JWR Articles: Gallery/Museum - Kunstmuseum Basel (Featured artist: Andy Warhol) - September 21, 2010

Kunstmuseum Basel

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First-class special exhibits and a comprehensive permanent collection

Just about an hour by train from Lucerne and then a brisk walk or 3-stop tram ride, music lovers in search of visual stimulation will enjoy spending a few hours in Kunstmuseum Basel.

With a massive Rodin bronze single-handedly commanding the spacious courtyard, there’s hardly a need for signage to know you have arrived.

On this occasion the exhibit, Andy Warhol - The Early Sixties: Paintings and Drawings 1961-1964, had just opened (running until January 23, 2011). It’s an extraordinary opportunity of revisiting Warhol’s singular “surface” work of the early 1960s, featuring icons Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Coca Cola, Campbell’s soup and Yankee bucks in larger-than-life, multi-image views. Hmm, hmmm good!

Warhol’s road from commercial artist to the legendary creator of Pop Art can be readily seen on the walls, but also probed deeply through the thoughtful essays (by Bernhard Mendes Bürgi, Arthur C. Danto, Sebastian Egenhofer, Georg Frei, Stefan Neuner, Maren Stotz and Nina Zimmer) in the accompanying catalogue (240 pages, 171 illustrations).

From selling soap (most especially upscale women’s shoes) to making universal statements by altering pre-existing images, Warhol’s accessibility and popularity can readily be explained by the lack of background or specialized training needed to get something from his work.

Seeing this collection with its many silk-screen creations masterfully manipulated must give hope to all aspiring artists that they too can achieve recognition and success if a way can be found to make something old new again (clichés abound for a reason).

Even the perpetually disturbing selections from his “Death and Disaster” series (notably 5 Deaths 17 Times in Black and White, Ambulance Disaster and Suicide (Silver Jumping Man)), silently point out that the human experience was just as tenuous then as it is today.

Thank goodness for the “Flowers” group which magnificently fill the final room with an array of life-affirming colours and basic white that exude hope bursting with possibility and a couple of saucy stamens that subliminally speak to Warhol’s own blossoming sexuality.

If time allows, the museum’s other floors are full of paintings and sculptures from many masters and considerable work from Swiss artists.

The links between visual and aural arts are abundantly apparent. Henri Rousseau’s The Muse Inspiring the Poet (1909) makes its flowering point even as Picasso’s The Poet (1912) speaks volumes with a more muted tone. Paul Klee’s Ancient Harmony (1925) might well be set to music by one of Switzerland’s talented composers (cross-reference below). Having just heard a breathtaking performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto (“To the Memory of an Angel”), coming across Marc Chagall’s longtime-coming (1923-1933-1947) Fall of the Angel seemed especially welcome and appropriate.

There’s far too much more on display than there will ever be room for here—be sure to add a visit to your cultural trip-planner the next time Switzerland is on your travel horizon. JWR

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Featured artist - Andy Warhol
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