What makes an ideal museum experience? Perhaps the first thing I think of is the collection. Increasingly, as contemporary architects have designed museums, I have become more conscious of the effective presentation of art. I am more aware of the way that I move through a space, of the color and composition of the walls and floors. I am especially attuned to the use of natural light. I continue to seek that solitary and serene moment when a painting’s presence comes strikingly alive. For me, that ideal has been realized. It is the Fondation Beyeler.
I am in Zürich to attend the opening of an exhibition tomorrow. With a free day to explore, I chose to take an hour’s train ride to Basel today. A well traveled route for the sophisticated art traveler, but a first trek for me, this was a day trip worthy of an expedition. From the moment I stepped through the red stone walls, into the idyllic nineteenth century landscape garden, I was entranced by the scale and proportion of the building. With restraint and respect for the vistas and setting, Renzo Piano designed the Fondation Beyeler, which houses a superb permanent collection of about 200 works. The museum also presents curated exhibits.
I was fortunate to see two such exhibits today, both superb. The first featured artists’ visions of Venice—from Canaletto and Turner to Monet. Painters have been intrigued by the way that light plays on the surface of the water in Venice for centuries, and this show assembles works from private collections as well as museums. Especially stunning were Turner’s works and small but striking, immediately rendered paintings by Sargent. The ideal setting was the building itself, proving that the proportion of the galleries, the sequencing of the rooms, and the occasional open landscape vista are the work of a brilliant architect.
Another show, Visual Encounters: Africa, Oceania and Modern Art, turned the tables on the oft-told story of modern art. We are all familiar with the role that Primitive and African art played in the development of European Modernism. This show does not repeat that lesson, but rather demonstrates the sheer power, and visual presence of, large and highly powerful groups of sculpture from Mali, Nigeria, and other areas. Just a few highly select early 20th century works by Picasso, Giacometti, Rousseau, Brancusi and others are juxtaposed in a stunning way.
I reluctantly left the exhibit, stepped into the light snowfall, and had a delightful lunch at the nearby Berower Villa. I was still savoring the view of the Renzo Piano building with its light-suffusing roof.