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Paul Klee

Paul Klee (1879–1940) was born as a German citizen in Münchenbuchsee near Bern, Switzerland. In 1911, he had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. In the same year, he met fellow artist Wassily Kandinsky and became acquainted with the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), exhibiting with them at their second show in 1912. Later that year, after becoming familiar with the art of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Robert Delaunay during a trip to Paris, Klee began incorporating cubist and other innovative colorist techniques and ideas into his own distinct practice. Two years later, in 1914, Klee traveled to Tunisia with his friends, the artists August Macke and Louis Moilliet, a revelatory experience that the artist credits with further awakening him to color. In 1921, he was appointed to the faculty of the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius, the founder and first director of the school, where he taught and worked as a "form master" from 1921 to 1925, while the school was in Weimar, and as a professor from 1926 to 1931, when the school was located in Dessau.

The renowned gallerist Hans Goltz, a fierce supporter of modern art and Paul Klee’s first general agent from 1919 to 1925, staged a retrospective of Klee’s art in 1920 at his gallery in Munich. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, had become familiar with Klee’s art in the 1920s and presented an exhibition of his work in March of 1930, the institution’s first solo show of a living European artist. In 1935, his work was the subject of major retrospectives at the Kunsthalle Bern and the Kunsthalle Basel. In 1940, shortly before he passed away, Klee had a solo exhibition of new work at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

Important posthumous presentations of Klee’s work include a traveling memorial exhibition in 1941 that was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and toured additional venues across the United States, including the San Francisco Museum of Art. His work has been the subject of major retrospectives and traveling solo exhibitions at institutions including, among others, Tate Gallery, London (1945); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, which traveled to Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1957); Akademie der Künste, Berlin (1961); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1967 and 1993); Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (1969–1970); Seibu Museum, Tokyo (1980); and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, which traveled to the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Kunstmuseum Bern (1987–1988).

Since 2000, numerous exhibitions on Klee have explored various aspects of his art and career. From 2003 to 2004, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, presented Klee and Kandinsky: The Bauhaus Years. An exhibition focusing on Klee’s impact in the United States, Klee and America, was featured at the Neue Galerie, New York, and traveled to The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, and The Menil Collection, Houston, from 2006 to 2007. Paul Klee: Art in the Making 1883–1940 was shown at the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAK), Kyoto, and traveled to the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT), Tokyo, in 2011. 

Among major exhibitions of his work during the past decade are The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible at Tate Modern from 2013 to 2014; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, held Paul Klee: Irony at Work in 2016; Fondation Beyeler, Basel, hosted the retrospective Paul Klee: The Abstract Dimension from 2017 to 2018; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, featured Paul Klee: Construction of Mystery in 2018; and Museo delle culture (MUDEC), Milan, presented Paul Klee: Alle origini dell’arte (Paul Klee: At the origins of art) from 2018 to 2019. In 2019, Paul Klee: Equilíbrio Instável debuted at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, São Paulo, and traveled to Centro Cultural do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, and Centro Cultural do Brasil, Belo Horizonte. Klee in North Africa: 1914, Tunisia | Egypt, 1928 was on view at the Museum Berggruen, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin from 2020 to 2021. In 2022, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presented the two-person exhibition Paul Klee & Lee Mullican: Outward Sight and Inner Vision. 

In 1947, after the death of Paul Klee’s widow, four prominent collectors in Bern established the Paul Klee Foundation, which was housed in the Kunstmuseum Bern until 2004. On the occasion of a large donation of works from the Klee Family, the foundation was absorbed into a new museum dedicated to the artist. In 2005, the Zentrum Paul Klee opened as an independent institution and research center with a building designed by Renzo Piano. Klee’s work is in the permanent collections of countless major museums around the world.

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Paul Klee, Teiche (Ponds), 1931.

This exhibition centers on the ongoing fascination of the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) for the observation of nature and natural phenomena, from his earliest educational stages to his final artistic period. His curiosity for the origins of form and artistic expression led him to the dutiful study of his immediate surroundings. This background, along with his reading of books like The Metamorphosis of Plants, by J. W. Goethe, were at the heart of courses he taught at the Bauhaus, during the years the early avant-gardes were being consolidated theoretically.

His period as a teacher gave way to the elaboration of reflections in the format of pedagogical compendiums, derived as they were from his careful study of nature. Klee continued to work in these areas in what was a mature synthesis, and they became his artistic refuge amidst the challenges of his later years, where he was forced to live with a degenerative disease.

