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'Feast of Color': the Merzbacher-Mayer Collection at the Zurich Kunsthaus expresses a personal and passionate relationship with colour in some 200 paintings and sculptures that span more than a century of art history.

Viewing a private collection is quite a different experience from a museum collection. The selection is assembled for the pleasure of the collector and, rather than serving the cultural standing of an institution or curator, it can disregard whole chunks of art history and follow a unique path.

Works in the Merzbacher-Mayer Collection Feast of Color represent a range of styles: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Pointillism, Futurism, Constructivism, Cubism and Concrete art.

The common thread that unites the works is colour--pure, dazzling colour.

A well-kept secret

For a long time, the Merzbacher-Mayer Collection was one of the art world's well-kept secrets. "I could show you 50, 100 catalogues of exhibitions that include our paintings and you'll never see our name," says Merzbacher, an international financier and fur trader who lives in the canton of Zurich.

He decided to "go public" for the first time with The Joy of Color at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in 1998-1999. A tour of several Japanese cities followed in 2001, as did the 2005 show Masters of Color from Derain to Kandinsky at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

And now the largest and most comprehensive show has come to Zurich. The show leaves no doubt that Merzbacher's primary passion is colour.

"Art is something very personal; we all experience it differently," he says.

"If you see a collection that is honestly made, you come to know the collector. There's a thread going through it. In my case it's the dynamics of colour, which is important to my soul."

Bernhard Mayer's masterpieces

Werner Merzbacher came to Switzerland from his native Germany as a child refugee shortly before WWII. He was later introduced to collecting by Bernhard Mayer, who was his wife's grandfather.

In a catalogue of the collection (available in English) Kunsthaus curator Tobias Bezzola writes: "It shows the affinity between the creative impulses of Fauvism, Die Briicke and Der Blaue Reiter--which certainly are at the heart of Werner Merzbacher's sensibilities and those of the collector himself," a reference to Mayer.

Mayer was a successful businessman who was closely associated with the Ascona art colony of the early 20th century, and had amassed a small collection of masterpieces by such luminaries as Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, van Gogh, Klee and Jawlensky.

Merzbacher says that his own artistic epiphany came with an introduction to Fauve and German Expressionist art in the '60s and '70s: artists such as Derain, Vlaminck, Kandinsky, Kirchner, and Marc. A fascination with the Russian avant garde led him to purchase the works of Kasimir Malevich and Mikhail Larionov, as well as such female painters as Liubov Popova, Olga Rozova and Natalia Goncharova.

His zest for collection remains undiminished; Merzbacher has embarked on another collection of more recent art, mostly abstracts by the likes of Sam Francis, loan Mitchell, Jean Paul Riopelle and the Swiss Konstructivists, such as Johannes Itten, Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse.

Like all his acquisitions, they echo his consuming passion for colour.

Feast of Color

The Merzbacher-Mayer Collection is on display until May 14.

Opening hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 10:00 to 21:00, Friday-Sunday and Easter weekend (April 13-17) from 10:00 to 17:00. Closed April 24 and May 1.
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Title Annotation:ART & CULTURE
Publication:Swiss News
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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