Patrons and partners
With some 24,000 members, the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft forms the basis of the Kunsthaus’s activities. Members’ annual fees make a substantial contribution to exhibitions and also support acquisitions. The Kunstgesellschaft’s annual report is publicly accessible and contains information about the organization, business and activities. The Kunsthaus Zürich has stood on Heimplatz since 1910, in a progressively expanded ensemble of buildings of high architectural quality. All properties are owned by the independent Stiftung Zürcher Kunsthaus, a foundation which makes them available for use by the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft.
The Kunsthaus Zürich receives annual subsidies from the City and Canton of Zurich amounting to between 40% and 50% of its total budget. It generates additional income through admission fees and retail sales as well as rentals, so that on a long-term average basis its operations are more than 50% self-financed. The Kunsthaus also receives substantial support from numerous companies, foundations and private individuals, enabling it to provide a wide-ranging programme to the public that would otherwise be impossible.
The 'Vereinigung Zürcher Kunstfreunde', an independent patrons’ association founded in 1917 with over 850 members today, provides additional funds for the acquisition of works of art.
The art collection is mostly owned by the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft. It reflects both the history of the institution and the changing society around it. Equal importance is given to research and to making the collection accessible to the public at large. The collection illuminates art-historical contexts and creates opportunities to experience works of art from various epochs in dynamic dialogue. It serves as the catalyst for exhibition projects, while temporary shows inspire new directions in collecting.
The art collection’s inventory comprises some 4,000 paintings, sculptures and works of other genres, as well as around 100,000 works on paper. Hand drawings, prints and photographs from five centuries are conserved within the Collection of Prints and Drawings, established in 1915. Roughly two thirds of the art collection come from generous donations and bequests, mainly from Zurich and Switzerland. The entire paintings and sculptures collection is documented in a full, published catalogue, which can also be accessed electronically.
The history of the art collection has been exhaustively researched since the 1990s, with particular emphasis on the provenance of works of art acquired during the 1930s and 1940s or that arrived later as gifts. The image dossiers are progressively expanded to incorporate new findings.
The Kunsthaus Zürich boasts a remarkably large and well-stocked, publicly accessible library containing more than 265,000 items, as well as a comprehensive archive available to researchers. Maintaining the collections and restoring the works of art is an ongoing project, financed by the Kunsthaus itself as well as additional private funds.
The paintings and sculptures collection comprises works from the Middle Ages to the present day, with particular strengths in selected epochs. Publications provide an overview of the collections and their history. In addition to older art (above all Dutch and Italian Baroque painting), the Kunsthaus has large and significant holdings of Swiss art from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, especially Fuseli, Böcklin, Segantini, Hodler and Vallotton. The permanent presence of the Alberto Giacometti Foundation allows the museum to display the artist’s work in all its facets.
One key area of the international holdings is French art of the 19th century, with outstanding groups of works by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists selectively complemented by loans from private collectors. Classical Modernism is represented with key pieces; the collection contains important groups of works by Munch, Chagall, Kokoschka, Matisse and Picasso. The Dada collection is among the largest worldwide, while sculpture of the late 19th century is broadly represented, with work by Rodin and Maillol, as is the 20th century. All of the important schools of recent international art are included, in particular American Pop Art and Abstraction; there are also extensive ensembles of works by Cy Twombly and Joseph Beuys.
German painting from the latter half of the 20th century is highlighted by groups of works by Baselitz, Polke and Kiefer. The collection has recently received substantial additions in the genres of painting, video and installation, including works from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. All new acquisitions are regularly documented in the Kunstgesellschaft’s annual reports.
The Kunsthaus Zürich traditionally works with foundations and private lenders that make works of art available as long-term loans and deposits. Such partnerships contribute over the medium and long term to the high quality of the collection and its international reputation. Among the foundations located at the Kunsthaus on an extended basis are the Betty and David Koetser Foundation, Ruzicka Foundation, Werner and Nelly Bär Foundation, Alberto Giacometti Foundation and others; there are also ensembles of works from private collections, as well as the Emil Bührle Collection, Gabriele and Werner Merzbacher Collection, Knecht Collection and the Fondation Hubert Looser, which can now be shown in the Kunsthaus extension.