As we follow these stages in the artist's life, Paul Klee and the Secrets of Nature presents his work in Barcelona in four sections, each of which includes work of other artists who also explored aspects of natural phenomena. As female artists, however, they did not receive due attention or consideration in their day: Gabriele Münter (Germany, 1877-1962), Emma Kunz (Switzerland, 1892-1963) and Maruja Mallo (Spain, 1902-1995). Another artist who enters into dialogue with Klee is Sandra Knecht (Switzerland, 1968), who, like Klee, is originally from Bern. Working from a contemporary queer perspective, Knecht explores forms of rural and local culture, closely linked to the landscape and livestock. In her installation, Knecht will address Klee's illness at the end of his life.

Paul Klee and the Secrets of Nature is a project born of collaboration and interchange between the Fundació Joan Miró and Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern. It features the advisory role of Fabienne Eggelhöfer, head curator of the Swiss institution.

Learn more at Fundació Joan Miró.

 
A painting by Paul Klee, titled "Fragmente (Fragments)," dated 1937

Paul Klee, Fragmente (Fragments), 1937

December 18, 2021–June 26, 2022

This focused presentation brings together for the first time meditative works by Paul Klee and early paintings by Lee Mullican, created after he moved to San Francisco in 1947, that blend earthly and celestial imagery and explore the inner life of the visible universe.

The Swiss-born modernist Paul Klee was an artist and teacher whose work remains influential for generations of practitioners. His compositions combine rhythmic patterns with studies of nature and the cosmos to capture what he called “a synthesis of outward sight and inner vision” that inspired artists including Lee Mullican, who first encountered Klee’s work at a memorial exhibition in 1942. Like Klee, Mullican sought “the opening of a new world, opening of the mind into a kind of cosmic thought … beyond what one saw, beyond form.”

A painting by Paul Klee, titled "17 Gewürze (17 épices)," dated 1932.

Paul Klee, 17 Gewürze (17 épices), 1932. Donation Genevière et Jean Masurel. LaM, Villeneuve d'Ascq

November 19, 2021–February 27, 2022

Paul Klee: Between Two Worlds creates unexpected dialogues between works from different periods of the artist’s creative life and a series of objects and documents from his personal collection, highlighting his interest in the question of “art’s origins.” Organized into four major chapters, the exhibition brings together 120 works and focuses on the way in which children’s drawings, prehistoric art, non-Western art, and what is often referred to as “the art of the insane” led Paul Klee to rethink his art and, in particular after the traumatism of the First World War, situate it “between two worlds”: between search for origins and allegiance to modernity.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Flammarion in German and French, with texts by Fabienne Eggelhöfer, Osamukuda, Sébastien Delot, Jeanne-Bathilde Lacourt, Savine Faupin, Christophe Boulanger, Maria Stavrinaki, and Morad Montazami. 

A painting by Paul Klee, titled Fast getroffen (Nearly Hit), dated 1928

Paul Klee, Fast getroffen (Nearly Hit), 1928

July 10–December 5, 2021

Drawing is a line that “goes out for a walk,” wrote the Swiss-born modernist Paul Klee. Klee’s dynamic lines and rhythmic patterns have been a catalyst for generations of artists, including California-born Ruth Asawa. Asawa first encountered Klee’s art and writing through her Black Mountain professor Josef Albers, whom Klee had taught at the Bauhaus, a revolutionary art school in Germany. She later noted—evoking Klee—that she was interested in “the economy of a line” because “a line can go anywhere.” This presentation highlights the affinity between Paul Klee’s compositional approach and Ruth Asawa’s explorations of line and shape in works she created at Black Mountain College and in her first years in San Francisco, where she moved in 1949.

March 31, 2021

Texts by Didier Ottinger, Béatrice André-Salvini, Alice Querin, Marie Sarré, et al.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s exciting exhibition program explores the enduring dialogue between Eastern and Western artistic expression. Published to accompany an important exhibition at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Abstraction and Calligraphy – Towards a Universal Language brings together a rich array of works, from tenth-century ceramics from Samarkand to paintings and drawings by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Cy Twombly, and other modern masters. The ways in which these artists respond to Eastern calligraphic traditions enriches our understanding of the dynamic between modern art in the West and long-established forms from Asia and the Near East.

A painting by Paul Klee, titled "Park near Lu," dated 1938.

