15 Years Fondation Beyeler. Interview with Director Sam Keller

When the Fondation Beyeler opened its museum in 1997 as new home for the collection of art dealer Ernst Beyeler no one would have predicted the enormous success the institution achieved over the years. Fondation Beyeler in Riehen near Basel is the most attended art museum in Switzerland, and also the most international. In 2011, Fondation Beyeler saw a record admittance of 426,856 visitors. The museum attracts art lovers with exhibitions of the permanent collection, which comprises of major works by artists such as Bacon, Calder, van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso, and temporary shows with contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons and Philippe Parreno, and public art projects by Louise Bourgeois, Jenny Holzer, and other renowned artists.

On the occasion of the 15th Anniversary of the museum, VernissageTV spoke with the director of Fondation Beyeler, Sam Keller. The former director of the art fair Art Basel became the director of Fondation Beyeler in 2008. In this video, Sam Keller looks back at 15 years of Fondation Beyeler, talks about the mission and main activities of the museum, and provides us with an outlook on the upcoming projects and strategic goals of the foundation and the museum. The video above is an excerpt. The complete video and excerpts from the transcript are available after the break.

15 Years Fondation Beyeler. Interview with Director Sam Keller. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen (Switzerland), December 19, 2012.

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Complete video (22:51 Min.):

Fondation Beyeler immediately caught the attention of the art world with its exceptional building that was designed by Renzo Piano, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s Wrapped Trees project in the park of the museum and its surroundings. Over the years, the museum has grown considerably. Today, Fondation Beyeler is not only preserving and showing the collection of Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, but also active in the fields of special exhibitions, public art projects, conservation, and education. The museum collaborates in many ways with other museums and institutions on a national and increasingly international level. Fondation Beyeler is lending artworks to other institutions, and collaborates with other collections such as the Calder Foundation and the Daros Collection.

The Fondation Beyeler’s collection comprises works by Francis Bacon, Georg Baselitz, Constantin Brancusi, Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Eduardo Chillida, Christo, Edgar Degas, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Luciano Fabro, Sam Francis, Alberto Giacometti, Vincent van Gogh, Vasily Kandinsky, Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Roy Lichtenstein, Jacques Lipchitz, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Piet Mondrian, Claude Monet, Barnett Newman, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Neo Rauch, Robert Rauschenberg, Auguste Rodin, Mark Rothko, Henri Rousseau, Georges Seurat, Frank Stella, Antoni Tí pies, Mark Tobey, and Andy Warhol. The Beyeler Collection was accumulated by Hildy and Ernst Beyeler during more than fifty years as gallery owners. The collection consists of around 230 paintings and sculptures by modern masters. Through temporary exhibitions with artists such as Jeff Koons, Jenny Holzer, Beatriz Milhazes, Richard Serra, and Philippe Parreno the Fondation Beyeler repeatedly creates links between the permanent collection and contemporary art.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

Sam Keller on how he would describe the development of the museum over the last 15 years.

“In the beginning I think no-one could have envisioned that in such short term it would get on the map as being one of the most important museums not only in Switzerland, but also having an international reputation as being a house which shows art at the highest quality. So the development has been a quite steady one and steadily growing and to our big satisfaction this is something that has even continued after the passing away of the founders. So it has also made a transition from a private initiative, very much the vision of Ernst Beyeler, the founder, and is has kept those values and has kept those virtues, but has now become an institution which relies on many people’s know-how and commitment, and it has steadily attracted more and more people who are supporting the museum…”

Sam Keller on the things he discussed with Ernst Beyeler when he became director of the museum.

“It’s a lot about how can we educate, reach and educate the public. He always said: We are not afraid of success. He said, we shouldn’t do things for ourselves, we should really do it for the public. He trusted the public, that the public is actually willing and capable to follow even a program which is very ambitious.”

Sam Keller on how the museum is embedded in the art scene in the region.

“Basel is an art city, and then you are not an art city because there is just one great museum, you are because you have an art scene and you have many good museums. So between the Fondation Beyeler, the Kunstmuseum, the Tinguely Museum, the Vitra Design Museum, the Kunsthalle, the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, the Schaulager and many of the other institutions, we actually collaborate, we collaborate in Marketing, we are collaborating in looking how our exhibitions can complement each other, we are very generous in lending each other works and giving each other all kinds of support.”

Sam Keller on the future of the museum:

“I think one of the most important things was this transition, you know, from a private initiative to a really like the public institution, so, that will continue. Another thing is the question is it going to be a mausoleum or a museum. Is it once the founders of this museum have passed away, is it just going to be stuck, is it going to remain, or is it going to develop. I think we have given the answer, it’s going to continue to develop and of course there’s a lot of work ahead of us. Most important is the collection, and how can we develop the collection. So strategically we want to continue to acquire especially contemporary art by leading artists. Also, Ernst Beyeler was always collecting and exhibiting both like historical and contemporary art, but the contemporaries of his time and his friends were Picasso and Giacometti and many artists that now are not living any more. So how is the museum going to have a relationship with the leading artists of today. So this is why we do have a strong contemporary art program and we work with artists such as Jenny Holzer or with Richard Serra or with Jeff Koons, with Philippe Parreno, in the future Mauricio Cattelan.”

“Then of course, one of the big questions is: how is the digitalization of the world changing also museums. So this is why also over the last years, we have built up a very strong website, where a lot of our programs, for example we have a lot of artist talks, concerts, performances, etc., people can follow that over the internet, prepare their visit, but also people who are far away and can visit only once in their life can continue to follow the museum. So this is something that’s going to continue in the future.”

“I think the first fifteen years of the museum is only the beginning, we think there is a lot of potential of people we can reach and bring to art, of collaborations with artists we can do, and one of the things that have marked the history of the museum and that we would like to do more in the future is to have public art projects. So here a lot of people come to see art, but we also think that the art has to go out to the public.”