Meeting the Collector of Juxtapostion in a Bunker in Berlin

Interior of the Feuerle Collection © John Pawson
Exterior of The Feuerle Collection © Holger Niehaus (Online Photo)
An Adam Fuss photograph with twin Ming Dynasty display cabinets in The Feuerle Collection. Photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn © The Feuerle Collection
Nobuyoshi Araki photographs and a 17th century Lohan bed in The Feuerle Collection. Photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn © The Feuerle Collection
Désiré Feuerle in his office at The Feuerle Collection, Berlin, 2017. Photo: Herbert Wright
Anish Kapoor’s Torus and Khmer sculptures contrast with raw concrete of the bunker. Photo © The Feurele Collection
Interior of The Feurele Collection © John Pawson
Cristina Iglesias’ Pozo XII (Desde dentro) at The Feuerle Collection, Photo Nic Tenwiggenhorn © The Feuerle Collection
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The Feuerle Collection is one of the world’s most mysterious in the world, but nevertheless accessible and current. Its content spans millennia, from Han Dynasty furniture to works by a select few contemporary artists from around the globe, and it is housed in a bunker in the heart of the German capital, Berlin. Collector and curator Désiré Feuerle showed CoBo around, and granted an interview to talk about his unique approach to art.

TEXT: Herbert Wright
IMAGES: Herbert Wright and Courtesy of The Feuerle Collection

Exterior of The Feuerle Collection © Holger Niehaus (Online Photo)

 

The Feuerle Collection opened in 2016 in a bunker built with military-grade concrete as a telecommunications centre in the Second World War. The building, discretely surrounded by trees by a canal, was repurposed by the minimalist architect John Pawson. Access to the two floors, which lie within walls two metres thick, is by appointment only, and tours are led by one of their guides and limited to a maximum of 14 people.

 

Before entering the subterranean gallery floor, visitors stand in a completely black room while John Cage’s Music for Piano #20 (1953) is played, a composition of simple resonating notes. This time adjusts the eyes to the low light levels of the Collection, in which the atmosphere is Zen-like and meditative. You step out by an imperceptible glass wall looking out into a space that is reflected in a reservoir of water, as perfectly still as Richard Wilson’s oil in 20:50. ‘The water doubles the room. For me, it is an art-piece’, says Feuerle.

 

An Adam Fuss photograph with twin Ming Dynasty display cabinets in The Feuerle Collection. Photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn © The Feuerle Collection

 

We see the art he has collected when we turn to look into the cool, dark space in which heavy concrete columns march and only the occasional low rumbling of an S-bahn train below disturbs the silence. There are no labels. Juxtaposed amongst serene Khmer Buddhist statues dating from as far back as the seventh century, and Chinese furniture from second century BC (Han Dynasty) to the eighteenth century (Qing Dynasty), are contemporary artworks. Small erotic black-and-white photographs by Nobuyoshi Araki, including a hanging bondage shot, and another where a girl beholds her vagina in a mirror, are mounted amongst furniture pieces. Torus (2002), a circular mirrored form by Anish Kapoor, is mounted on a wall. This level also houses the Incense Room, a dark-glazed enclosure by Pawson which from autumn will host tea and incense ceremonies.

 

Nobuyoshi Araki photographs and a 17th century Lohan bed in The Feuerle Collection. Photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn © The Feuerle Collection

 

On the upper level — again a vast, low-ceilinged concrete space — more contemporary works are juxtaposed with the ancient. The Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias has sculpted a work, Pozo XII (Desde dentro) (2016) in which water trickles through a topography of brass hair-like filaments. An extraordinary large black and white photo of smoke from the My Ghost series, mounted between two Ming cabinets from the Emperor’s study, is one of a number of works by British photographer Adam Fuss. The Beijing master Zeng Fanzhi, perhaps China’s greatest living painter, exhibits an expressive, untitled bronze sculpture here, like a twisted tree – ‘he loves nature’, Feuerle comments. Works by the artist-performer James Lee Byars (Feuerle says he was ‘more like a poet’) include golden bananas in a bell jar on a golden plate upon an ancient table, and a dot he had meticulously printed on a historic Umbrian reading stand. ‘It had to be printed 100 times’, whispers Feuerle, ‘it cost more time and money than a book’.

 

Feuerle’s office is minimalist, a white square room. There is no computer on his black table — ‘I work with my phone’, he explains as he sits to be interviewed.

 

Désiré Feuerle in his office at The Feuerle Collection, Berlin, 2017. Photo: Herbert Wright

 

When did you start collecting?

