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Modern art in a traditional Swiss setting

Six espaces avec croix by Sophie Tauber-Arp. Fondazione Marguerite Arp/ProLitteris

Appenzell - population 6,000, in a predominantly agricultural region steeped in local tradition - might appear an unlikely place in which to view modern art.

But not all is as it seems in this sparsely populated corner of eastern Switzerland known for its traditional costumes, music and folk art.

Amid the equally distinctive Appenzeller architecture can be found two buildings belonging very much to the 21st century and jointly hosting a gem of a modern art exhibition.

Even new houses in the village are usually built in the traditional style, so visiting Appenzell is a little like stepping back into the past.

Until, that is, you see the two museums. The first, designed by architects Annette Gigon and Mike Guyer, was completed in 1998 and has a silvery-grey exterior. Subdivided into relatively small rooms, it is lit by daylight from windows in the gabled roof. Set slightly apart from the traditional buildings, it sticks out but doesn’t clash with its surroundings.

The second museum, opened early this year and a short walk away, is very different. It’s in a renovated former tile factory with big open spaces and even has an area for banquets and the performing arts.

Conservative background

Against the conservative background of Appenzell, these two buildings are currently playing host to an exhibition of classical modern art, featuring paintings, drawings and sculptures by many of the major 20th century artists, including Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti and Paul Klee.

Most of the 260 works are on loan from the Fondazione Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach, based in Locarno, canton Ticino, and named after one of Switzerland’s great collectors.

Hagenbach was closely connected to two leading Swiss artists of their day, Hans Arp and his wife Sophie Taeuber-Arp. She married Arp 16 years after the death of Taeuber-Arp and even in her 80s was still collecting.

The exhibition, which also includes works on loan from museums in Basel, Bern and Locarno, presents a sweeping view of 20th century art history.

Toni Stooss, director and curator of the two museums told swissinfo: “As a collector Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach had a very keen eye for modern and contemporary art.

“She donated some of her acquisitions to Swiss museums, and one of the important aspects of this exhibition is that thanks to the loans we have been able to bring important works together for the first time, here in Appenzell.”

Why Appenzell?

So why Appenzell? The answer goes back to 1906, when Swiss artist Carl August Liner bought a farm there and used it as his base until his death in 1946. It really is a picturesque spot and it’s easy to see why both he and his son – Carl Walter Liner (1914-97) – fell in love with the place and painted its surroundings.

Both were important painters in their own right, and the Liner Foundation was set up by a wealthy friend of the son to establish a permanent home for their paintings and drawings which include portraits, landscapes and abstractions.

Appenzell, with its landscape of rolling green hills and mountains now has another powerful magnet to attract visitors – its modern art museums. The exhibition ends on January 25.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson in Appenzell

Appenzell, with a population of less than 6,000, was the home of Swiss artists Carl August Liner and his son Carl Walter Liner.

The Liner Foundation is based there in two museums devoted to contemporary and classical modern art.

The exhibition features paintings, drawings and sculptures by many of the major 20th century artists.

Most of the 260 works are on loan from the Locarno-based Marguerite Arp-Hagenbach foundation and named after one of Switzerland’s great collectors.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR