What makes an art gallery memorable? The Beyeler in Basel works its magic with a beautiful natural setting, light-filled architecture, and an all-star collection that make a visit an inspiring experience.
BASEL, Switzerland ‒ Great modern and contemporary art has many homes these days, but the Fondation Beyeler in pretty Riehen, just 20 minutes by tram from Basel, will always have a special place in my heart. It’s a perfect example of what the French call tout ensemble (parts forming a whole): Every aspect of a visit — from the trip there to the Renzo Piano building on the tree-filled grounds to the brilliantly curated works by artists like Monet, Matisse, Giacometti, and Rothko — came together to help me see art, and the world, with new insight.
Ernst and Hildy Beyeler opened the museum in 1997 to make their collection of 300 or so paintings and sculptures gathered over 50 years as gallery owners accessible to all. Ernst Beyeler was one of the co-founders of Art Basel, the international art-fair phenomemon, in 1970. Today, the Fondation Beyeler is Switzerland's most popular art museum.
Central Basel is historic and rich in cultural highlights, but taking Tram 6— who doesn't love Switzerland's efficient transportation? — to Riehen lets me decompress and look at quaint neighborhoods, shops, and fields before arriving steps from the museum. My sense of relaxation is complete when I approach the Beyeler, set in Berower Park, an English-style landscape park with trees and ponds ready for strolling. The park holds the 18th-century Villa Berower, now the museum's elegant restaurant, with a terrace for alfresco dining and gazing on sculptures by the likes of Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly.
Nature and art interact through the windows; you might see the pond outside while looking at Monet's water lilies.
Renzo Piano's building impresses me with its modesty and its clear goals of blending into an historic landscape and offering brilliant light for the art within. The simple, boxlike structure, in reddish porphyry with overhanging glass panels, hugs the landscape and is surrounded by trees and fields. I love the pond that laps against a floor-to-ceiling window in the museum.
Ultimately it's all about the art. With around 20 galleries, the museum is satisfyingly intimate: I can focus on each exquisite piece and not be overwhelmed. The Beyeler rotates its collection and has spectacular special exhibits with works from elsewhere, so there’s plenty fresh to see with each visit. Nature and art interact through the windows; you might see the pond outside while looking at Monet's water lilies. The high-tech glass roof and windows allow light to stream onto works by Picasso, Klee, Kiefer, and others, opening them to nature and revealing their details. Seeing modern art here makes me realize how unique these works are and that creativity like this is always inspiring.
The Beyeler is an aesthetic wonder: Put it on your art list.
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This article was originally published in 2018 and was updated in 2023.