The current focus of collecting is on international contemporary art in the fields of painting, photography, art on paper, video, sculpture and installation. Overseen by the collection conservator, this work thrives on exchange between the curators and takes place against the backdrop of the existing holdings, as major acquisitions build on established strengths and open up new avenues. The Kunsthaus enjoys an unbroken tradition of acquiring contemporary art that is actively maintained in the current collection. It sets great store by its independence from special interests.
In addition to artistic quality, provenances and conservation issues invariably play a role in acquisition decisions. Acquisitions are in part financed through the contributions paid by members to the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, as specified in its articles of association. Selected artists are commissioned to produce artworks specifically for the Kunsthaus extension.
The Kunsthaus is particularly keen to acquire contemporary art. Acquisitions expressly target works by artists with an international reputation who either come from or live in Switzerland. The majority are paid for out of budgeted funds stipulated in the articles of association. The collection of older art is enhanced with individual pieces, some acquired with support from private benefactors and foundations. Acquisitions are being made over the longer term in the area of Dutch art of the 16th and 17th centuries as well as Italian painting, thanks in large measure to generous support from patrons. The Kunsthaus is particularly active in acquiring French art from the Romantic period to early Impressionism, as well as representative single works of Swiss art from the 19th and 20th centuries along with entire ensembles. The collection’s holdings in Classical Modernism are supplemented mainly with the support of the 'Vereinigung Zürcher Kunstfreunde', along with donations, targeted long-term loans and bequests.
The Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft is fully aware of its responsibility for the cultural heritage housed at the Kunsthaus Zürich. The public presence of the collection and an appreciation of its historical background are vital to our understanding of our own culture.
The Kunsthaus Zürich has documented the origin of the works in its collection ever since the museum was established in 1910, and comprehensive results of this work were published for the first time in the 2007 collection catalogue. For two paintings by Albert von Keller, gifted from the estate of the Zurich art collector Oskar A. Müller in 2007, which were identified as Nazi-looted art, ‘just and fair solutions’ within the meaning of the Washington Principles were found, in 2009 and 2010 respectively.
Starting in 2017, with support from the Federal Office of Culture (FOC), this provenance research has been taken to a new level. In 2019, the Kunsthaus created a permanent provenance research position. Since then, the provenances of the collection holdings have undergone systematic research that is open in terms of results, in accordance with international standards, with the conclusions continually being published in the online collection. This includes, under the terms of the new subsidy agreement with the City of Zurich, a review of the works on long-term loan to the Kunsthaus. (*1)
Presentation and art education
The rooms of the Kunsthaus can publicly display some 1’100 works of art. Main pieces and significant ensembles are shown in regularly changing exhibitions, creating dialogues between genres and individual pieces across historical periods. These serve to guide visitors through the history of art and offer fresh perspectives. Curatorial projects give contemporary artists the opportunity to create new works within the context of the collection.
Art education is an integral component of the collection presentations and exhibitions. The emphasis is on an unmediated encounter with original works and fostering an appreciation of art at first hand, with a variety of media also deployed where they are most effective. The programme offers something for all ages and educational categories, particularly schoolchildren and people with physical or mental disabilities, on an ongoing basis, as well as temporary events such as the summer workshop and themed activities. Multilingual audioguides covering a range of interests are available. The electronic media offering is being steadily expanded.
The Kunsthaus has been mounting temporary exhibitions for more than a century. They aim to enhance understanding of art in all its complexity, to explore its place in the history of ideas, and to offer original insights. The quality of an exhibition results from the interplay of the thesis advanced and its visual presentation. An institution’s cultural significance and long-term appeal stand and fall with the ability of its exhibitions and collection presentations to disseminate knowledge.
Every year, the Kunsthaus Zürich holds an average of three exhibitions in the large exhibition gallery, three medium-sized shows, and three cabinet or dossier exhibitions. The medium- and long-term programme is drawn up by the curators. Monographic and thematic exhibitions in the large exhibition gallery are given particular weight in the overall budget, in large part due to high and increasing insurance premiums for loans. Without additional funds from partners and sponsors, the Kunsthaus would be unable to implement its exhibition programme.
Exhibition activities are linked as closely as possible with the collection. Presentations range in topic from the late 18th century to the 21st and include experimental shows alongside classical formats. Exhibitions outside this spectrum may also be staged at less frequent intervals. Thanks to a wide variety of collaborations with international museums, the Kunsthaus is able to participate in the worldwide exchange of loans and projects. With a view to enhancing its reputation as a dependable partner, great importance is attached to the quality of the services provided, as well as excellence in the content and aesthetic aspects of all productions.