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Authority on fellow Swiss artist Paul Klee named director of Krannert Art Museum

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor 
(217) 333-5491;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — An internationally known authority on the work of Swiss artist Paul Klee has been named director of the University of Illinois’ Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion, pending approval of the UI Board of Trustees at its April 12-13 meeting in Chicago.

Josef Helfenstein, associate director of the Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland, and chief curator of the museum’s Paul Klee Foundation, will assume the post Aug. 21.  He succeeds Maarten van de Guchte, who directed the UI museum from 1994-99.

“Josef has extraordinary credentials as a curator and a scholar,” said Kathleen F. Conlin, dean of the UI College of Fine and Applied Arts.  “His performance at the Kunstmuseum and the Paul Klee Foundation has been widely regarded by both European colleagues and colleagues in the United States.  His reputation is keen among chief museum administrators and curators, although he is a relative newcomer to U.S. university museums.”
Conlin said Helfenstein’s background and interests make him particularly
well-equipped to direct the UI art museum, which houses one of the state’s largest fine-arts collections.

“Because of Josef’s connections with other curators and other museums, he is very eager to connect the Krannert Art Museum with other institutions so that exhibitions of international caliber can be presented here,” Conlin said.  Among his other strengths, Conlin cited his “interest in expanding the various audiences of the museum – from scholars to schoolchildren to families and the general public.”

Helfenstein earned a doctoral degree in 1991 from the University of Bern, where his work focused on Meret Oppenheim and other surrealist artists.

Helfenstein joined the Kunstmuseum as an assistant curator in 1983, and has been chief curator of the prints and drawings department, and of the Paul Klee Foundation since 1988.  He was appointed associate director of the museum in 1995.

Helfenstein also is the head of the project “Catalogue Raisonne Paul Klee,” which will serve as the first complete catalog of the artist’s 9,600 drawings, prints, watercolors and oil paintings.  Three volumes in the anticipated nine-volume series have been published to date.  In 1998, Helfenstein organized an international symposium on Klee’s art and career in cooperation with Oskar Batschmann of the Art History Institute at the University of Bern.  Since 1990 he has served as deputy of Switzerland of the International Advisory Committee of Keepers of Public Collections of Graphic Art.  Helfenstein was in residence at the UI School of Art and Design from January through June 1999 as a George A. Miller Visiting Scholar.

In addition to publications on Klee and his circle of European avant-garde artists, Helfenstein has written and edited numerous monographs, essays and exhibition catalogues on various topics of 19th and 20th century art, as well as on contemporary art.  Two of the catalogs he edited have been published in English by the Yale University Press:  “The Blue Four:  Feininger, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Klee in the New World,” in collaboration with Vivian Endicott Barnett (1998); and “Deep Blues:  Bill Traylor 1854-1949” (1999).