 Paul Klee, Park near Lu, 1938

February 17–June 12, 2021

In collaboration with Centre Georges Pompidou

Abstract artists set out to form a universal language that could be understood by all. That idea was influenced by the calligraphy of Asia and North Africa. There was something about Eastern script that fueled the imagination of Western artists. The Arab world was full of signs and symbols they could draw from. Both raw and precise, expressive and restrained, calligraphy unlocked a new way for them to express the inexpressible: emotion, empathy, ideas. In the museum’s first exhibition of 2021, the Louvre Abu Dhabi brings together masterworks from the Centre Georges Pompidou, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, and other institutions to explore and discover how East and West come together on the same canvas.

The exhibition provides a rare chance to appreciate masterworks by Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Lee Ufan, André Masson, Dia Azzawi, and Jackson Pollock, alongside contemporary works by Sanki King, Mona Hatoum, and eL Seed. Paul Klee traveled to the region at two distinct periods of his career, both marking critical junctures in the artist’s stylistic development.

A painting by Paul Klee, titled "Vermessene Felder (Surveyed Fields)," dated 1929.

Paul Klee, Vermessene Felder (Surveyed Fields), 1929

March 3, 2020–June 10, 2021

Twice in his life, Paul Klee was drawn to North Africa for study purposes, joining a long tradition of artists’ journeys to the “Orient.” The beginning of his art career took him to Tunisia, and as an established artist and teacher at the Bauhaus he traveled to Egypt. The Museum Berggruen is dedicating a concentrated special presentation to Klee’s works in the Nationalgalerie Collection whose origins are connected with his travels to North Africa. These works are complemented by five generous loans from the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.

Paul Klee’s two-week study tour with August Macke and Louis Moilliet in 1914 marked a major turning point in the artist’s work, which saw an intensification of color and removal of representational reference in his motifs. Deeply moved by this new environment, Klee undertook developing a new visual language, transforming architecture and landscapes into abstract, grid-like fields of color. Over a decade later, Klee traveled back to North Africa, visiting Egypt in 1928 to 1929. Fascinated by the geometric patterning etched into fields along the Nile valley, Klee created a series of highly geometricized compositions of fractured horizontal and vertical bands. Although the rhythm of these configurations take their cue from the mathematical principle Klee called the “cardinal progression” (1, 2, 4, 8, 16), the vibrant coloration is wholly inspired by the atmospheric impressions drawn from Egypt’s natural environment.

Almost mythic in status, the Bauhaus is seen as one of the most influential schools of art and design of the twentieth century. Established in 1919, the Bauhaus sought to erode distinctions among crafts, the fine arts, and architecture through a program of study centered on practical experience and diverse theories. Until the school’s forced closure by the Nazi regime in 1933, students and masters worked with a variety of traditional and experimental media and continually reconceived the role of art and design in contemporary society. Despite its relatively brief, itinerant existence, the Bauhaus occupies an outsize position in the cultural imaginary.

Marking the hundredth anniversary of the school’s opening, Bauhaus Beginnings reexamines the founding principles of this landmark institution. The exhibition considers the school’s early dedication to spiritual expression and its development of a curriculum based on elements deemed fundamental to all forms of artistic practice.

Artists featured in the exhibition include teachers at the school such as Paul Klee, who taught at the Bauhaus from 1921 to 1931. 

Paul Klee may have been remote in person—some described him, at times, as “unapproachable”—but the territory he opened up through his work continues to affect other artists today, generations after his death in 1940.

“Nothing is more astonishing to the student of Klee than his extraordinary variety,” Alfred Barr, the founding director of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, wrote in 1941. “In quality of imagination also he can hold his own with Picasso.” 

Klee’s energetic experimentation with forms and materials has proved influential for artists from Anni Albers and Joan Miró in the 1920s to Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and living artists such as Etel Adnan, Michaela Flatley, and Richard Tuttle. Clement Greenberg’s famous observation of 1957—“Almost everybody, whether aware or not, was learning from Klee”—still holds true.

The ’20s: Albers, Miró, Calder

During the 1920s, Klee’s unique use of line—he is said to have called it his “most treasured possession”—inspired his contemporaries both formally and conceptually. A student in the Bauhaus weaving workshop when Klee began teaching Theory of Design there, in 1927, the young Anni Albers transformed her teacher’s instruction to “take a line for a walk” into physical form using thread—an approach that propelled her whole career as an artist. 

“I was trying to build something out of dots, out of lines,” she later reflected, “out of a structure built of those elemental elements and not the transposition into an idea.” 

