6 Reasons You Should Care About the Fondation Beyeler

Matthew Israel
Jun 11, 2014 11:30AM

1. Ernst Beyeler was one of the most important dealers in the history of modern art

The Fondation Beyeler is the permanent home of the collection of Ernst Beyeler (1921-2010) and Hilda Kunz (1922-2008), Beyeler’s wife and business companion. Beyeler was arguably the most significant European dealer of modern art during the 20th century, due to the museum quality of his exhibitions at his Galerie Beyeler in Basel, his ability to identify and acquire undervalued modernist works, and the notable sums he paid for major works at auction. Beyeler also helped to develop many of the world’s most important collections of modern art, both private and public. For example, he helped New York’s Museum of Modern Art acquire two major modern works, Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Joseph Roulin (1889), and Pablo Picasso’s 1914 Guitar, a construction central to the history of Cubism.

2. Beyeler founded Art Basel

Ernst Beyeler, along with other gallerists, helped found Art Basel in 1970, which has become the most important art fair for modern and contemporary art in the world, and together with Beyeler’s gallery and eventual museum, helped make Basel an international art center. In recent years, with its expansion to Miami Beach in 2002 and Hong Kong in 2013, the fair has spread its influence across the world.

3. You could potentially learn the history of European modernism only from the Beyeler collection

Established in 1982, the collection contains around 200 pictures and sculptures by many of the greatest European modernists, among them Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Henri Matisse, Barnett Newman, Francis Bacon, Jean Dubuffet, Georg Baselitz, as well as a selection of objects from Africa, Alaska, and Oceania.

4. Beyeler set a standard for great exhibitions

Beyeler’s Galerie Beyeler (1952 to 2012) staged over 300 exhibitions, many of which are consistently referred to as museum-quality, not only because of the caliber of the works shown, but also for the attention the gallery paid to the production of its well-researched catalogues. Today’s major exhibitions at Gagosian, Pace, David Zwirner, or Acquavella inherit this tradition, which in turn also continues in the Fondation Beyeler’s current exhibitions of artists, including those featuring Gerhard Richter, Jeff Koons, Constantin Brancusi, Richard Serra, and Alberto Giacometti.

5. The Beyeler is among the most perfect places to view art

Designed by Renzo Piano in Riehen, outside of Basel, and opened in 1997, the Fondation Beyeler has been called a masterpiece of modern architecture, an “immaculate jewel,” “perfect,” an example of “serene beauty.” It’s at once spacious enough to easily satisfy a visit but small enough to be intimate and not overwhelming. The museum is also situated in a park with two ponds, which further add to its sense of serenity and ability to provide a secluded environment to look at art.

6. The collection (again!)

Explore all of the collection’s highlights on Artsy, but a few to take note of are:

- A great example of Monet’s “Nymphéas (Water Lilies)” series, a major influence on Expressionism.

- A Cézanne still life, one of the major genres he used to examine long-held assumptions about perspective and proportion in painting, setting the stage for Abstract Art.

- Among the Cubist works in the collection is this great example of analytic Cubism, where the figure is almost completely obscured.

- An early Kandinsky abstraction, an example of one of the first completely abstract paintings in Western Art.

- Examples of major Abstract Expressionist artists Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko, as they were both in the process of developing their iconic styles—Newman, the “zip” and Rothko, the color fields.

Matthew Israel