Paul Klee Centre is a crowd-puller

Visitors were eager to see the Zentrum Paul Klee on its opening day Keystone Archive

Hundreds of art lovers turned up at the opening of a new centre in honour of Swiss artist Paul Klee on Monday.

This content was published on June 21, 2005 - 13:02

While all were united in their passion for Klee, some had a considerably longer journey to the outskirts of Bern than others, travelling from as far as Japan.

The Zentrum Paul Klee bills itself as more than an art gallery devoted to one artist. While its highlight is the collection of more than half of Klee’s output under one roof – some 4,000 works – there is also a concert hall and a children’s museum.

Alexander Klee, the artist’s grandson, signed autographs at the opening of Bern’s newest tourist attraction.

Alexander was the one of the driving forces behind the creation of the centre. He approached the Bern authorities in the 1990s with the idea of a creating a museum for his grandfather’s works, many of which he had inherited.

That dream is now a reality, but he told swissinfo that there was still much to be done.

"The great idea has taken form but we are still at the beginning because we still have to prove that the idea was a good one," he said. "The real adventure starts now."

Open doors

The queues in front of the multilingual ticketing staff comprised visitors of all shapes and sizes.

"I’ve seen mostly older people today, who I would guess to be experts, artists or just individuals interested in art. But I’ve also seen some young people, I’m pleased to say," said Theo Manolakis, an architectural student who is working at the centre over the summer, as he checked tickets at the entrance to the collection.

Although the centre is home to thousands of works, only 200 or so are ever on display at one time. The intention is to change the exhibits every six months.

One pensioner, Sepp Cantoni, told swissinfo that he’s been a fan of Klee’s work since childhood and had jumped at the chance to spend four hours a week helping out at the centre as a volunteer.


Scheduling the opening for a Monday meant international guests were few and far between, but marketing director Mark Isler was certain that the centre would attract tourists "who will stay two to three days and make Bern one of their major overnight stays".

"The centre is a melting point of different interests," Isler said.

He added that it would draw visitors mainly from Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan.

"Japan is an important market for us because Klee is very well known there," Isler said. "There are a number of Klee’s works in Japanese galleries and there is even a Paul Klee Society in Tokyo, whose members are very active in travelling around the world."

Japanese nexus

A handful of Japanese at the inauguration illustrated Isler’s point – Alexander Klee had invited four members of the Japanese Paul Klee Society to the event.

They called Klee "the most popular painter in Japan" and said the association had 750 aficionados who met regularly to discuss the artist’s work.

The centre houses the Paul Klee Foundation, which has a longstanding researcher of Japanese origin, Osamu Okada, who often looks after Japanese journalists and curators interested in Klee.

Okada, who came to Bern in 1982 to study art history, said Klee "learnt much from Japanese art".

"Some people think that all his works are wonderful regardless of what research might say about them, but this is wrong – you should always try to discover new aspects in what he produced so that it remains current," said Okada.

Okada is behind the displays containing photographs of key stages in Klee’s life, which hang on white walls as part of a chronology.

He was also responsible for creating the information corner on the so-called museum street, where visitors can browse through 400 tomes on Klee’s life and works.

One of the more bizarre happenings on the opening day took place next to this corner – a man, one hand leaning on a lectern, spent hours reading out from the nine-volume Catalogue Raisonné (catalogue of Klee’s works), page by page, his voice amplified by a microphone.

swissinfo, Faryal Mirza

Key facts

Paul Klee spent more than three decades of his life in Switzerland.
Born in Münchenbuchsee, Bern, on December 18, 1879, Klee died on June 29, 1940, in Locarno-Muralto in canton Ticino.
He spoke Swiss German dialect like a native, while his High German had a Bernese accent.
Klee was granted Swiss nationality six days after his death.

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In brief

Building the Paul Klee Centre cost SFr105 million.

The Maurice E. and Martha Müller Foundation was the financier.

The costs of running the centre should come from public funds.

Yearly running costs are estimated to be SFr7-10 million.

Annual infrastructure costs of SFr8 million will come from the lottery funds of canton Bern.

The centre is expecting 175,000 visitors during its first year in business.
It is open from Tuesday to Sunday and standard admission costs SFr14.

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