Something new to break the monotony of winter

For variety's sake and love of good art, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has a new exhibition from their collection of 20th-century modernism, "Four Artists in Ascona: Benazzi, Bissier, Nicholson and Valenti."

You may recognize two pieces formerly on view: a Benazzi sculpture and a wall piece by Valenti. Otherwise, everything will be fresh to your eyes in this unique, intimate, rather monochromatic show.

Small and focused, "Artists in Ascona" features four members of a group of modern European artists who lived and worked near the Bechtlers' summer home in Ascona, Switzerland - a city known for nurturing artists and the avant-garde.

The narrative tale of the Bechtler family's association with these artists from the 1950s through the 1970s is as interesting in another way as the art itself. Artists in Ascona could be an illustrated story of a slice of time in that special part of Switzerland. On view in display cases, letters and photographs supply the thread that, with the art, weave together the story of the family of art patrons and friends.

The Bechtlers had a summer home in Ascona, near the studios of Englishman Ben Nicholson, Julius Bissier of Germany, and Italo Valenti, an Italian painter and collagist. These three friends eventually got to know the Bechtler family. The fourth member of this show is a sculptor, Raffael Benazzi, who is still living.

Standing next to a mahogany piece by Benazzi is a later alabaster sculpture of his, recently given to the museum by a family member in Switzerland.

Italo Valenti's assemblages of cutout shapes are gorgeous. Get close to them. Enjoy the thick-rolled paint.

Bissier's work includes wash drawings and also prints and collages that have a spark akin to Paul Klee.

Marvelous examples of Englishman Ben Nicholson's architectural suite of buildings and streetscapes in Italy and Greece are displayed. The artist plays with shapes as he cants and shifts his strong line across the plane of these innovatively formatted prints.

During the Ascona period, interactions with these visual artists - from dinner conversations, studio tours and travels together - found the multilingual Bechtlers often taking the role of translators for the cosmopolitan group.

Beyond the close ties to the family, these four artists all were abstract, drawing inspiration primarily from the Ascona landscape - and the work is fairly experimental for their era. You will notice a definite influence of Hans Arp, who also visited the area.

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