June 17, 2007

Sorties in Switzerland

I am writing while aboard the TGV from Lausanne to Paris, a 3 1/2 hour ride that will arrive in the City of Light in time to pick up the key, unpack and go out for a nice dinner!

Thinking back over the last few days in Switzerland, I am amazed at how much there was to see and do in addition to the high profile Art Basel Fair. The city itself features several very fine museums and this was a great opportunity to see some special exhibitions.

On view at the always fabulous Fondation Beyeler was a retrospective of the work of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. Offering a superb overview of his paintings, drawings and prints, this show presented the sometimes melancholy work with a fresh perspective.

The Kunstmuseum Basel profiled the American pre-Pop pioneer Jasper Johns. Focusing on the first 10 years of his creative life, 1955-65, this collection of 70 works, many from the artist's private collection, was tightly edited to pack a huge artistic punch. Starting with his ready-made images (targets and flags) and continuing through the circular scraping concept, the triads of primary colors stenciled on canvas and later imprints of his face and hands, this exhibition successfully makes the point that Jasper Johns was and remains a seminal influence on the world of Pop Art and other major artistic innovations of the 20th Century.

Also fascinating was a marvelous exhibition at the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig (Basel Museum of Antiquity and Ludwig Collection) entitled "Das Gold Der Thraker" - Thracian treasures from 700 BC - AD 46. This ancient civilization lived in what is now Bulgaria and produced some of the finest works of gold and silver you can imagine. Intricately detailed, exquisitely worked jewelry, medals, vessels and rhytons excavated from burial tombs testify not only to their wealth and glory but their advanced artistic creativity and craftsmanship. Truly, these objects were a wonder to behold.

Then it was on to Bern, the capitol of Switzerland founded in 1191. Legend has it that the city derived its name from a bear killed in a hunt in the 15th Century at the "knee of the River Aare". True or not, its citizens pay homage to its ursine roots and its patron saint, St. Vincent, with equal ardor.

The main reason for this side trip was to attend the annual art auction at Galerie Kornfeld. Presided over for more than 50 years by Herr Kornfeld himself, this is the antithesis to a modern, "money is everything", event at Sotheby's or Christies. The Kornfeld sales are legendary, not only for the fine works offered (primarily Swiss and German art) but for the genuine family atmosphere that prevails. Visiting art collectors are treated like royalty, culminating in a farewell dinner for all at a posh hotel. It was an extraordinary experience and we were honored to attend.

The view from my hotel window with
the River Aare and the Alps in the background

Of course, one of the first stops in Bern was the Kunstmuseum (art museum)! Their special exhibition was a look at the artists Kirchner, Bauknecht, Wiegers and the "Rot-Blau" Group in "Expressionismus aus den Bergen (Expressionism from the Mountains)". In the early 1920's Ernst Kirchner came to Davos, Switzerland, to benefit from the clean mountain air and a more relaxed pace. Several colleagues joined him in this retreat and the group created a large oeuvre of work which is presented here. I cannot say that this was one of my favorite shows ever - neither the installation nor the works themselves were particularly sympathetic.

A rainy morning provided the perfect excuse to walk across the Kirchfeld Bridge to Bern's Historical Museum to see "Einstein's Museum", a high-tech, multi-media ode to Albert Einstein. It was in Bern in 1905 that he created his famous formula E-mc2 and with this theory revolutionized our conception of space and time. This show seeks to not only explain the physics in a clear and meaningful way, but to recreate the cultural and social climate at the time in an effort to put the circumstances in perspective for a younger generation.

After all this traveling, New York seems very far away! The language has now changed from Swiss Deutsch to French and with that evolution comes a new set of adventures. So please come back and read what Paris has in store later in the week!

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