BASEL, SWITZERLAND - Five years ago this spring, Sam Keller began his directorship of the Fondation Beyeler, the Swiss museum established by Ernst and Hildy Beyeler in 1997 for their collection of Modern and contemporary art. Since 2000, Keller had been running the Art Basel fair, where he had overseen the event’s expansion to Miami and the addition of a satellite design fair. For all of his experience, however, he was immediately struck by the complexity of running a museum. “I sometimes compare my transition from Art Basel to the Fondation Beyeler as going from being a florist to a landscape architect,” says Keller, now 48. “I love the museum life and I have found my dream job here.”
Samuel Keller, Director of the Fondation Beyeler, in front of Gerhard Richter’s 1024 Farben, 1973. Daros Collection, Switzerland. © 2012, Gerhard Richter. Photo: Matthias Willi.
The role is not without its challenges. One of Keller’s primary tasks is continuing the transition of the Beyeler as the private initiative of one of the great 20th-century art patrons to a 21st-century public art institution. “We are a modern museum, not a mausoleum,” he says, and mentions a newly commissioned sculpture by Richard Serra that will be installed later this year, as well as a show of live art curated by Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist called 14 Rooms, which will coincide with Art Basel in June. But with a collection built on the modern, the museum constantly seeks fresh ways to mount historical shows. “We have extended the programming in different directions,” Keller explains, “one of which is backwards, to the roots of Modernism, by showing artists related to, but not in the collection.” One such artist is Odilon Redon, the late 19th-century French Symbolist whose work was a touchstone for Beyeler artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Mark Rothko. Redon is the subject of an exhibition at the Beyeler opening 2 February through 18 May, and the hope is that viewers will see the parallels. Some connections are quite direct. A pastel in the show La Mort de Bouddha, circa 1899, originally belonged to Matisse. “It’s an astonishing work and very rarely shown,” says Keller. “Matisse admired the intensity of the colour palette. Redon had a great influence on the Fauves.”
Odilon Redon’s La Mort de Bouddha, circa 1899. Millicent Rogers Collection. Photo: Davis A. Gaffga.
In the year ahead, visitors can also expect to see selections of Latin American art from the Zurich-based Daros Collection, including Cildo Meireles, Doris Salcedo, Guillermo Kuitka, and Ana Mendieta, and then a Gustave Courbet show followed by paintings by Peter Doig. “Always expect the unexpected,” says Keller. “Most private foundations end with the life of its founders. For us, this is only the beginning.”
Odilon Redon’s Le Cyclope, circa 1914. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Photo: Collection Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo.