June 25, 2010

"Klee Meets Picasso" at the Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

On the last full day of my European adventure I took the bus from Bern's old town to the outskirts of the city to visit the Paul Klee Foundation. Housed in a Renzo Piano designed building intended to echo the Swiss Alps with three steel and glass "hills" set into the landscape, the Center is devoted entirely to the work of native son Paul Klee (1879-1940) and has the largest collection of any single artist's work in the world.

This Summer the Center celebrates its five year anniversary with a very special exhibition that compares the work of two 20th Century masters, Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. At first I thought the idea was preposterous - what on earth could Klee's delicate poetic watercolors possibly have in common with Picasso's bold distorted paintings? But the more I looked, the more I could see how, despite only having met twice (in 1933 and again in 1937), each had indeed influenced the other.

Personality-wise the two were polar opposites. Klee was romantic, musical, devoted to his wife and son. He worked in the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany, he was an art professor in Düsseldorf, his work was condemned by the Nazis as "degenerate" but he enjoyed professional success during his lifetime in both Europe and America. Picasso was Latin, forceful, challenging in both his art and his personality. His range and output was prodigious and he is probably the most famous artist of our time.

So how can these two artists co-exist in the same exhibition? Very happily it turns out. Both presented revolutionary works that were seized upon by the art world. Both were influenced by "primitive" sources, Klee by childhood drawings and Picasso by African art. Each was respectful of the others' work and incorporated elements into their own throughout their artistic lives as you can see in the images below.

On the left we have Paul Klee's "Doll Suspended from Violet Ribbons" a watercolor executed in 1906. One year earlier, during his "Rose" period, Pablo Picasso painted "Harlequin Seated Before a Red Background", also a watercolor, and very similar in both subject matter and coloration.

In the 1930's we again see similarities in style with Klee's "Cursed Woman", watercolor, 1939, on the left and Picasso's "Crying Woman" oil on cardboard, 1937, on the right.

Paul Klee died in 1940 having been ill for the last five years of his life. Picasso lived to the ripe old age of 91 and worked up until the very end. Although not physically together, their lives had intersected and engaged in more ways than one could imagine, until this marvelous exhibition exposed the parallels and imitations that each appropriated from the other.

"Klee Meets Picasso" was a wonderful wrap-up to my art filled adventures here in Europe. I hope you've enjoyed the ride as much as I have and now I can't wait to get back to New York to see what's happening there!
Auf wiedersehn and see you soon!

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