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A new centre dedicated to the work of Paul Klee near Berne... a major addition to the Kunstmuseum in Basel: two examples of the key role private patronage plays in enriching Swiss culture.

he tradition of private support of cultural institutions is alive and well in Switzerland, as evidenced by the recent announcements of major donations that will enrich the art scene in Berne and Basel. Detailed plans for a Paul Klee centre were unveiled in December, its realisation made possible by a donation of Sfr40 million and a parcel of land in schongrun, on the outskirts of Berne, by Professor Maurice and Martha Muller, A few months earlier, Maya Oeri, a prominent patron of the arts in Basel, donated Sfr20 million to finance the purchase of a building next to the Basel Kunstmuseum, enabling it to undergo needed expansion.


Construction of the Paul Klee Centre, whose total costs are estimated at Sfr103 million, is expected to get underway in 2002, with completion aimed at 2005. The Italian architect Renzo Piano, who designed the widely acclaimed Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, near Basel, has come up with a largely underground structure, a sort of "land art", whose external profile will repeat the natural undulations of the site.

The Maurice E. and Martha Muller Foundation is financing the project evaluation, planning and construction costs. Additional funding for exhibition and research facilities will come from the civic community, comprised of Berne citizens. The city and canton of Berne have agreed to cover site development and operational costs.

Professor Muller is the former head of the orthopedic surgery section of the Inselspital in Berne. A hip replacement device which he developed led to the formation in 1967 of Protek, a company specialising in orthopedic surgical instruments including the hip replacement, which he sold to Sulzer. His wife Martha, an art lover, originally envisioned the development of the Schongrun property to become a cultural centre along the lines of the Fondation Gianadda in Martigny.

It was shortly after Prof. Muller's 80th birthday party in March, 1998, held in the Berne Kunstmuseum, home to the world's largest collection of works by Paul Klee, that the new Klee project fell into place.

The previous year, Livia Klee, the artist's daughter-in-law, had donated had donated more than 600 works by Klee to the city and canton of Berne with the proviso that a museum to house the works be realised before 2006. In addition, Paul Klee's grandson, Alexander Klee, announced the permanent loan to Berne of his substantial holdings. These, plus the approximately 2,500 works from Paul Klee's estate which comprise the Paul Klee Foundation and will become part of the Klee centre, additional works owned by the Kunstmuseum and on loan from private collections, add up to nearly 4,000 pieces of art, an estimated two-fifths of Paul Klee's prodigious output, currently in Berne.


When the Swiss National Bank announced that it would be vacating the handsome Renaissance-style building located next to the Basel Kunstmuseum, Maya Oeri, a member of the museum board, decided that it would provide just the space needed for the museum to expand its facilities. "When I heard that the building was available, I went to the city of Basel and offered to buy it on behalf of the museum," Mrs. Oeri says. "If the city had purchased it, they would have allocated only one floor to the museum and that was not enough." The donation covers not only the purchase of the property but a major share of the necessary conversion work.

Thanks to Maya Oeri's donation, the museum will move its library, offices and storerooms into the bank building, which will be named the "Laurens Bau" in memory of Mrs. Oeri's son who died at a young age. This will free up an entire floor of the museum, covering 1,300 square metres, which will be used for additional, much-needed exhibition space. The addition, which is scheduled to be inaugurated in 2002, comes at a time when the Basel Kunstmuseum, the oldest public museum in Europe, is at a transition point. "Director Katharina Schmidt will retire in 2001 and her successor will have the challenging opportunity to chart the future of the museum in substantially enlarged working environment," Mrs. Oeri says.

Such generosity runs in the family. Maya Oeri is also board chairman of the Emanuel Hoffman Foundation, which was founded in 1933 by her grandmother, Maya Sacher, in memory of her first husband, one of the founders of Hoffmann-LaRoche. The Foundation, based on Maya Sacher's outstanding collection of contemporary art, also has an endowment which has enabled it to be greatly enlarged over the years. The collection is on permanent loan to Basel's Museum fur Gegenwartskunst, the contemporary art museum. Mrs. Sacher also paid for the construction of the museum from two preexisting paper factories located next to the Rhine.


Examples of individual and corporate support of the arts in Switzerland are numerous and date back many years. Oskar Reinhart's gift of his home and art collection to the Swiss Confederation in 1958 made Am Romerholz in Winterthur an important cultural attraction in that art-rich city. Winterthur's cultural scene received another important boost in 1995 when Villa Flora, housing the collection of modern art amassed by Hedi and Arthur Hahnloser, was opened to the pubic. In Geneva, opera patron Guy Demole responded to the need for alternative premises for the city's opera during the renovation of its opera house in 1998 by paying for the transformation of an unused power plant, an impressive Beaux-Mt structure located on an island in the Rhone. The resulting concert ball, Batiment des Forces Motrices, continues to serve Geneva's music lovers with a variety of performances.

Migros probably leads the list of corporate patronage with its continued support of a wide range of cultural activities, including the Museum of Contemporary Art museum in Zurich, which opened in 1996. That same year, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Hoffmann LaRoche, inaugurated the Tinguely Museum in Base. The list of Swiss banks who regularly contribute is a long one.

While sheer generosity is certainly a prime motivating factor in cultural patronage, tax benefits could go further in increasing and widening private and institutional support of culture in Switzerland. This is up to the cantons, which not only have jurisdiction in tax matters but also in cultural matters. "Unfortunately, there is no 'Swiss-based' body specialising in promoting the sponsorship or patronage of the arts. Such organisations exist in practically all other European countries," says Quentin Byrne-Sutton, a Geneva lawyer specialising in art law and the legal aspects affecting the trade of art. A co-founder of the Art Law Centre, dedicated to documentation and research, in 1990, Mr. Byrne-Sutton has organised 15 international symposiums in the field and lectures widely.

He is currently involved in a Geneva cantonal project seeking ways to encourage more support by private patrons by offering tax incentives. In addition making tax-free charitable status available to cultural institutions that meet certain requirements, which also makes donations partially tax deductible, Geneva is the second canton (after Jura) to introduce a law that allows gifts of art in lieu of estate taxes. "This law is both an incentive to donors and an advantage to the canton, Mr. Byrne-Sutton says. "It enriches state museums through non-restrictive measures and prevents the dispersal of important collections. Similar laws have proved successful other countries such as France and England."

While such measures will undoubtedly serve to increase private involvement in supporting the arts, Quentin Byrne-Sutton is quick to add that it is clearly stated in the law, as well as in a recently completed report requested by the Geneva government, that private funding should not replace public support. This sentiment echoes that of David Streiff, director of the Federal Office of Culture, who would like to have a better system, both for cantons and the confederation, to encourage the generosity of smaller contributors. He strongly supports non-governmental funding for culture through sponsoring and private contributions, encouraged by tax relief, but as a supplement to -- not a replacement of -- government support which he wants to retain at present levels. "I would strenuously resist the 'American model', where almost totally private funding of culture has left vast sections of the country culturally deprived," he says. "Here in Switzerland, thanks to public support, even small towns can have a rich cul tural life."
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Comment:The new Paul Klee Centre near Berne, Switzerland, will be privately funded and dedicated to the work of the artist.
Publication:Swiss News
Geographic Code:4EXSI
Date:Mar 1, 2000

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