Among Albers’s notes is her translation into English of a lecture Klee gave in 1924 titled “On Modern Art”—a text she had hoped to have published, as she later wrote in a letter to the German art historian Charlotte Weidler, to “give me a feeling of having said at last in some way THANK YOU to Klee” (emphasis hers).

While the German Bauhaus emphasized rational solutions in the aftermath of the war, Klee’s work also appealed to the surrealist movement with which he was partly aligned, and that sought to reveal the “superior reality” of the subconscious mind. In particular, the “pictorial poetry” of Klee’s work, in which line can have a distinct calligraphic quality within a composition, was a revelation to artists seeking to convey the unconscious. 

In works such as III Ich bin gesandt einen Alb zu Nehmen von der Menschheit (III I am sent to relieve mankind of a nightmare) (1918) and Die Zwitscher-Maschine (The twittering machine) (1922), Klee enacted his famous statement, made in a 1920 essay titled “Creative Confession,” that “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” In Klee’s work, other artists found a realm of abstraction between the verbal and the visual; his fitful, organic handling appeared to directly inscribe a train of thought, and with a unique lyricism that persisted throughout his oeuvre.

The influence of Klee’s line and his tendency to detach forms from a definitive ground is clear, for example, in the “peinture-poésie”or “painting-poetry” works of the 1920s by Joan Miró, who frequently sought to give expression to memory, and made no secret of the importance the older artist had for him (he likely first encountered Klee’s work in around 1922). “Seeing Miró in light of Klee,“ Elizabeth Hutton Turner writes, “was to witness how Miro had gained entry to an autonomous sphere of abstraction and the unconscious via Klee’s seemingly boundless atmosphere of color and running lines.” Miró later said, “My encounter with Klee’s work was the most important event in my life.” 

It may have been through his close friend Miró (whom he met in Paris in 1928), that the sculptor Alexander Calder became one of the earliest American artists to have been affected by Klee. Calder’s “mobiles,” in which bent wire creates lines in space that are weighted and lightly choreographed by attached steel shapes, seem indebted to the structural rhythm of Klee’s compositions, which are similarly “suspended” in two dimensions, and which can appear imbued with movement.

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(New York, London & Hong Kong –April 19, 2019) David Zwirner is pleased to announce its exclusive collaboration with the Klee Family. The gallery is planning a solo exhibition of works by Paul Klee entirely from the Klee Family collection for September 2019 in New York. This spring, a one-artist presentation of works by Klee will be the focus of the gallery’s booth at TEFAF, New York.

A pioneering modernist of unrivaled creative output, Paul Klee (1879–1940) counts among the truly defining artists of the twentieth century. An artist, teacher, writer, and thinker, Klee explored and expanded the terrain of avant-garde art through work that ranges from stunning colorist grids to evocative graphical productions.

Klee taught for a decade, from 1921 to 1931, at the Bauhaus, the famed German art and design school, and the novelty of his art and ideas established him as one of the institution’s foremost instructors. He has often been associated with some of the most important art movements of the twentieth century, such as expressionism, cubism, and surrealism, yet his practice remained highly individualistic and distinct; it was never encapsulated by the concerns of a movement or reducible to the modernist binary of abstraction and figuration. Klee’s interests were expansive, and his art reveals a deep engagement with language, music (he was an accomplished violinist), satire, and politics, among others. A quality of radical experimentalism characterizes the artist’s treatment of color and materials—he used collage and a range of painterly media to create works that were not only visually striking but also highly tactile. This spirit persisted in his art during his last years, while he lived in exile in Bern, Switzerland, after the Nazi ascent to power in 1933, a period in the artist’s life that remains underexamined.

David Zwirner will act as the Klee Family’s commercial gallery. In this role, David Zwirner will promote and broaden the legacy of the artist through curated exhibitions at its New York, London, and Hong Kong gallery spaces; the development of new scholarship and publications on the artist’s work; and the sale of artworks consigned to the gallery.

As stated by David Zwirner, "The gallery is honored to collaborate with the Klee Family in advancing the exceptional legacy of Paul Klee, a true icon of twentieth-century art. Klee’s curiosity and artistic sensibility were inexhaustible, and his influence extends far beyond his lifetime. He is the quintessential artist’s artist. Klee’s mature work overlaps directly with some of the brightest and darkest moments of twentieth-century history and art history. During the Weimar Republic and at the Bauhaus, Klee led the way for modernism. During the subsequent Nazi era, he remained a beacon for the avant-garde until his untimely death in 1940. There are many facets to Klee’s art, and we are so excited that we can now embark on this journey to introduce his singular vision to a younger generation."

