On positive and negative space

This morning I got up early and made my way to The Boros Collection, a tour of a private modern art collection in a WWII bunker.  The collectors bought the bunker and added a large living space on the roof where they live.  As with so many Berlin exhibits, the building itself was as interesting as the collection and made a fabulous backdrop for modern installation art.  I was a little unsure of exactly where the bunker would be, but this was not a problem.  Despite no signs whatever on the outside and a door held slightly ajar only by a leather strap of some kind, there was no mistaking it.


Built in 1942 by the Nazis for a Berlin neighbourhood to escape the bombs during the war, the labyrinthine bunker has eight entrances and four stairways for ease of access and 4-foot thick concrete walls.   It was intended for 1,200 people but often was filled with 4,000 desperate inhabitants.   The building has an interesting past, before it became an art gallery, it has been:  a bunker, a Nazi prison/interrogation centre, a banana storage facility and an underground techno-rock night club.  The new owners have retained the walls which bear the scars of its checkered past and it was eerie to think what tales they could tell.  In some ways, the art did their talking for them.

These are mostly large installations which the artists were able to install themselves.  We were encouraged, and the tour led us, to explore and walk through all the pieces.  They teased your sight, sound, touch and even smell, which the art historian-docent called “synthesization.”  There was everything from a popcorn machine pumping out popcorn – which is beginning to fill a room having been installed over a year ago – to a series of pipes cutting across rooms from wall to wall; to engaging photography, to – and best of all – an Ai Wei Wei installation!  I was so surprised and excited to actually see Ai Wei Wei’s work.  I had seen a documentary at the film festival about him; he is a world-famous Chinese artist who is an activist within China, and he has been under house arrest for about the past two years.  He designed the gorgeous  “bird’s nest” stadium for the Beijing Olympics, and was given all sorts of rewards, beautiful studio etc. while world attention was on them, but afterward they bull-dozed the new studio and arrested him.  Before that he travelled extensively with his work which has been displayed at MOMA, the Tate Modern and in Berlin.  This work is titled Tree, one of a series he did using pieces of dried wood from various types of trees, which are sold by locals in one area of China.  The new tree is fastened together with bolts and washers.  The use of natural and manmade materials represents heaven and earth.  It filled a room, and visually the contrast between the driftwood-coloured tree against the white walls made the space as interesting as the piece itself. The majority of the works, including Tree, dealt with the passing of time and life’s transitory nature.


Stopped off at home to change into my Big Girl shoes for a concert tonite.  I headed over to “Kulturforum,” an arts square filled with fabulous modern architecture.  Unfortunately, the Neue Nationalgalerie (modern art including Munch and Picasso) was closed but that just meant more time for the Gemaldegalerie (the national gallery of classical art).  I spent the afternoon luxuriating in Ruebens, Rembrandts, van Dycks, Titians, Raphaels, Carravagios (what a bad boy he was, my favourite artist), and Botticellis.  You may as well have thrown me on a bear skin rug, that is how awesome that was.  I must say although the architecture of the building is interesting, the display of the paintings really showed no imagination and the rooms were overlit.  But the work spoke for itself.


The Gemaldegalerie is across the street from the Philharmoniker, home to the Berlin Philharmonic, so I went straight to the concert after a light bite at the art gallery.  The tent-like structure which houses the Philharmoniker is the most beautiful piece of modern architecture I have seen in Berlin.  The interior is equally gorgeous, with swooping sections that make the audience float around the orchestra, and gives the very strong sense of the music floating in the air around you.


The BP is rated as the 2nd greatest orchestra in the world and it more than lived up to its name.  Such professionalism; I am still not sure how the huge orchestra, dressed in black tails, made it so effortlessly to their seats on stage.  Many of its members have solo careers of their own and stood out in the beautiful, haunting (and even disturbing when a harsh gong was struck sounding more like a cannon or a bomb) Mahler’s 10th Symphony.  The music, and the orchestra, directed by Daniel Harding, were perfection.  There were pauses, caesuras (where time isn’t counted and play resumes when the conductor indicates) when in the perfect silence between notes, you could have heard a pin drop.  You are still processing the crescendo you’ve just heard, remaining in the silence, and anticipating the next note, all in an instant.  In that brief pause, like the space between inhaling and exhaling, or like the moment of epiphany, must reside the human spirit.   Sublime.  The audience went crazy at the end and there were many “curtain calls.”  One of my great lifetime experiences.  I know this music will inhabit me for at least the next few days and probably the rest of my life.


4 thoughts on “On positive and negative space

  1. Hi JAN
    Another amazing email from you….a personal history of art lesson.All of your emails have been incredible.The accumulation of all of them and this one in particular have convinced me that I must follow in your footsteps.Berlin ,here I come.


    Sent from my iPad

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