November 11, 2016 – April 23, 2017
The first private Swiss collectors to treasure abstract and contemporary art, Hermann and Margrit Rupf amassed their collection according to their personal taste. The Rupf Foundation was created in 1954 to conserve, consolidate, and expand these holdings, which were deposited at the Kunstmuseum Bern in the early 1960s. Hermann and Margrit Rupf also left the Foundation the rest of their assets to guarantee the growth of these funds in the future. Thus, the Rupf Stiftung focuses on recent contemporary art without losing sight of the core of the Collection, comprised of the impressive works of art gathered by the Rupfs.
This exhibition features 70 works from the Rupf Collection including paintings by key artists from the first half of the 20th century, such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, or Vasily Kandinsky, yuxtaposed to pieces by contemporary artists from the second half of the 20th century until today.
This gallery features some of the first paintings that Hermann Rupf purchased between 1907 and 1908 from the gallery owned by his friend Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler in Paris. Both Rupf and Kahnweiler were trained at the Commerz-und Disconto-Bank in Frankfurt. While Kahnweiler continued his training as an intern at a stock brokerage firm in Paris from 1902 to 1904, Rupf began to work at the company Jacques Meyer Fils & Cie (currently Galeries Lafayette). The two shared an interest in literature and music; they attended a host of theater performances and concerts and spent a great deal of time at the Louvre and visiting the exhibitions of the Salons. After yet another sojourn abroad, this time in London, Rupf returned to his hometown of Bern and started to work at the mercery and haberdashery owned by his brother-in-law Ruedi Hossmann. In 1908 became its co-proprietor—“Hossmann & Rupf”,—and married Margrit Wirz in 1910.
Rupf was guided by his own judgement when purchasing the works, although his art dealer and personal friend Kahnweiler played a key role in shaping the Collection. His gallery enabled the incorporation of works by Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, and later André Masson. As attested to in the almost 800 letters still conserved, Hermann Rupf and Kahnweiler enjoyed a life-long, close friendship.
On Rupf’s business trips to Paris to expand his assortment of products with fashion accessories, he would meet with Kahnweiler in his gallery and sometimes accompany him on his visits to artists. As early as 1907, Rupf began to purchase works by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, and by Fauvists, such as Othon Friesz and André Derain. Until the outbreak of World War I, his Collection kept growing to become a select set of almost thirty, mostly Cubist works.
Florian Slotawa’s installation, Bernese Pedestals, 2010, shown here deserves special mention. The artist carefully studied the Collection and its history and chose four sculptures—by Hans Arp, Max Fueter, Henri Laurens, and Ewald Mataré— to create a new artwork. Slotawa designed a pedestal made with furnishings that were originally found in the collectors’ home, for each of the four representative pieces of their Collection.
In the years after the World War I, Hermann and Margrit Rupf were able to resume the expansion of their collection. In the early 1920s, they purchased the latest works by Georges Braque, André Derain, Juan Gris, Henri Laurens, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, and Louis Moillet, and just like prior to the war, during this period hardly any time elapsed between the creation of the works and their acquisition by the Rupfs.
Kahnweiler did not manage to keep all the artists with which he worked before the war at his gallery. However, he soon landed new artists such as Paul Klee, whom he represented abroad in 1933 thanks to Rupf’s mediation.
In this gallery, you can see the artistic evolution of Juan Gris from 1913 until 1925, and confront his production to Picasso’s 1913 Violin Hanging on the Wall (Violin). The installation of the works in this space allows to establish connections with other artists, such as Fernand Léger, whose painting Contrasts of Forms also dates from 1913, and Henri Laurens, whose works in this exhibition illustrate part of the evolution of his sculptural oeuvre, which after his early days as a Cubist, shifted to voluminous forms and the female figure.
Likewise, in this journey across the art of the 20th century, the abstract sculpture made of aluminum, Untitled, No. 85–065 (1985) mounted on the wall, is part of a series of modular works in bright colors created by Donald Judd between 1983 and 1990. All the modules are the same height, depth, and width, and in them the artist deliberately tried to avoid combinations of colors perceived as “harmonious” or “inharmonious.”
Hermann and Margrit Rupf were close friends with Paul and Lily Klee, and after 1913 they regularly acquired works from Klee. Considered by the Nazis a “degenerate artist,” Klee moved back to Bern after the closure of the Bauhaus Dessau, where he taught.
The Rupfs were also patrons of many other artists, as well as scientists, and musicians who lived in Bern. Hermann Rupf was an active art critic and played a prominent role in nurturing the taste of the public for contemporary art. Between 1909 and 1931, he wrote criticism for the Social Democratic weekly Berner Tagwacht which was targeted at the conservative cultural policy of the era and called for a greater understanding of contemporary art.
Thanks to their relationship with Klee, in the early 1930s the Rupfs met Vasily Kandinsky and his wife, Nina. In the ensuing years, the two couples became close friends, and the Rupfs remained close with Nina Kandinsky even after her husband’s death in 1944. Sixteen of his works (six of which can be seen in this exhibition) reached the Collection of Hermann and Margrit Rupf, not without difficulties, after the artist’s death. Quiet Tension (Slight Tension), acquired the same year it was painted, 1935, is one of the exceptions. Kandinsky’s works in the show date from 1916 to 1940 and encompass his oeuvre from his temporary return to Russia until his later works in Paris.
Works by Hans Arp, Meret Oppenheim, Lucio Fontana, Christian Megert, and the Zero Group, among others, close and complete the exhibition. The selection in this gallery highlights the fact that the Rupf Collection was never supposed to be viewed as complete, but as an ensemble which should continue to evolve through time and remain a fascinating continuation of the Rupfs’ original collection, mainly through the undeniable preference of the Collection’s acquisition policy for constructivist and conceptual art.