Among the perks of having scads of money (beside living longer, eating well, and buying horses at will) is that you can become close buddies with some of your era's biggest artists. That's what billionaire businessman Hans Bechtler did, and so his collection contains not only masterworks from such 20th-century icons as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Albert Giacometti, and others, but also the preparatory sketches that went into the works. Bechtler was fascinated by the artists’ processes and, through his friendships, was able to access works that an art dealer wouldn’t normally have. Upon his death, his massive collection was divided among his two children. Half is in private hands in Zurich, but the other half is displayed in this relatively new (2010) museum set in the adopted hometown of Hans’ son Andreas. Even though the collection was cleaved in two, it remains so massive that only part of it can be shown at one time. In early 2014, that included a wonderfully varied Giacometti retrospective. Generally, the museum puts on shows themed around one artist, the highlight of which are (often) seeing the finished work alongside the initial sketches. Seeing the development of a piece makes museum-going feel unusually personal.
The museum building is notable, too: The bulk of the exhibition space (a boxy, terra-cotta-colored square) overhangs a surprisingly delicate base of columns and glass walls. At its center is a soaring atrium admitting natural light into the exhibit halls. It’s one of only two buildings created by famed Swiss architect Mario Botta (the other is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).
Along with exhibits, the Bechtler hosts weekly jazz concerts, lectures, and family programs. If you’re not attending one, allow about an hour to 90 minutes to see the museum’s exhibits.