Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Rules of the game

Over the last two days in Berlin we’ve been to see two private collections and they could hardly have been more different. The current trend for super rich collectors to open their own art museums has exploded in Berlin as it has in most of the rich tip of the first world iceberg. We’ve posted before about Berlin's Boros and Haubok collections but now two newcomers have joined the game and they are something else again. 

First, the good news. The Julia Stoschek collection is based in Dusseldorf but has popped-up in Berlin for six months. It’s housed in a large central city building that looks like it was once some sort of radio or television studio and for this round it’s appropriately only showing media based work. Fifty percent of what’s on show is by women artists, most of it English-language based, entry is free and the work is shown in separate rooms with often more than one work by an artist. It’s a great way to see a lot of art beautifully installed with people who are as interested as you in the experience.

The just-opened Feuerle collection is at the other end of the spectrum. If the Julia Stoschek collection is sophisticated, confident and open-ended, the Feuerle is controlling, pretentious and somewhat vulgar. Désiré Feuerle has some very fixed ideas about how you should look at his art holdings. First the descent to the basement draped in a blanket (it’s cold down there). Then the pause in a pitch-black room to ‘meditate’ while listening to a two and a half minute piece by John Cage to get you in the right frame of mind. Only then are you are allowed to shuffle into the cavernous gallery space. It’s an ex World War II bunker renovated with a creepy amount of care by John Pawson. A sprinkle of plinths and display cases feature ancient stone and metallic sculptures from Southeast Asia. Spot-lit in the darkness, reflected and mirrored, it’s a spooky sight. While ‘heart of darkness’ may have been the leading edge style in the 1970s (think Treasures of Tutankhamun at the Metropolitan Museum in 1976), such radical decontextualisation and aestheticisation is now seldom seen in public museums. This is very much a private enterprise with precise rules of engagement and no information about the works at all.  Presumably to leaven this austerity some Nobuyoshi Araki photographs of bound naked women are also hung around the walls. What could possibly go wrong.

Images: top, contemporary media art on view in the Julia Stoschek collection and bottom Asian art on show at the Feuerle collection