Axel Lapp: You have been collecting for a very long time ...

Christian Boros: I’ve been collecting for eighteen years, yes. I started in 1990.

AL: How do you discover new works? How do you decide? Do you see works and then say impulsively, ‘I have to have this’, or is it a slow process of approaching and selecting?

CB: I have no interests besides art. Apart from my job, this is the only thing that occupies me. For years, for decades, I’ve spent almost half my time with art. I read, I visit as many exhibitions as possible – biennales, museums, galleries. I have an insatiable hunger for images. Just yesterday, I was in Hannover and had some time to spare, but I didn’t relax or sit in a café, I went to look at Schwitters and Klee in the Sprengel Museum. This addiction to images can hardly be satisfied. And this isn’t only specific to things that I need for the collection, because I don’t collect Klee or Schwitters. I try to record sequences of images, to store them like a databank. I’m a very visual person.

AL: You just mentioned things that you need for the collection. Does this mean that the collection has a form? Do you always have this in mind, and then look for a particular work or artist?

CB: It’s not as strategic as that. For example, I’m not the kind of person who gets hooked on media, who only collects painting, only photography or only video, who says, now I need this one position. I tend to look at a lot; and then, from time to time, I come across things that surprise me; and then this interests me. I try to pursue this, and confront this incomprehension. I only buy things that were made recently. I would never think of completing a position now that was relevant fifteen years ago or buying something retrospectively, something old. I’m only interested in trying to come to terms with the present, with art that is being produced now. The rest, I look at, but I don’t need to own it. My way of understanding this is that buying is also an attempt to understand the present – my here and now. It’s a long process before I consider whether I need another position. Because when I say, ‘yes, I’m interested in an artist’, it’s not enough for me to buy a single piece and to tick off this position on the list. I want to go into depth. Which means that when I already have the work of an artist and I see another, I naturally consider whether I need this work to resolve something for myself, to reflect the complexity also in the collection. The most difficult thing is getting involved in a new artist. That is a decision that really takes a few weeks – which is no longer possible at art fairs. At Basel, I can’t say ‘Wow, this interests me, let me think about it for two weeks.’ They would only look at me astonished. Five others are already waiting!

AL: So you have to go quickly through the fair and say, ‘that, that and that’ ...

CB: I can’t do this. Which is why I’m an annoying customer at galleries – because I simply need time. Before I could say, ‘let me think about it for two weeks.’ It wasn’t a problem because there was no one else that would have bought it. Today, it’s naturally more extreme. Therefore, I tend to go to fairs to see what’s happening or to meet people. It has become very difficult for me to also buy something – but you don’t need to. Many people believe that you can only buy at fairs. However, there are still wonderful gallery shows and this kind of thing.
I buy very slowly. Therefore, I also don’t have a problem with bad purchases or headaches after impulse buying. Even if some things don’t always get the approval of others, I still know exactly why I did it.

AL: And does that change with time? Do you say now after fifteen years, ‘I would no longer buy that’?

CB: There are occasionally positions that don’t interest me as much today. Today, I would no longer get involved with Damien Hirst. But fifteen years ago, he was a very, very important artist for me. But to say now that this is too spectacular and sensational doesn’t mean that I have to abandon it. These works have become part of my biography, and therefore their relevance and importance still exists for me.

AL: So when did you properly begin collecting?

CB: I’ve been buying art for considerably longer than eighteen years. I bought the first things when I was nineteen or twenty with money that I got for my first car after finishing school. Even during my studies, I bought art; however, this wasn’t collecting but buying for my flat. Then I went into business and had a little more money available, and I continued buying art. At some point, however, I noticed that everything was full, and I took a step that also had an extremely liberating effect. From this point on, I no longer had the problem of finding a place somewhere for, say, a 1.20 m picture, because if it no longer fits at home, it doesn’t matter whether the picture measures 1.20 or 5 m. I then bought sculptures and pictures that were enormous, just to own them – and then put them in storage. I did this for a very long time. Then I met my wife Karen Lohmann, who also comes from this area and supported this. She worked in Basel for a gallery where I bought art, and I fell in love with her. Now we do this very actively together and everything is discussed and considered together. At some point, we realised that we were sitting on hundreds of works that all belong to us, and which are all in storage. We then decided that we also wanted to see the things again, to share them with people – so we started looking around for spaces in Berlin.

AL: Why Berlin?

CB: Well, we live in seclusion in the provinces in Germany, in Wuppertal. We were always also frequently in Berlin, because this is where the art that we buy is produced – the galleries are here, the artists are here. One of the reasons was the feeling that this must be brought back here. On the other hand, this is naturally a great platform. When someone comes to Berlin, all synapses are put on receive. There are curious people here, and it’s fun to share something with curious people. Every long weekend, all the motorways and trains are packed, and the whole of Germany comes to Berlin. I think that there’s no one left who celebrates the New Year in Würzburg or Schweinfurt. The whole Republic is in Berlin. And this is the case internationally. If someone comes to Germany from America, then he no longer goes to the Oktoberfest in Munich, but to Berlin. People come here; they are curious and open. I want to have the things discussed here.

AL: This is precisely what I want to come back to. There is a very long tradition of setting up such spaces in the provinces, beginning with Von der Heydt in Wuppertal, Henri Nannen in Emden, Urs Raussmüller in Schaffhausen, by collectors who deliberately wanted to stay outside the larger cities. There are many people who travel to Schaffhausen just to visit the collection there.

