On a beautiful hilly location in the city of Bern, Switzerland, there is an unusual structure constructed of glass and steel that swoops and rolls much like the hills that it rests in.
This building is the Zentrum Paul Klee and was designed by renowned Italian architect and engineer Renzo Piano, recipient of several awards and the same architect responsible for a large number of notable buildings, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Whitney Museum in New York City and The Shard in London.
Piano, taking inspiration from the gently rolling hills of the landscape, designed this museum to exist in harmony with the natural scenery, as opposed to obstructing or detracting from it. The three large curves of the building are almost reminiscent of ocean waves, flowing smoothly over the hilly terrain.
All of the buildings designed by Renzo Piano are vastly different from one another, and the Zentrum continues this pattern. Not only does the wave-like structure adhere to the surrounding natural formations, but internally, the museum was constructed in dedication to the Swiss-born artist Paul Klee and houses approximately 40 percent of his pictorial oeuvre, which is to say, about 4,000 paintings.
According to Piano, the art of Paul Klee is "too broad, too large breath" to be locked up in a "normal building." While the shape of the museum is artistic and unusual, this was not intended to only look beautiful, but had a practical intention as well. One very important aspect of the museum's design is to provide protection for all of the fragile artworks contained inside its unique walls.
Inaugurated on June 20th, 2005, the Zentrum Paul Klee was intended not only to be a memorial to the artist, but to also provide a cultural centre, offering stimulating experiences such as concerts, theatre and dance performances, readings, temporary exhibitions of important artists of the 20th and 21st century, studios and workshops for children in the Kindermuseum Creaviva, and of course, exhibitions on the life and work of Paul Klee.
This variety of experience and creativity is fully in the spirit of Paul Klee's artistic style and philosophy, which was influenced by wide range of art movements and mediums, ranging from music and writing to painting and printmaking.
The initial idea for the creation of Zentrum Paul Klee arrived in 1990, when the son of Paul Klee passed away at the age of 82. A Swiss opera director and art historian, Felix Klee had already done a great deal to preserve his father's legacy. He worked as the head of the Paul Klee Foundation and had published his father's diaries in 1957. His estate was divided evenly between his widow, Livia Klee-Meyer, and his son Alexander.
In 1997, mother and son had donated almost 690 of Paul Klee's works to Bern’s Kunstmuseum and Canton. This donation was made under the agreement that a separate museum be constructed devoted to housing Klee's art. It was around this same time, during the late 1990s that the Paul Klee Foundation donated approximately 2,600 paintings, as well.
In the summer of 1998, Swiss orthopaedic surgeon Maurice E. Müller and his wife Martha donated a plot of land in the Schöngrün site on the eastern outskirts of the city of Bern, as well as 30 million Swiss francs to cover the cost of the museum project. At the end of the year, the Renzo Piano Building Workshop was put in charge of the building project.
Each of the three separate hills of the museum has its own purpose. The South Hill is where the administration and research offices are located. The North Hill is where visitors can participate in art education, conferences, interactive art workshops for children, and a concert hall for musical events.
In the Middle Hill is where the gallery can be found. This section is where the works of Paul Klee are shown in a regularly rotating selection of 120 to 150 works, always with changing themes. Because of the overwhelming size and diversity of the collection housed by the museum, displaying the collection in its entirety is impossible.
However, on the bright side, this does mean that one could realistically make another visit to Zentrum Paul Klee and enjoy an entirely new exhibition; visitors will always have a new, fresh perspective of Klee's art. Another advantage of this regular rotation is that it ensures the general public will have access to works that may be lesser known and not able to be viewed as frequently, opening a door into Paul Klee's unique artistic vision.
The collection is comprised of thousands of drawings, watercolours, and paintings. Each rotating exhibition is regularly supplemented with complimentary works created by various contemporary artists; each exhibition focusing on a specific theme.
In addition to the expansive collection of paintings and drawings, a great deal of art created in other mediums is housed in the museum. Paul Klee possessed an impressive linguistic creativity and a life-long love for music. He often worked with mixed media and textiles, such as fabric, burlap, and linen.
Perhaps one of the most poignant and personal parts of the collection is the 30 preserved hand-made puppets kept at the museum. These little plastic hand puppets were crafted by Paul Klee between 1916 and 1925 for his son Felix. The artist never considered these items to be a part of his oeuvre, nor did he ever list them in his catalogue raisonné. However, they do give visitors an intimate glimpse of Klee's ability to tap into a childlike perspective and a bit of insight into the life of the artist, and the role he played as a family man and father as well as a highly prolific artist.
Yet another for reason for the regular rotation of the artist's works is preservation. Paul Klee often used highly photosensitive colours, paints and papers, which are much more delicate and fragile than the oil paintings found in most museums and galleries. Being exposed to the light for prolonged periods will cause the art work to change; they will eventually bleach, turn brown, and become brittle.
While the lighting in the museum is strictly controlled with subdued lighting and protective glazing, a fair amount of degradation would still occur over time should the works be continuously left exposed to the light. The light intensity inside the exhibition area has to be maintained between 50 and 100 lux. In addition to this, climate control in the exhibition area must also be very carefully monitored, as the works are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity. Providing the works with regular periods of rest ensure that all of the works in the collection are well-preserved and can be enjoyed for many more years to come.
Outside of the three hill-shaped structures of Zentrum Paul Klee is a covered walkway, known as “the museum path.” This walkway links together the three sections of the museum, connecting the education and exhibition areas. Strolling along this path, one can take in the remarkable structure of the building, and enjoy the lovely scenery around the museum. Nearby, one can see the motorway, and just a short walk beyond this lies the Schosshalden cemetery and its rare, wild plants and tiny, busy animals. Here is where one will find the final resting place of Paul Klee and the bronze plaque reading, "I cannot be grasped in the here and now. For I reside just as much with the dead as with the unborn. Somewhat closer to the heart of creation than usual. But not nearly close enough."