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  • Writer's pictureAnna Dorothea Ker, MA

A Brief History of The Feuerle Collection In Berlin

What is The Feuerle Collection?

The Feuerle Collection is a pair of bunkers in Berlin, converted by John Pawson, which form the dramatic backdrop for a pioneering juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary art.

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The Feuerle Collection History

As you wind your way along Kreuzberg’s Landwehr Canal, just past Mörkernbrücke U-Bahn station, a hefty concrete structure emerges on the urban horizon. Upon closer approach, its Brutalist impenetrability imposes itself, and this tallies with the building’s original purpose. Today, it houses the Feuerle Collection, but began its existence as a pair of telecommunications bunkers constructed between 1942 and 1944. With their two-metre-thick walls of shuttered concrete, the bunkers expand across 7,300 square-metres, and are connected at basement level. Ceilings more than three metres thick are topped by rows of vents protected by concrete slabs that give the building its distinctive form, equal parts imposing and intriguing.

The bunkers were never used during the Second World War, but since 2016 they have acquired a very different purpose, as home to the private collection of prominent German art collector Désiré Feuerle. In collaboration with Spanish art historian Sara Puig, Feuerle enlisted the British architect John Pawson to transform the building into a permanent home for his art collection. Known for his robust commitment to minimalism, Pawson took a sensitive, light-touch approach to the renovation, taking care to respect and preserve the building’s history, including its use by the East German government after the war. Accordingly, the renovation focused on what Pawson terms the ‘spatial narrative’ of the various spaces, centring the visitor’s sensory orientation as they move through the building, from thresholds through to the main galleries. Of particular note is the so-called ‘Lake Room’, an eerie lower hall flooded with glossy black liquid, which visitors may catch sight of as they move between the pillared spaces above. Around them, intermittent snatches of graffiti and paint, stark against the raw concrete walls, subtly allude to the building’s bygone eras.

In these windowless galleries, darkness sets a mysterious, almost reverential tone. Feuerle and his collaborators have constructed a striking stage for the selection of artworks and antique furniture. Each piece is exhibited with great care, thoughtfully illuminated and devoid of exhibit labels. The mind is left to wander and consider what 20th-century German literary critic Walter Benjamin called the ‘aura’ of each work, the quasi-magical quality it gains out of context. The exhibits vary greatly, but throughout a seductive dialectic predominates, that bridges the ancient with the ultra-contemporary, the stoic with the sensual. It’s precisely the sharp contrasts of era, culture, and medium that give this collection of art its renown. In its juxtaposition of Chinese Imperial furniture and 13th-century Southeast Asian sculpture with contemporary works by the likes of Nobuyoshi Araki, Cristina Iglesias, and Anish Kapoor, the Feuerle Collection has created a contemplative space in which the ancient and the contemporary call each other into question.

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