Every June, at the start of Art Basel week, the crème de la crème of the art world queues up at the stop for the number six tram for an annual pilgrimage to the Fondation Beyeler, the privately run museum in Riehen founded in 1997 by the Basel-born bookseller turned dealer Ernst Beyeler, and his wife Hildy. Art world aficionados are effusive about the museum, which is nestled in the Villa Berower estate between trees and lily ponds. “It is the most visited art museum in Switzerland [drawing 332,000 visitors last year]”. But the collection has outgrown the 3,000 sq metre building, and this idyllic empire is expanding: a new extension designed by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor will unfurl over the verdant adjoining parkland in the next few years.
The original building was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, who declared that the architecture of this modernist shrine must be “active, but not aggressive”. It’s a place where art and everything that surrounds and supports it seem to be truly balanced and in a productive dialogue with each other, and that’s a rare thing nowadays.
Ernst Beyeler, who was born in 1921, opened his gallery at Bäumleingasse 9 in Basel in 1945.He would mount more than 300 shows over the next 65 years, building a blue-chip roster of artists including Giacometti, Picasso, Monet, Miró and Rothko. In 1982, the Beyelers created a foundation; their collection formed the core of the institution’s holdings, around 200 works at the outset. This has grown to more than 300 pieces, encompassing more than 30 Picassos, two exemplary works by Hans Arp, including the 1960 sculpture “Schalenbaum”, and Cézanne’s “Madame Cézanne in the Yellow Chair” (1888-90).
Hildy Beyeler died in 2008, her husband two years later.
“There is an annual acquisition budget, and we do not sell works. The foundation’s acquisition policy is clearly defined, with works made after 1950 a priority,” the director Sam Keller says.
Text from article Gareth Harris.The Financial Times.