TransFormed: Ernst Beyeler holds exhibition that disintegrates boundary between painting and sculpture

Beyeler, doyen of Basel dealers, has taken over the Kunstmuseum and the Kunsthalle to accommodate this event


Is Europe’s oldest art fair going down-market? Organised guided tours for the uninitiated and the last minute promotion of the multiples section, where the less well-off will have the opportunity to acquire first-class signed works at rock-bottom prices, might suggest that it is.

Knowing how hard times are, local dealer Ernst Beyeler is inviting visitors to join a pilgrimage from market to temple: until 27 September, he is taking over both Kunstmuseum and Kunsthalle to stage an exhibition. Although the famous gallery owner is thinking of retiring and has for some time been searching for an institution to take on his private collection, the title of the event—“TransForm”—is not a veiled reference to his forthcoming conversion from art dealer to museum collector.

The exhibition does nevertheless reflect changes and blurrings in the artistic vocabulary of which Beyeler has had first-hand experience during his forty-year career, as it explores developments from Minimal Art to the international Transavanguardia.

It would be simplistic to interpret “TransForm” as a study of the overlapping and interconnection of painting and sculpture in the twentieth century; it would be more exact to say that avant-garde movements abandoned the concept of “a painting” or “a sculpture” as such. It is no coincidence that the exhibition begins with examples of Matisse’s work in “papier découpé”, in which the three-dimensional element is extremely tenuous (the different thicknesses of the assembled pieces of paper barely perceptible) and with Picasso’s Synthetic Cubist creations. For others, such as Miró and Calder, the boundary between painting and sculpture is continually displaced as they search for new ways of combining the two, with the emphasis on space, in the case of Giacometti, or real movement of forms. This was the theoretical foundation for Tinguely’s “Métamechaniques”, which were worked by motors and emitted noises and puffs of smoke.

Work by this Swiss artist— a direct heir of Dada and Futurism, can be seen in the Kunsthalle section of the exhibition. Beyeler has in fact made a distinction, broadly historical, between painter-sculptors and those artists, mainly those of Minimalist and Conceptualist tendencies, who have sought to blur the two idioms in their installations and in performance and video art. This is why the Kunstmuseum section concludes with Baselitz, who, in the context of Transavanguardia and Neo-Expressionism, has attempted to return to the traditional forms of painting and “standing sculpture”.

The Kunsthalle, on the other hand, includes works by Newmann and Stella—represented by his latest wall reliefs—Walter De Maria, Donald Judd and Beuys; also Naumann, who was one of the first to use neon as a medium for painting, sculpture and graphic work, and Borofsky, who forces drawing, traditionally considered the basis of all the arts, to serve the spatial and environmental demands of his installations.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Basel TransFormed'