In addition to serving as a showcase for some 4,000 works by Paul Klee — 40 per cent of his life’s work–the multi-functional center honours the multiple facets of the life of a remarkable man. Musician, teacher, philosopher, poet: Paul Klee was all of these–and one of the world’s most beloved and prolific artists. Furthermore, the centre constitutes the largest body of work by one artist anywhere in the world.
In addition to extensive exhibition areas, it includes state-of-the-art research facilities, a communications zone, a children’s museum and activity area, five conference/meeting rooms, a concert hall and even a top-flight restaurant, located in an adjacent building. The over-riding objective of the meticulously conceived project, according to Andreas Marti, director, is to present a total picture of an artist whose cultural contributions stretch far beyond his iconic paintings and drawings. Tilman Osterwold, a Klee specialist who was previously an independent curator and director of the Wurtembergischen Kustverein in Stuttgart, Germany, is artistic director of the vast Klee holdings and charged with mounting exhibitions at the centre.
Another Piano masterpiece
Zentrum Paul Klee gives Switzerland its second architectural masterpiece designed by Renzo Piano, who also designed the celebrated Fondation Beveler in Riehen, a suburb of Basel. The two couldn’t be more unlike in concept, however. Where Fondation Beyeler is purely linear in design, Zentrum Paul Klee is sumptuously curvaceous. Piano designed the structure as a series of three “hills” of exposed steel arches and expanses of glass, its undulating form inspired by the rolling countryside into which it nestles.
Rather than considering the adjacent superhighway an aesthetic disadvantage, Piano saw it as a plus, orienting the building along a parallel interior thoroughfare, called Museumstrasse (Museum Street), which connects the three hills. This multi-purpose area, designed both for rest and recreation, serves as the communications backbone, offering a wide range of traditional and electronic media that provide important background information on the exhibitions.
The middle of the three hills is devoted to exhibition space–a 1,700-square-metre gallery dedicated to the permanent Klee collection, of which 200-250 works will be shown at a time. Lighting and ventilation in this space have been carefully calibrated to conserve the works, many of them on paper and therefore sensitive to exposure, a lower gallery, covering 800 square metres, is earmarked for special exhibitions, an average of four per year. Exhibitions set for 2006 include Max Beckmann, a contemporary of Klee, and Andy Warhol, who was inspired by his work.
“No day without a line”
The inaugural exhibition, “Kein Tag ohne Linie” (“No day without a line”), features approximately 120 works from Klee’s extremely prolific later years. These are essentially calligraphic drawings in pencil and ink and are less well known to the general public. Both expressive and meditative, they attest to the pro. found enigma of Klee’s life experience and ideology.
The title, taken from Pliny’s ‘Historial Naturalis,’ is a phrase the artist jotted down under work number 365, a drawing, in his director), of works for 1938. He produced even more the following year. In a 1940 letter to his friend, the art historian Will Grohmann, Klee writes: “It has been a rich year for drawings. Never have I drawn as much, and never with greater intensity. Twelve hundred numbers in 1939 has to be a record.” Paul Klee died the following year in Locarno-Muralto.
Paul Klee was born in Munchbuchsee, near Bern, on December 18, 1879. His father, a music teacher, was German, thus conferring German nationality on his son, while his mother, also a musician, was from Basel. After completing his primary and secondary education in Switzerland, Paul Klee went to Munich in 1898 to study art.
In 1911, he met the artists Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc and other member’s of the “Blaue Reiter” movement, of which he became part. Following an important exhibition in Munich in 1920, which established his reputation, he became a professor at the famed Bauhaus in Weimar in 1921. He left the Bauhaus to accept a position at the Dusseldorf Art Academy in 1931. Two years later, however, he was dismissed under pressure of the Nazis, who labeled his art “degenerate”. This prompted Klee to leave Germany, returning to Bern, where he spent the rest of his life.
Ironically, this widely acclaimed “Swiss artist” was never a Swiss citizen. His application for citizenship, making its slow course through Swiss bureaucratic channels, was finally approved only after his death. Bern Mayor Dr. Klaus Baumgartner, says the Swiss capital “owes something to Paul Klee and his family,” as a result.
Planning for the Zentrum Paul Klee dates back to 1997, when Livia Klee-Meyer, the artist’s daughter-in-law announced that she was prepared to donate almost 650 works, covering all aspects of his career, including his legendary marionettes, to the city and canton of Bern, provided that a museum would be built by 2006. The following year, Alexander Klee, the artist’s grandson, agreed to loan some 850 works and donate important documents from the family archives, and the Paul Klee Foundation, formerly housed in the city’s Kunstmuseum, announced its intention to merge its 2,600 works and extensive archives with the family’s holdings.
Now all that was needed was a home. That requirement was fulfilled when Professor Maurice E. Muller, world-renowned orthopedic surgeon and entrepreneur who developed a uniform vocabulary for orthopedic surgery and invented the hip replacement, agreed to donate SFr. 30 million Swiss francs (later doubled to SFr. 60 million) and a plot of land in Schongrun, on the outskirts of Bern. Not only did he and his wife Martha provide financial backing, he specified the architect, Renzo Piano, whom he knew personally and whose work he greatly admired.
Additional funding for the Zentrum Paul Klee, whose construction costs were in the range of SFr. 110 million, came from the cantonal lottery and private sources. The city and canton of Bern will pay operating expenses.
More than a museum
Few artists have had such close ties to music as Paul Klee, who played the violin to near-professional standards. While he himself had mixed feelings about early 20th-century music, his pictorial ideas inspired many contemporary composers. It is not surprising, then, that music plays a central role at the Zentrum Paul Klee. A rich program of regular concerts, many of them exploring crossover points with Klee’s artistic ideas, will feature ensembles from Switzerland and abroad.
Likewise, a children’s museum and creative center, Kindermuseum Creaviva, reflects the pedagogical side of Paul Klee as well the joyful, child-like quality of much of his art. At the heart of Creaviva are three well-equipped studios, where children ‘from four to 99,’ their families, visiting school classes and teaching staff benefit from a modular program that explores both two-dimensional and three-dimensional creativity.
“The concept of creativity and team-building workshops aimed at discovering the creativity in all of us play a key role in plans for our conference centre, which can accommodate groups of up to 300 people,” says Mark Isler, marketing director. “Companies and other organisations are looking for an alternative to hotels and conference centres. Our facilities are already heavily booked for the second half of 2005.”
The opening of Zentrum Paul Klee is receiving enthusiastic support from many sectors. Together with the Einstein centennial and the opening of Bern’s gigantic new sports stadium, it is playing a key role in the city’s summer long celebration.
In addition the Swiss Post is issuing a special Klee postage stamp; BLS, the local train company, is sponsoring an S-bahn covered with Klee motifs and Bus no. 12 has extended its run, making the centre a 15-minute ride from the main train station. Opening hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00, 21:00 on Thursday. The Museumstrasse opens one hour earlier and closes one hour later.