CB: I wanted to spare people these kinds of difficulties. I’m not interested in putting down a private
treasure-trove somewhere and making a pilgrimage site out of it so that people are forced to make the arduous journey to see my collection. I would find this much too vain. I want to be part of what’s happening here. I’m a city person, I don’t want to withdraw to the provinces, build a castle and let down the drawbridge from time to time when someone comes to visit. I’m part of what’s happening; my friends are artists. When Olafur (Eliasson) is in Berlin, then he simply comes over with his children, with his wife, because he works nearby. Thomas Scheibitz lives in the neighbourhood – he comes with his wife, we eat in the evening and look at something.
I collect contemporary art and don’t have an Expressionist collection that can be shown in Emden. I’m part of the present – which means that I also value the spontaneity. All of this – this quality of communication, of neighbourhood – I don’t have this in the provinces.

AL: So you also use this place as a private space ...

CB: It’s mainly a private space. It’s a public space only on two days of the week, and even then it’s only half public. I distinguish here very clearly. On Saturday, I don’t have visitors: I have guests. I say hello, they get something to drink, they are not just able to see art here, but they are part of my private space. They are told about the building, they get to hear about my wife and me. When I leave, they thank me. Nobody does this in a museum, and no one says thank you, because he was a visitor – and here he is a guest. This is two days per week and the rest is private anyway. Soon Paulina (Olowska) is coming over for breakfast, and that is then six, seven people, and I value this.

AL: At the moment, many private collections are opening their doors in Berlin, and one doesn’t know exactly what is the actual function of theses spaces. Partly, people want to show their collection; partly, however, they serve as representational spaces and personal PR. What is your intention?

CB: If you look at it closely, we were the second here in Berlin after the Hoffmanns. When we decided six years ago, this euphoria for showing collections still hadn’t begun. We needed a very long time, and we finished at a time in which something that we had started here years ago seems to be happening left and right, every week. We came to Berlin, went to Erika Hoffman (Sammlung Hoffmann) and asked her how she did it? We knew her from Cologne, and found it great. We always appreciated being her guests, and we asked her to explain how it worked, what we should do about fire safety, emergency exits etc. There was only her, no one else.

AL: If one looks at it now, it’s naturally considerably more impressive than some of the other presentations – simply also because the space is so fantastic, because the works are so well installed.

CB: Yesterday, some people were here who said that it was extraordinary that I had invited so many artists to make site-specific works. However, these are all old things that I have, and the fact that they fit so well is because the artists are my friends and they installed them themselves. If the Olafur (Eliasson) sphere sits so well, then this is because he installed it himself; and then it’s exactly as it should be. Or Anselm (Reyle) installed things here; for instance, he changed the light for his area. The fact that everything fits so well is also the result of trust, of the friendship I share with the artists; and they did this and took responsibility for what they got me into at some point by selling me the things. And the second point is that, here, we only have one-man shows. There is therefore one artistic position per room and not some sort of curatorial mishmash.

AL: But you also curate.

CB: I don’t curate, I host; there is a big difference. It would be curating if I made relations between three artists or something like that. I invite the artists over and ask them where they want to put the things that they sold me. Therefore, I’m a host and not a curator.

AL: But these relations definitely still exist. How did you select the artists who are now part of this presentation? It’s the first in a series and there should be a yearly change, if I understood correctly.

CB: Actually, there won’t be a yearly change, because I noticed that if I take down the presentation after a year, only about 1000 people will have seen it. But I get 400 emails a day from people who want to see it. That would be irresponsible. It will therefore be a bit longer than a year. But to come back to the question of what one sees here: one sees a small part of the collection. And these are things that deal with the space. We have been working on this place for five years and really fought with the space, room for room. Therefore, we have invited artists who respond to the space, who work with the specific conditions of the space, artists who work with light, because this is really a kind of darkroom. I’m looking forward to making a painting exhibition at some point, but now I would find it totally inappropriate just to string together a few canvases. At the beginning, it’s much more exciting just to grapple with the space.

AL: But you will show paintings?

CB: Yes. I’m curious how it will work. This is all about trying different things. The spaces are clearly not made to accommodate art and I don’t know what it will look like when pictures hang here, but I’ll find out.

AL: This building is made to last. You don’t give it up in five years and say ...

CB: ‘That was that.’

AL: ‘Now we’ll build something else.’ Do you have long-term plans?

CB: I have two children. I seem to have made something here that is fairly permanent, which I can’t easily get rid of. So, as such, it will stay. But, fortunately, I still don’t know what will happen with the collection. If I knew, that would already be an end point around which I would know how everything is ordered. Then this would be almost a pharaoh’s tomb and I would only need a burial licence from the city. My dream isn’t for this to become a monument with buried treasures. I don’t know what will happen with it. This is what’s exciting and continues to keep me open. Perhaps I’ll get the desire to do something with the collection in a completely different place. It’s so big, that I’ll never get it together here.
Nor do I think that I’m now at a point where I can say that these are my artists – or the famous fifteen years in which one collects good art and afterwards makes mistakes and can no longer get involved in anything. I want to keep it completely open. This not knowing where the journey is leading (although all this already looks so determined and finished): this is a great enrichment.

AL: One can hardly imagine the space being used for something different.

CB: After me, it will become an enormous potato cellar.

AL: This is unlikely. The place is permanent; you can’t change it so easily.

CB: You can no longer change anything here. Every change is a huge effort. More than the state it’s in now wouldn’t get planning permission. The building will stay, but the art, my God, perhaps a large part will at some point no longer be relevant. I don’t know. And it doesn’t interest me, because I really do it for now. I now have the great pleasure of sharing it.