We got 2017 off to a great arty start. On Friday I went with my two daughters to Bern where we visited Zentrum Paul Klee. This stunning building, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano (who also designed The Shard) was opened in 2005 and dedicated to the individual, life and work of Klee (1879–1940) acknowledged as one of the pivotal artists of the 20th century.
This masterpiece in architecture in no small part owes its existence to Livia Klee-Meyer, Paul Klee's daughter-in-law, who in 1997 donated her inheritance of almost 690 works to the city and canton of Bern. The generous gift came with the condition that a ‘Paul Klee Museum’ should be realised by the end of 2006 at the latest. Bright lady.
With around 4,000 pieces, Zentrum Paul Klee houses the largest collection (40%) of Klee’s work. This architectural homage to his life, rising sensuously from the earth, comprises three ‘hills’ of steel and glass, transforming the entire area into a landscape sculpture.
Located on a beautiful piece of land, east of the city, the premise was to combine nature and architecture in an exciting relationship. Early on it became clear to the architect Piano that Klee had ‘a too broad, too large breath’, for him to be locked up into a ‘normal building’. Zentrum Paul Klee should not only be a ‘Place of remembrance’, but an interchange between encounter, relaxation and enjoyment drawing on Klee’s numerous activities as painter, musician, teacher, writer and philosopher. As a result each of the three hills has its own task. The North Hill is used for the practice of art education, for music, the conferences and the workshops, the Middle Hill for displaying the collection and the changing exhibitions, the South Hill for research and administration.
The snow added drama to our visit on Friday – a blanket of white caressing the undulating curves of the museum and providing a superb quality to the light and space at the south end of the building, where we happily spent most of our time.
On arrival, we first headed downstairs to the underground level to experience the current exhibition Paul Klee and the Surrealists, an exploration of Klee’s relationship with Surrealist artists in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s. Created in co-operation with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, it includes a large number of works by Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Hans Arp, Alberto Giacometti, André Masson and Salvador Dalí.
My girls were offered paper and pencils at the door and happily spent an hour sketching various pictures and enjoying the audio exhibits through headphones. It was an interesting layout and my eldest daughter asked plenty of questions, alongside the expected criticism that some of the drawings were ‘a bit rubbish and she could do better.’ I admitted I could see why she came to that conclusion but did my best to explain that Klee was not interested in painting exactly what was in front of him. His aim was to convey so much more. Poppy seemed to take this on and even went on to point out pictures that she really liked and give reasons why! I was amazed, this was the most interactive my daughters have ever been in a gallery. And I feel the whole design of the building helped.
We left the exhibit – the underground location helps to preserve the drawings – and once back upstairs the light and space was invigorating. We spent another hour in my favourite section – the library – curled up on various cushions scattered across the permanent Lang/Baumann exhibit, an imaginative sculpture comprising seating and cushions which could be moved around. Poppy found this very exciting and soon picked a perfect spot, high up on the sculpture.
I was transfixed by the huge panes of glass framing the snow scenes of everyday life taking place outside - people strolling, dogs lolloping, children cavorting. Magnificent steel curves adorned the view with their rise and fall, embracing its visitors and making them feel an integral part of this living, breathing masterpiece. Sprawled across the cushions the girls found out about Klee and his taste in classical music, playing excerpts of Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn on a couple of tablets which had been left on the cushions to be discovered. Poppy was especially impressed with the fact that Klee had a cat called Bimbo whose pictures were included!
We enjoyed a yummy pastry and drink at the café on the North side before taking our leave but unfortunately didn’t have time to seek out Klee’s Burial place and the sculpture park before we had to make our way home.
But we will be back. I love the whole layout and premise of Zentrum Paul Klee. It is super airy, relaxed and casual about its passion for art appreciation and education, which is of course the best way to engage people – especially children. Younger visitors actually have their own Kindermuseum Creaviva with an interactive exhibition and regular workshops.
This sensual living, breathing monument does indeed draw on the essence of Klee as painter, musician, teacher, writer and philosopher. What a fabulous legacy for an artist to leave behind.
Admission – adults CHF 20 Children 6–16 CHF 7 Family ticket (1 adult + children 6-16) CHF 27 (Thanks to Coop the exhibition admission for children and adolescents up to 16 years is free every Sunday)
Getting there: Bus No.12 from Bern Hauptbahnhof