The Musée Barbier-Mueller offered the Swiss artist Sylvia Bächli the opportunity to serve as curator for this exhibition. She conceived of the experience as a game of creativity in collaboration with the museum staff.
Deeply affected in her youth by her visits to the Museum der Kulturen in Basel and the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, where large numbers of objects were piled up in the display cases, she came up with the idea of reconstituting on the ground floor of the museum Josef Mueller’s “reserve”, characterized by an accumulation of pieces in crates stacked from floor to ceiling. She describes what used to fascinate her at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris: “The stranger, the foreigner, the presence of the masks and statues and the heap of objects in the display cases. That heap, which I discovered with my own eyes, went unexplained—there were labels in French, of course, but I didn’t understand them at the time. The function or purpose of the objects remained unknown to me or was left to my imagination. The objects were simply there, calm and intense. I didn’t know anything about them. They were foreign, different, but they could speak without a word, through their presence. That presence that I seek tirelessly in my drawings. It’s the same internal light, very difficult to describe. Perhaps it can be sensed through the confrontation between the statues and masks from the Musée Barbier-Mueller and my drawings.”
Silvia Bächli brings 16 gouaches on paper by her own hand into dialogue with about 60 objects she has chosen from the reserves of the Musée Barbier-Mueller. The clear, simple, and pure forms of these masks, statuettes, vases, and shields, which display a formal correspondence with her works, called out to her.
This aesthetic encounter provides an opportunity to reflect on form, line, and contours. We would also like to encourage visitors to consider the status and function attributed to the works or objects once they are exhibited in a museum.