Beyeler collection shares the limelight

Composition with Yellow, Red, Black, Blue and Grey by Mondrian. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

It says a lot for one of Switzerland’s most popular art museums that its temporary exhibitions threatened to overshadow a permanent collection which is the envy of many other institutions.

This content was published on December 9, 2003 - 09:21

But now the Beyeler Foundation near Basel has come up with a radical change to give its exhibitions equal prominence.

When the museum opened in 1997, the collection comprised about 170 paintings and sculptures, supplemented by 25 selected pieces of tribal art from Africa, Alaska and Oceania.

Since then, says the museum, a full schedule of 16 special exhibitions has tended to divert attention from one of the most significant private collections in the world.

In the meantime 33 works have been added to the permanent collection. These range from Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Chagall, through Picasso, Léger, Klee, Arp, Dubuffet, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rothko, to Kiefer and Kelly.

A different presentation of the collection was needed, and the foundation has conceived a new arrangement that, as far as possible, includes all the recent acquisitions.

Thematic presentation

“The problem was”, chief curator Markus Brüderlin told swissinfo, “that the temporary exhibitions were in the foreground. We therefore thought it important to concentrate on and to display the complete collection.”

Previously the collection had been presented in a chronological sequence of stylistic groupings of impressionism, surrealism and so on. Now it’s thematically presented with, for example, sections devoted to portraits, nature, abstraction and the juxtaposing of landscapes and cityscapes.

Almost the entire collection is on view.

A further change has been made to the acquisition policy. “During the first period of acquisition”, said Brüderlin, “Ernst Beyeler had the opportunity to collect works by Cézanne. But these days it’s more difficult to get works from the first half of the 20th century.”

That’s why highly-acclaimed works by such contemporary artists as Ellsworth Kelly and Anselm Kiefer now grace the collection.

Not all change

But one thing has definitely not changed at the Beyeler Foundation, based in the village of Riehen.

The standards of its temporary exhibitions remain as high as ever, as can be seen by the latest offering – a series of works by two pioneers of 20th century abstract art, Piet Mondrian and Kasimir Malevich.

It traces the development of these two great innovators, both of whom turned from French Cubism to a form of pure abstract art.

Brüderlin says it’s the first time a museum has brought together Mondrian’s world of asymmetry and what he calls Malevich’s “mystique of the image beyond the painting”.

“Mondrian + Malevich – At the Centre of the Collection” is at the Beyeler Foundation until January 25.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson in Riehen

Key facts

Over a period of 50 years and in parallel with their activity as gallery owners, Ernst Beyeler and his wife Hildy built up an exceptional collection of works by modern masters.
It includes paintings by Cézanne, Picasso, Rousseau, Mondrian, Klee, Ernst, Matisse, Newman, Bacon, Dubuffet, and Baselitz.
The opening of the foundation in 1997 provided the Beyeler Collection with a public museum.
The building was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and is in a park in Riehen near Basel.
The latest temporary exhibition is entitled “Mondrian + Malevich – At the Centre of the Collection”

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