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Paul Klee Centre set to be "an art sensation"

Paul Klee's "Hier zu spuken," 1940

Throughout February the people of Bern will have the chance to inspect plans and models of the proposed Paul Klee Centre, before they vote on whether to give the expected go-ahead to the city's most ambitious art project for decades.

The feeling in Bern is that the outcome of the March 4 referendum is a foregone conclusion. As city mayor Klaus Baumgartner said at the unveiling of the plans in the Kornhaus (former corn exchange): "The people are looking forward to this new cultural symbol. I therefore predict that the outcome will be positive."

Public interest in the project has certainly grown since it was first announced in 1997 and greeted with such phrases as "an art sensation" by the Bernese media.

Born just outside Bern in 1879, Klee is considered one of the most original and influential figures in modern art. His mother was Swiss, his father German, and although he never acquired Swiss nationality, he has long been regarded as a favourite son by the Bernese. He died in 1940.

The Klee family still lives in Bern, and it was their offer to donate over 600 works that led to proposals for a Paul Klee Museum, which would also house the 2,500 works from the Paul Klee Foundation in the city's fine arts museum.

Then came a surprise announcement...

Professor Maurice Müller - a pioneering orthopaedic surgeon - and his wife Martha offered a donation of SFr60 million ($36 million), including land, towards the cost of a Paul Klee Centre which would be much more than a museum.

Since then, plans for the centre have been drawn up by the award-winning Italian architect, Renzo Piano, and the city and canton of Bern have pledged financial support for running costs. Private sponsors have also come forward - and are still being sought.

The land donated by the Müllers is on the outskirts of Bern, within easy reach of public transport and with magnificent views of the Bernese Oberland. The "Schöngrün" site is countryside in miniature - and its green landscape inspired Piano when designing the centre.

It will consist of what looks like three hills emerging from the landscape, in harmony with the surrounding nature. Architectural features include steel arches, and the overall effect will be one of transparency and light. Müller had requested a peaceful atmosphere for research and classrooms where children can learn about Klee and his paintings.

The scheduled opening date for the Paul Klee Centre is in 2005.

by Richard Dawson


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