I started when I was a child. First, I collected keys. I went to ask farmers if they have a key. I looked for castle keys and monastery keys, in (the) Stuttgart (area of Germany). After, it was silver tea and coffee pots from Shanghai to Russia, from (iconic American jewellery company) Tiffany to (German pioneering modernist design) Bauhaus to Roman. I still have it.

 

You have made juxtaposing the old and the new a hallmark. How did that emerge?

About 30 years ago, I started doing juxtapostions. I did Yves Klein, (key Fluxus artist Joseph) Beuys, (Georg) Baselitz and (abstract painter) Brice Marden, (which were shown) with gothic and baroque, and unusual tapestries. Cologne was the centre of contemporary art, for Europe at least. Andy Warhol was there in the 1980s. I showed (conceptual artist) Rosamarie Trockel, a show with her with huge emerald earrings. And then I started my own gallery. I juxtaposed Gilbert and George with antique clocks.

 

Where did the inspiration behind this juxtaposition come from?

I looked at Monet or old masters, and contemporary, I got postcards and put them together – and there was this feeling. I feel what is in the artist. When I showed (abstract sculptor) Richard Deacon with silver tea and coffee pots, he looked at it and said “now I understand”. One brings something out, it’s adding, it stimulates. The Chinese furniture, which I consider sculpture — young people would not look at a chair, but they look at the contemporary, then the chair, and they say “how cool”.

 

Anish Kapoor’s Torus and Khmer sculptures contrast with raw concrete of the bunker. Photo © The Feurele Collection

 

Is The Feuerle Collection a deliberate response to how art is scene by masses in big museums?

For most young people it replaces religion. It’s important to create a world which is an experience, and take the commerce out. (Today’s museum) is too full and you can’t see (the art) anymore. It’s like if you went to a forest and it was full of people. For that reason we have 14 people (on each tour of the collection) maximum.

 

How did you select this bunker for The Feuerle Collection?

I looked at many places, not just Berlin. I thought of Istanbul, I was looking in London… in Spain, somewhere not in the city. I love Venice (but it has) too much beauty. Berlin is a rough city, it’s a young, open city. I didn’t look for a bunker, it was by chance. The building is beautiful but you have to bring the beauty out. I create another world.

 

Why did you select John Pawson to transform the bunker?

Well, there was one year (of) only thinking, then another year looking for the architect. I was open, I visited many architects, from Switzerland to Japan. I thought I had to be fair. John listens. It was a real collaboration with him. He said a small client knows what he wants very clearly.

 

Interior of The Feurele Collection © John Pawson

 

A different site would create a very different experience.

Absolutely. You have to be sensitive, to feel the atmosphere. Plus the light, it’s absolutely essential.

 

How much of your collection is not exhibited?

There are still many things in storage.

 

Do you develop a relationship with the contemporary artists?

I know the artists very well, for many years. When you follow an artist, you know his soul. With Zeng Fanzhi, it’s like a self-portrait. I also feel (that) I can feel the soul of artists who are not alive anymore.

 

How do you feel about contemporary Chinese art?

In general, China has an incredible potential. In Germany, you have this incredibly important institute in Düsseldorf (the Kunstakademie), you have Beuys (who taught there). In China, it doesn’t happen in a day, it’s just at the beginning, the museums (too). You have to create collections. It will get better and better, they are very fast learners.

 

But Chinese artists operate in a political environment that can present limitations…

This will change, but it’s a process that is very slow. I am confident there is good energy.

 

Cristina Iglesias’ Pozo XII (Desde dentro) at The Feuerle Collection, Photo Nic Tenwiggenhorn © The Feuerle Collection

 

 

About Désiré Feuerle

A former art dealer and collector of international contemporary and Southeast Asian art and imperial Chinese design, Desire Feuerle is among the more eclectic German collectors. His collection spans 7th–13th century Khmer sculptures in stone, bronze, and wood, as well as imperial Chinese furniture dating from the Han to the Qing dynasties (200 BC—18th century) and contemporary works by the likes of Cristina Iglesias, Anish Kapoor, Zeng Fanzhi, and James Lee Byars.

Founder of The Feuerle Collection

 

 


Herbert Wright

Herbert is a London-based writer covering architecture, urbanism, and art. He is contributing editor of UK architecture/design magazine Blueprint and the author of three books. He also writes on other topics including space, environment, music and the future. He has previously worked at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and he curated Lisbon Open House 2012. He graduated in Physics and Astrophysics.

Twitter: @Herbhastosay
Instagram: @herbertwrightuk
website: herbertwright.co.uk

 

 

 

 
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