Aljoscha Klee, the grandson of Paul Klee, states, "The partnership with David Zwirner directs the work by Paul Klee toward a new generation of artists and collectors. Marcel Duchamp once said: ‘He had so much to say, that a Klee never became another Klee.'"

The gallery’s first exhibition of the artist’s work, in September 2019, will coincide with the centennial anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus. The show will be organized in collaboration with the Klee Family and will focus on the work the artist produced during the last years of his life. It will be on view concurrently with an exhibition at the gallery of works by Anni Albers, who was one of Klee’s students at the Bauhaus and often praised and credited Klee as a significant influence on her art.

Paul Klee was born as a German citizen in Münchenbuchsee near Bern, Switzerland, in 1879. In 1911, he had his first solo exhibition at the Galerie Thannhauser in Munich. In the same year, he met fellow artist Wassily Kandinsky and became acquainted with the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), exhibiting with them at their second show in 1912. Later that year, after becoming familiar with the art of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Robert Delaunay during a trip to Paris, Klee began incorporating cubist and other innovative colorist techniques and ideas into his own distinct practice. Two years later, in 1914, Klee traveled to Tunisia with his friends, the artists August Macke and Louis Moilliet, a revelatory experience that the artist credits with further awakening him to color. In 1921, he was appointed to the faculty of the Bauhaus by Walter Gropius, the founder and first director of the school, where he taught and worked as a "form master" from 1921 to 1925, while the school was in Weimar, and as a professor from 1926 to 1931, when the school was located in Dessau.

The renowned gallerist Hans Goltz, a fierce supporter of modern art and Paul Klee’s first general agent from 1919 to 1925, staged a retrospective of Klee’s art in 1920 at his gallery in Munich. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the first director of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, had become familiar with Klee’s art in the 1920s and presented an exhibition of his work in March of 1930, the institution’s first solo show of a living European artist. In 1935, his work was the subject of major retrospectives at the Kunsthalle Bern and the Kunsthalle Basel. In 1940, shortly before he passed away, Klee had a solo exhibition of new work at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

Important posthumous presentations of Klee’s work include a traveling memorial exhibition in 1941 that toured venues in the United States, including the San Francisco Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, New York. His work has been the subject of major retrospectives and traveling solo exhibitions at institutions including, among others, Tate Gallery, London (1945); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, which traveled to Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels (1957); Akademie der Künste, Berlin (1961); Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1967 and 1993); Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris (1969–1970); Seibu Museum, Tokyo (1980); and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, which traveled to the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Kunstmuseum Bern (1987–1988).

Since 2000, numerous exhibitions on Klee have explored various aspects of his art and career. From 2003 to 2004, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, presented Klee and Kandinsky: The Bauhaus Years. An exhibition focusing on Klee’s impact in the United States, Klee and America, was featured at the Neue Galerie, New York, and traveled to The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, and The Menil Collection, Houston, from 2006 to 2007. Paul Klee: Art in the Making 1883–1940 was shown at the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAK), Kyoto, and traveled to the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT), Tokyo, in 2011. In 2013, Tate Modern, London, presented The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible.

Most recently, the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, held Paul Klee: Irony at Work in 2016; Fondation Beyeler, Basel, hosted a major retrospective from 2017 to 2018; Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, featured Paul Klee: Construction of Mystery in 2018; and Museo delle culture (MUDEC), Milan, presented Paul Klee: Alle origini dell’arte (Paul Klee: At the origins of art) in 2018-2019. Paul Klee: Equilíbrio Instável is currently on view at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, São Paulo, and will travel to Centro Cultural do Brasil, Rio de Janeiro, and Centro Cultural do Brasil, Belo Horizonte.

In 1947, the Paul Klee Foundation was established in Bern and housed within the city’s Kunstmuseum. In 2005, the foundation became the Zentrum Paul Klee, an independent institution and research center with a museum building designed by Renzo Piano. Klee’s work is in the permanent collections of countless major museums around the world.

For all press inquiries, contact
Julia Lukacher +1 212 727 2070 [email protected]
Sara Chan +44 203 538 3165 [email protected]

Image: Paul Klee, Ad Parnassum, 1932. Kunstmuseum Bern, Association of friends

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