Last post, I was musing on the baroque Stiftsbibliothek in St Gallen – a library that in itself is a work of art.
Fast forward 250 years, to the Forum Würth in Rorschach – a totally different building… yet one that feels to me to have some of the same magic.
A briefer time-shift…
Last year, we harrumphed each time we drove past what looked like a monolithic concrete industrial building rising on the absolute lake-front at the entrance to the old-character town of Rorschach.
This year I am entranced. The building is lovely. The lake-front is opened up as a public space, complete with sculpture garden.
And inside – art!
Huge public spaces, filled with sculpture and, upstairs, an exhibition of contemporary paintings. Why is it another Sanatorium for the Soul? I think it’s, again, that wondrous combination of aesthetics and soul-lifting purpose.
As with the Stiftsbibliothek, we have locals to thank for the grace and beauty of the building. The architects are a Zurich firm Gigon/Guyer. They’re a celebrated pairing: think them as the Warren and Mahoney of the area. Outside, they’ve clothed the concrete in glass – alternating sheets of pale green which are at once translucent and opaque, a light-play that reflects the water on the lake alongside.
The sculpture gallery of Jacobsen’s works, the menacing group Habakuk by Max Ernst in the atrium, and the diametrically different colourful and whimsical works by Niki St Phalle invite you into the ground floor.
Then in the picture gallery on the second level, you’re face to face with famous names, Chagall, Munch, Picasso, Lichtenstein… And more smaller sculptural forms, Barbara Hepworth among them.
I’ve been twice, with different friends. What was wonderful was the reactions to one of the Picassos – Venus et Amour from 1968. Oh the joy that he still has the power to shock! And to produce such different readings of his intentions. Is Venus a victim of his gaze? Or triumphantly lording it over Amour? Photos verboten – sorry! But you can look at it here and see what you think.
For starters, it’s a working corporate building. There are meeting rooms, offices, conference and training facilities, people going about their business in their work-place – and you’re walking in their corridors. I imagine the Stiftsbibliothek would once have been like that too.
Reinhold Würth, son of the founder of the company, and the person who took it from the two-man business into a global entity, has a strong philosophy about the place of art in the workplace, and an equally strong social commitment.
So, across Europe and Scandinavia the company’s corporate buildings house exhibitions drawn from Würth’s Collection, started in the ‘60s, and now numbering more than 15,000 items. Yes, he’s made a heap of money – but – just as the Church was when the Stiftsbibliothek was created – he, his wife, and now his daughter, are patrons of the arts – and that’s a fine thing to do with your profits!
Then there’s the comprehensive nature of the collection. In the 8th and 9th Century, St Gallen was one of the leading centres of Europe for learning. The books now in the Stiftsbibliothek, represent probably all of written Western thinking and knowledge of that time, added to for several centuries thereafter. You can stand there and practically feel the intellectual joy of knowledge becoming accessible, at least to that privileged few.
The exhibition at Würth Rorshach naturally has to be more limited – it focuses on early modern and contemporary work, with a particular nod to Swiss artists – but within that it’s richly varied, and you have that same exhilaration of exploration and communication of ideas.
Oh – and did I mention that it’s free? Open seven days a week, staffed with guides and gallery-watchers (not nearly as fear-inducing as those formidable gallery-guards in some places!), and free to the community.
So – centuries apart – and yet linked by their ability to stir and sooth the soul: two Sanatoria for the Soul.