I have written before that I’ve had jaw-dropping art history moments in my life. There have been three, although I’ve only written about the first two: Manet’s still life of lilacs during an undergraduate slide lecture, discovering the church steeple looming over the garden behind Charles Demuth’s childhood home in Lancaster, PA, and seeing Velasquez’s Las Meninas at the Prado in Madrid (I’ll write about this last one eventually). There have also been the occasional goosebumpy experiences mostly derived from entering amazing architectural spaces like St. Peter’s in Rome, Notre Dame in Paris, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. Better yet is when the goosebumps are the result of the intersection of architecture and art.
One of the super cool things about my job as a curator was escorting art to random places around the world to which I would not travel otherwise. Back in 2006, I escorted the BMA’s masterwork, Matisse’s Pink Nude, to the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, Switzerland. I had heard from colleagues to not miss a trip to see the Beyeler, an intimate museum set in green, open fields on the outskirts of Basel. The museum normally devotes several galleries to single artists enabling an in-depth view into a few, like Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. It’s an interesting model, although it helps, of course, if you like the art of whoever is being featured.
One of the sections focuses on Claude Monet, whose work is easy to like. I confess I appreciate his early work more than the late, large canvases of flowers from his garden at Giverny, but the Beyeler has on view a large canvas of waterlilies that comes to life because of the space it occupies. The gallery houses only that one painting. It is a long rectangular room at the short end of which is a glass wall looking out onto the landscape. Abutting the window on the outside is a pool of water (with waterlilies, of course) at the same level as the floor of the room. Light bouncing off the moving water flutters across the walls of the gallery in constant motion. The painting is hung on one of the long walls and along the opposite wall is a long, white couch. The whole scene is built for quiet contemplation.
When I found the gallery, it was empty and I was blissfully alone. I sat down on the couch and took in the light flickering across the walls and floor. This was impressive enough, but suddenly music started playing. It was something lovely, classical. Chopin, I think. That’s when the goosebumps started. I really loved the totality of the experience. The awareness of the outdoors mirroring the effects of Monet’s conception, the ability to settle into a comfortable couch and linger, and the addition of lovely music. It was an assault on the senses in the best way.
Put the Beyeler on your list of post-pandemic places to visit. It’s totally worth the effort.
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.