The Feuerle Collection is housed in a private museum located in what used to be a World War II telecommunications bunker that has now been renovated by renowned British architect John Pawson. Pawson’s signature architectural ethos takes a minimalist approach whilst respecting the histories of buildings. This has resulted in a museum space of 6480 square metres, consisting of two main exhibition rooms on the ground floor and basement floor, alongside a space that can be divided to house temporary exhibitions.
“It is difficult to think of places more charged with atmosphere than these monumental concrete structures,” says Pawson. “They fall very much into the category of the ‘engineers’ architecture that so appealed to Donald Judd. I knew from the beginning when I visited the site and first had that visceral experience of mass that I wanted to use as light a hand as possible. Concentrating all the effort on making pristine surfaces would never have felt appropriate here. Instead this has been a slow, considered process – a series of subtle refinements and interventions that intensify the quality of the space, so that all the attention focuses on the art.”
Opened by Désiré Feuerle in April 2016, the bunker dates back to 1942 and is located next to the canal in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood of Berlin. The space boasts two-metre thick walls, ceiling thicknesses of 3.37 metres and 1.6-metre wide columns.
Pawson describes being completely in awe of the space the first time he encountered. “You’re just awestruck when you come in aren’t you?” he said. And indeed what is remarkable about this space is that both the architect and collector have managed to create a deeply moving and poetic expansive exhibition space bringing together old and new, East and West, drawing on rigorous expertise in comparing contemporary Western and ancient Asian art.
The collection thus successfully brings ancient, modern and contemporary art together and includes Chinese Imperial furniture, seventh to 13th century South-east Asian sculpture and work by international contemporary artists, including Nobuyoshi Araki, Adam Fuss, Cristina Iglesias, Anish Kapoor, Zeng Fanzhi and James Lee Byars.
“These pieces have all been chosen and collected by the museum’s founder Désiré Feuerle, a connoisseur of Asian art who was a pioneer in juxtaposing antiquities with contemporary art through a series of ground-breaking exhibitions in the 1990s. I feel that Désiré has a ‘Chinese Eye’ when it comes to his collection, which makes him always choose the best pieces,” says Chinese artist Zeng Fanzhi.
A Sound Room, a Lake Room and an Incense Room are due to open on the basement floor in the first half of 2017. The Sound Room invites visitors to get rid of the technology in their pockets, asking them to divest themselves of mobile phones before entering into another world, one without distractions. The room will consist of minimalistic tones and silences, created by U.S. composer and conceptual artist John Cage. His soundscape is designed to calm the senses, allowing visitors to concentrate on looking at and feeling the works of art that will be seen when they move on into the exhibition spaces.
The Lake Room, on the other hand, is a concept for sustainable energy supply, providing the heating for the museum by a geothermal heat pump, which transfers heat from the ground, using the earth as a heat source. Finally, the Feuerle Collection will boast the first Incense Room in a museum worldwide. The aim is to emphasise the significance of this ancient and refined Chinese ceremony.
This summer, the collection previewed its pre-opening programme as one of the main venues for Berlin Biennale 9, curated by New York-based collective DIS. It was one of the more memorable and commendable sites for this biennale and featured Josephine Pryde’s 2014 piece, The New Media Express, consisting of a mini DB Schenker train that visitors could ride for a short distance, in parallel to her photographs Hands Für mich, (2014–16), close-up shots focused on hands as points of contact. This experience animated the space and its industrial feel lent itself well to a contemplative space for viewing artworks.
Visits to The Feuerle Collection are available by appointment on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays