En compagnie d’amis…

In the company of friends -The Pierre Keller collection at the Musée Jenisch

« I kept everything, even the correspondence with the artists: the letters, the envelopes and the stamps. For example, Tinguely made a stamp of one of his works. He often stuck it on his post. It was a game. I received an envelope on which he had stuck 50 francs worth of stamps ».

– Pierre Keller
Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), Sans titre, 1991. Sérigraphie et feutre sur papier d’affiche,
128 x 91 cm Collection Pierre Keller © 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich. photo Julien Gremaud

The Musée Jenisch in Vevey presents a comprehensive selection of works from the private collection of Pierre Keller (January 9, 1945 – July 7, 2019), Swiss graphic designer and former director of the Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne. Born in Gilly, Keller was best-known for his artist persona and involvement with the Swiss art school. He was also president of the office of Vaudois wines, but his pursuits were much more besides. He counted teacher and publisher amongst his vocations and with this exhibition, the Swiss man’s more confidential pastime as art collector is unveiled for the first time in Vevey. 

The exhibition coincides with the town’s Fête des Vignerons, (a UNESCO world heritage event celebrated only four times in a century), and highlights the myriad interests of one of Switzerland’s most reputable public figures in the world of art. Works from over eighty artists including prolific sub-collections from John M Armleder, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle crowd the walls of this gem of a museum run by director Nathalie Chaix, and which also houses the Oskar Kokoschka Foundation.

Lucio Fontana (1899-1968). Concetto Spaziale, 1965. Sérigraphie sur papier perforé, 69,8 x 49,9 cm. Collection Pierre Keller © Fondazione Lucio Fontana, Milano/ 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich. photo Julien Gremaud 

The collection has been built up over the past fifty years, starting in 1965 when Keller purchased a yellow Concetto Spaziale print by Lucio Fontana while working at the Galleria del Deposito in Boccadasse near Genoa. The guest list which includes artists, architects and sculptors both close to home as well as internationally has grown ever since: Marina Apollonio, Max Bill, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Sylvie Fleury, Jochen Gerz, Giacometti, Hodler, Bernhard Luginbühl, Olivier Mosset, François Morellet, Man Ray, Markus Raetz, Vallotton, Bernar Venet….. it goes on and on.

Keller, evidently, was a man of many comrades and it is an utter joy to saunter through the six rooms getting to know intimate sketches, prints and other unusual objects either purchased or gifted to this extraordinary man.  Instantly recognisable, graffitied, blocky figures on a dried leaf, a car door or a logo for the gymnase de Bugnon – a school in Lausanne where Keller taught design and art history – all scream ‘Keith Haring woz here’. There’s a small engraving on vellum by David Bowie and various letters, illustrated envelopes and rolls of fax paper sent to Keller from Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle.  « Cher Pierre, cou cou et bonjour, merci…. Je t’embrasse très fort, Nikita » reads one;  « ….. Merci pour tout, amitiés (sic), gros bisous et tout de bon, à bientôt love, Nikita » thanks another;  and « ….. happy new year 1994 with sensational wine, inspiration, painting, laughter, joy, quiet (a little!), filled with wonderful projects” wishes Saint Phalle to her friend.

Keith Haring (1958-1990). Sans titre, 1990, Feutre sur feuille d‘arbre, 22,5 x 15,4 cm Collection Pierre Keller © The Keith Haring Foundation. photo Julien Gremaud 

Amongst the copious artworks, a couple of text-based paintings or écritures by French artist Ben (Vautier) add philosophical thought. One yells “Hypocrites” or “Copier Keller est art” or the more humorous “une histoire de cul ture” (the French word cul being a colloquial way of describing the regal derrière!).  Should the visitor pause and look closely at these artistically executed snippets and musings, he or she might just catch the conversation, the laughter, the cork-popping and generally good times had along the way.

Other works by Mario Botta, Marcello Morandini, Alberto Sartoris and Bernard Tschumi represent Keller’s interest in architecture. In music, the Montreux Jazz Festival features throughout some of the pieces, and, as well as Bowie’s own art,  Korean-American artist Nam June Paik delivers an animated Ziggy Stardust in minuscule televisual electronic video art dedicated to Keller. Works by the brothers Campana and Bouroullec or Pierre Charpin further illustrate an interest in design.  There are also several signed drawings, notably by Silvia Bächli and Miriam Cahn which explore erotic iconography (Udo Rondinone and Haring also offer their own take on the nature of ecstasy).

John M Armleder et Pierre Keller à Verbier, 1982 Photo Archives Pierre Keller
Courtesy Pierre Keller 

Keller has passed on his personal passion for the visual image and its production to generations of art students over the years, inviting greats such as Christo, Keith Haring, Philippe Starck, Claude Sandoz and Bowie to student workshops.  With this exhibition, those connections and friendships are perpetuated as the Jenisch offers visitors the chance to share the private circle of a man whose life was rooted by a deep appreciation of art.

In the spirit of Pierre Keller, let’s raise a glass of the finest Chasselas or Pinot Noir and celebrate this unique collection amongst friends.

Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) Football, 1992
Sérigraphie sur papier vélin, 65 x 50 cm Collection Pierre Keller © The Niki Charitable Art Foundation / 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich. photo Julien Gremaud 
Ben Vautier (*1935). Copier, 1996. Livre dédicacé, 29,5 x 21 cm Collection Pierre Keller © 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich photo. Julien Gremaud 
Sylvie Fleury. Cuddly Paintings, 1993. Fourrure synthétique sur toile, 30 x 30 cm Collection Pierre Keller © 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich. photo Julien Gremaud 
Jean Tinguely et Keith Haring à Lausanne, 1991 Photo Archives Pierre Keller. Courtesy Pierre Keller
Jean Tinguely (1925-1991). Rivolta, 1982
Carton d’invitation rehaussé au feutre noir, 29,6 x 41,2 cm. Collection Pierre Keller
© 2019, ProLitteris, Zurich. photo Julien Gremaud 

Friends etc. The Pierre Keller collection
Musée Jenisch until 11 August 2019
For information go to www.museejenisch.ch

Toute reproduction interdite
© www.arteez.ch 2019