Bern resolves squabble over Klee masterpieces

Finishing touches are added to the exterior of Bern's new Klee Centre

A long-running dispute over major works by the artist Paul Klee has been settled, giving a new museum in Bern the right to exhibit his famous paintings.

This content was published on August 3, 2004 minutes

After months of wrangling, Bern’s art museum or Kunstmuseum has agreed to lend 40 Klee works to the Paul Klee centre, which is due to open next year.

The collection - including 20 masterpieces - will remain in the possession of the Kunstmuseum, which retains the right to borrow back its property.

The paintings have been displayed at the city centre venue for more than 40 years, attracting visitors from Switzerland and abroad.

There was concern that the loss of the masterpieces would cause the museum’s popularity to plummet. Klee Centre director Andreas Marti believes the Kunstmuseum’s remaining collection of classical modern art should be enough to keep the turnstiles spinning.

But the Kunstmuseum director, Matthias Frehner, is leaving nothing to chance. He’s angling for space in a former school building, for an expanded programme of art exhibitions, installations, events and research projects.

Building on track

The Paul Klee Centre is on course to open in June 2005, and is set to become the international headquarters for the works of the artist, who was born near the Swiss capital and lived there for most of his life.

Marti told swissinfo: “We have more than 4,000 works – about 40 per cent of Klee’s total output.”

Award-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano felt that Klee had too much depth as an artist to be contained within an ordinary building.

Drawing inspiration from the museum’s location, he designed a site in the form of a hilly green island with three undulating buildings blending into the landscape.

Just a stone’s throw from the Schosshalde Cemetery, where Klee is buried, builders are making enough noise to wake the dead.

Klee's personality

Dozens of bulldozers are busy shifting tonnes of earth onto huge heaps to create the park, while workmen put the finishing touches to the enormous steel arches of the exhibition rooms.

“The central building is for Klee’s art,” Marti explained. "The building to the south is dedicated to research, and the structure to the north is for the didactic elements of his work and his music."

"We’re playing with the design, both technically and in terms of content, to try to reflect the diversity of Paul Klee’s personality and works.”

The motorway running along the plot’s perimeter could be considered a bit of a turn-off. But Piano has cleverly reflected the idea of a communications axis in his designs.

The exhibition halls are connected by a 150-metre-long, glass covered internal corridor, known as Museum Street, which runs parallel to the motorway and will feature electronic information retrieval systems on stationary terminals, allowing visitors to swat up as they go.

Counting the cost

The ambitious building project has been realised largely thanks to the generous donations of pioneering orthopaedic surgeon Professor Maurice Müller and his wife Martha.

They pledged more than SFr60 million ($48 million), including land, towards the construction bill of more than SFr105 million.

The running costs are expected to amount to about SFr9 million per year, half of which the museum will have to raise itself from entrance fees, sales of merchandise and special events.

Communications manager Ursina Barandun hopes to attract between 150,000 and 300,000 visitors per year.

swissinfo, Julie Hunt

Key facts

The Paul Klee centre in Bern will open on June 20, 2005.
The museum will cost SFr105 million to build.
The centre is located near the Schosshalde cemetery, where the artist is buried.
Klee spent 33 years in Bern – more than half his life.

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In brief

The Paul Klee centre in Bern – on course to open next year - will be home to the world’s most important collection of paintings from the artist’s life.

Building work is nearly complete, but there’s been some wrangling over the exhibits.

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