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Balthus. The retrospective at the Fondation Beyeler

2 September, 2018

Blathus - La partie de cartes

The Fondation Beyeler in Riehen/Basel is devoting a retrospective exhibition to the legendary artist Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (1908–2001), known as Balthus.

The show is the first exhibition of Balthus’s art in a Swiss museum since 2008.

Balthus is viewed as one of the great masters of twentieth-century art, and is certainly one of the truly singular painters of his time.

What makes Balthus so special?

  • In his complex and multifaceted oeuvre, he pursued an artistic approach that embodied an alternative, and a challenge, to modern avantgardes.
  • Influenced by the art of the Quattrocento, Surrealism, Neue Sachlichkeit and in his later works by East Asian art, Balthus cultivated a style of his own, promoting “another Modernism”.

  • His mysterious, archaic and uncanny images seem to conjure up – among other things – the fantasies of childhood, while not avoiding a certain cruelty.

  • In his opposition to prevailing views, he refers to a whole range of art-historical traditions and precursors.
  • He developed his own specific avant-garde attitude, which now appears almost postmodern and contemporary.

Balthus had a long and close connection with Switzerland, extending from his later childhood years in Bern, Geneva, and Beatenberg via his marriage to the Swiss aristocrat Antoinette de Watteville and their time together in the French and German-speaking parts of the country, to the final decades of his life in the Alpine village of Rossinière.

The starting point for the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler is Balthusʼs monumental painting Passage du Commerce-Saint-André, from 1952–1954, which has been on permanent loan to the museum for some time. This enigmatic work epitomizes the artist’s intensive engagement with the dimensions of space and time in the image, and with their relationship to the figure and the object.

With this focus, the exhibition will bring together some fifty important pictures from every phase of Balthus’s oeuvre, looking also at the strategies employed in the staging of his often provocative images, and illuminating the elements of irony and mystery in his work.

His pictures combine tranquility with extreme tension, and embody a wealth of contradictions, mingling dream and reality, eroticism and innocence, the factual and the unfathomable, the familiar and the uncanny, in a wholly unique way.

The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, realized with the generous support of the artist’s family, is curated by Dr. Raphaël Bouvier (Curator) and Michiko Kono (Associate Curator).

It will subsequently be shown at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.


2 September, 2018
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Fondation Beyeler
Baselstrasse 77
Basel, 4125 Switzerland
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