-speaking world from American crime series on TV to mean proof that will stand up in court. From his simple but spacious studio on the rural outskirts of Beijing, Ai Weiwei has created a deeply political exhibition for Berlin.

mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_07_paint_at_summer_palace (Large)Ai Weiwei is an artist, architect and politician. Very few of his works do not contain hidden allusions to internal Chinese affairs or to the subject of “China and the West” in general. One must learn to spot the ironical historical and political references in his works, which he sends out into the world like messages in bottles.

mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_08_zodiac_heads (Large)Among the works and installations on display at the Martin-Gropius-Bau are a golden copy of the zodiac sculptures (Golden Zodiac, 2011) cast in bronze (c. 1750) by Chinese craftsmen. In 1860, after the end of the Second Opium War, British and French soldiers had conquered Beijing in order to force China to take part in the opium trade. Some of these bronze zodiac figures found their way to Europe, and when they turned up in Paris in 2008 at an auction of Yves Saint-Laurent’s art collection they caused a sensation in the Chinese cultural sphere. Ai Weiwei does not accept the Chinese government’s stance, that these bronze figures are Chinese national treasures, declaring that, rather, they belong to the whole world.

mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_02_stools (Large)mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_02_stools_ausschnitt (Large)Random arrests and corruption happen to regular Chinese citizens on a daily basis. Ai Weiwei refuses to accept this status quo. He demands freedom of speech, a fair distribution of power, and multiparty democracy.

mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_05_diaoyu_islands (Large)The infinite variety of forms offered by conceptual art allows him to express his ideas in a country where freedom of expression does not exist.He is also one of the most famous artists in China. In recent years, official Chinese propaganda has attempted to erase him from public consciousness. He is not allowed to exhibit in any museum in China.

mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_04_souvenir_from_shanghai (Large)mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_03_han_dynasty_vase (Large)Ai Weiwei’s instant response to this tactic was to turn the Internet into his permanent exhibition space: his now banned blogposts are outstanding, as is his current presence on Instagram. Although he is allowed to work in his studio, a dozen surveillance cameras have been placed before his door. His ironic response was to hang red lanterns on them and reproduce them in marble (Marble Surveillance Cameras, 2010). The actions of the regime have been incorporated into his conceptual art. Although he is allowed to travel within China, every step he takes is monitored by undercover agents. His passport has been confiscated to prevent him from travelling abroad.

mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_08_very_yao (Large) mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_09_very_yao (Large) mgb14_p_ai_weiwei_10_very_yao (Large)www.gropiusbau.de

Until July 13, 2014

Text and Photos: Courtesy of Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin.