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Zentrum Paul Klee: A Modern Art Mecca Outside Bern

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May 7, 2019 by Andrea Szyper

Paul Klee may be Switzerland’s most famous artist. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, it seems a fitting time to visit the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern. 

One of the 20th century’s most influential artists, Klee was an abstract expressionist painter who studied color and took inspiration from music, his global travels, and the natural world. A cerebral artist who was also an accomplished violinist and writer, Klee taught color theory and technical painting at the Bauhaus for many years.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

Klee was a renaissance man of sorts, an avid musician, a keen nature explorer, and a one-time stay-at-home dad who painted in his kitchen and handcrafted toys for his young son. He was a devoted husband, a cat lover, a good cook, a tireless reader, and a prolific writer, with a quick wit and deep intellectual curiosity.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

And like the man, the museum is wide in its scope. Located just a brief tram ride from the historical center of Bern, the center is within easy reach of the Swiss Heartland and Swiss Oberland UnTours. It deserves a few hours of your day trip to Bern.

The building was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano to simulate the hills of the nearby countryside where Paul Klee grew up. You may see sheep grazing in the small field in front of the center, even as traffic whizzes by on the freeway and Bern’s city center looms in the distance.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

The museum hosts a large Paul Klee exhibit that changes a few times a year and is based around a theme. The museum’s massive holding of his work is in regular rotation, though you will always find some of his blockbusters mixed in with lesser known drawings, smaller scale paintings, and some of the artist’s personal effects and photos.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

The pictures featured in this blog come from an exhibit based around Paul Klee’s love of animals, including some of his vividly imagined beasts and monsters and his beloved pet cat. Know that on any subsequent visit, different works will be on show.

An upper gallery hosts special exhibits of other visual artists that are in harmony with Paul Klee’s artistic vision. Shows vary in theme and medium, but they are always thought provoking. You can find out more about the changing exhibits at the museum’s website.

The center also regularly includes pieces from Klee’s famous friends in its exhibits, especially other members of the Blue Rider group, like Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. The main galleries are always changing, so it is never the same museum twice.

The Zentrum Paul Klee hosts performing arts as well, with regular theater and dance performances, along with literary events and, of course, concerts. The Klees regularly attended theater, opera, and classical music concerts, so it is fitting that Zentrum Klee should host such events.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

On the lower floor you will find Kindermuseum Creaviva, a kids art workshop that hosts makers events and hands on-exhibits and demonstrations for kids and families. Little ones can try their hand at printing, painting, and crafts that take their inspiration from Klee’s artistic motifs and techniques. It is a cheerful space. Check the website for a schedule of activities and demonstrations.

On the main level, open spaces, broad windows, and sprawling couches invite relaxation and creative contemplation. The center’s conference rooms host local events and meetings. A scientific archive is open by appointment to scholars. And the gift shop offers a wide array of books for further reading on Paul Klee, his artistic peers, and all of the interests that animated him and his work.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern

The acclaimed Restaurant Schöngrün offers fine dining Wednesday through Sunday in a refined, bright space, with garden seating available. Reserve ahead for lunch or dinner at Jazz brunch here is a local favorite. A well planned visit can be a feast for the eyes, ears, and taste buds.

The Zentrum Paul Klee is free with the Swiss Transit Pass that is included with your Swiss Untour. It is a must for anyone who enjoys modern art and likes Paul Klee or wants to get to know him and his broad, creative world a little better.