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Arts

Désiré Feuerle: "In my museum, visitors enter a different world."

Stirring a lot of interest, art collector Désiré Feuerle has opened a new private museum in a former Berlin bunker. In an interview with DW, he explains how Asian antiques and contemporary art can go hand in hand.

It took art collector Désiré Feuerle a long time to find a suitable location for permanently exhibiting his collection of Chinese furniture and Southeast Asian antique art. Over the last five years, many art collectors have opened new locations in Berlin.

Christian Boros exhibits his collection in a bunker, Thimo Miettinen has opened the Salon Dahlmann close to Berlin's famous Ku'damm, and Axel Haubrok has purchased an exhibition house in Lichtenberg. Désiré Feuerle decided to buy a former telecommunications bunker which was then restored by British architect John Pawson.

In the 1990s, Feuerle had been one of the first collectors to combine contemporary art and antiques in his Cologne Gallery (1990-1998), running several exhibitions that stirred a sensation, among them "Eduardo Chillida and the Chinese neck rests of Ming and Song dynasties."

Prior to opening his new private museum "The Feuerle Collection" in fall 2016, Désiré Feuerle has invited the art world for a preview. In an interview with DW, he talked about his artistic visions and his decision in favor of Berlin as the right location.

DW: Mr. Feuerle, you are exhibiting your private collection of Khmer sculptures and imperial Chinese lacquer and stone furniture in a solid bunker. What was your vision?

Désiré Feuerle: On entering a museum, one enters a totally different world making people receptive and amenanble to art. Next to the entrance deep down in the bunker there is a totally dark room, one only hears the music of John Cage. After having passed through the music room, the visitors slowly walk around the corner to then enter a world of meditation. The compactness of the bunker walls stands in contrast to these very subtle exhibits. It's all about seeing and feeling art. The exhibits are perceived in a totally different way: You don't only look at art, but you feel it as well.

Ausstellung der Feuerle-Sammlung im Museumsbunker Berlin

The former telecommunications bunker was restored by architect John Pawson.

I noticed that you are exhibiting numerous antique Chinese benches and tables of your collection, while putting them in some kind of correlation to contemporary art. What was your idea behind that?

Once a year, the Chinese Emperor used to sit down at one of these imperial tables in order to have tea with his mother. Just try to imagine that, isn't that phantastic? And then there is also a so-called lute table. The Chinese have realized this idea with a lot of empathy - the powerful Emperor sitting at the lute just like an ordinary person, and maybe that even made him a different person. That's all fascinating. The Chinese started to create seating furniture as early as 200 B.C., whereas the youngest such piece exhibited here is from the 18th century.

The eroticism of a stone bench

The contemporary works with which these pieces are exhibited are exuding a similar feeling. I have relied heavily on my gutt feeling. These stones, for example, have their own kind of eroticism. The long bench is part of an erotic artwork of Nobuyoshi Araki. The altar table is part of an artwork of Adam Fuss presenting a mattress. And there is this wonderful lacquer chair that used to furnish the Emperor's bedroom. It's almost too beautiful. And that's why I enjoy disturbing him. And it's indeed a disturbing factor to have this Araki behind him. That changes the way one looks at it.

The fine tuning in your museum is conspicuous, including the arrangement of the pieces and the lighting. Did you personally climb on a ladder to install the lights?

It's all my own concept worked out in collaboration with the architect John Pawson. I do all the work myself. And I always climb on a ladder, often a hundred times, until it's all perfect. But in this case, a ladder won't do (he laughs.) In our modern system, one has to work with an I-pad, and that makes it all very complicated. I was standing next to the technician telling him to either produce three percent more light, or to turn the whole thing a bit towards the left. Each millimeter counts. And the light is extremely important. That's what makes the difference between a good and a very good installation.

Ausstellung der Feuerle-Sammlung im Museumsbunker Berlin

Désiré Feuerle attaches particular importance to perfect lighting.

Behind a glass wall, there is an incense room with a table and some stools. What's that all about?

The incense ceremony is a celebration of scents. Many years ago, I once got invited to take part in an incense ceremony. That roughly takes two and a half hours. One uses Japanese ash that is of the finest kind, and digs it in. A wooden splinter is then placed on top of it. After twenty minuts, the splinter has been used up. The ceremony can be done alone or in the company of up to four guests.

That tradition goes back 2000 years. And it's a great honor to participate in it. When it was done for me, my friends were a bit jealous. I was so fascinated by it that I thought I must bring it here.

But in a museum, a ceremony lasting two and a half hours takes up too much time. So I asked the architect John Pawson to construct an incense table that electrically heats up the piece of scented wood, which is quicker. It was produced in China following ancient methods. My idea was that the table would remain here long after me while aging in a phantastic fashion.

You are living in Asia, and you once owned a gallery in Cologne. Now you have moved your private collection to Berlin. Why was that?

What attracted me to Berlin are the sharp contrasts of that city. Berlin is open-minded. And Berlin has a rough character. And my pieces are very fine. One enters this world that I staged, starting out from the city. As one is influenced by the harsh atmosphere of this city, one looks at the artefacts from a different perspective. And Berlin is a very open-minded city where one can do extraordinary things, and there is always enough room for that. That's hardly the case everywhere in the world. That's exactly what I like here - and that's what inspired me to do something special here.

The interview was conducted by Gero Schliess.

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