Funded by the donations from separate members of the Klee family, as well as numerous contributions from private collectors, The Zentrum Paul Kee now houses over 40 percent of Klee’s entire pictorial output – some 4000 works – and is considered the world’s largest collection of a single major artist, outranking the Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall museums.
Klee’s relationship with the city of Bern made it an appropriate choice for the museum’s location. Klee was born in Münchenbuchsee, just outside Bern and his first solo exhibition was held there in 1910. He moved to Germany the next year, where he had a formative meeting with Kandinsky and became associated with the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter.
Most of his career was spent in Germany, and he taught at both the Düsseldorf Academy and the Bauhaus at Dessau in the early 1930s before being singled out by the Nazis during their persecution of “degenerate” artists. He then re-emigrated to Bern in 1933 and spent the last seven years of his life there. At the time of his death in 1940, the Swiss authorities had still not granted him citizenship.
While plans for the Zentrum were being laid in 1997, the Mayor of Bern, Dr Klaus Baumgartner, referred to that lapse as a reason for the new museum’s construction: “The Swiss authorities had not yet got around to considering his application for citizenship, which he made in 1939. So let me repeat: Bern owes something to Paul Klee and his family.”
Klee’s vision of modern art was both childlike and mystical. He wanted to paint “as though newborn, knowing absolutely nothing about Europe,” and his constant curiosity led him into explorations of design, literature, ‘primitive’ cultures and, most prominently of all, music. This innocent sensibility combined with a love of color to produce work that had a dream-like quality and hinted at transcendence. ‘Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see.’
The innovative architecture of the Zentrum Paul Klee houses a music and performance venue, and through simultaneous examinations into different media, it expresses the interdisciplinary approach Klee explored in his lifetime.