As the art world nearly fills up its dance card with Documenta 14and Skulptur Projekte Münster, we must have one last waltz before Basel at Zürich’s Contemporary Art Weekend! Some say this is just an ‘overture to Art Basel,’ but we say it is so much more. As a city filled with tradition and experimentation, it is a leading global financial center with a vibrant local art scene. Unlike other finance capitals, dependent on the ‘generosity’ of corporations and donors, Zürich’s core institution is one of an innovative public-private partnership. The Löwenbräu complex which is equally owned by the City of Zürich, Kunsthalle Zürich and Migros Museum is exemplary of merging commercial and non-commercial spaces. When asked about this combination Eva Presenhuber, the grande dame of the Zürich gallery scene, remarked: “There was the sense of a new beginning, what we had was a common interest in art, not these problems of drawing boundaries.”
We are happy to announce our boundary-defying guide to Zürich, across all these spaces; private, public and everything in-between. Just check our app Exhibitionary to see all our Picks, and read on below as we reflect on a cross section of shows from esoteric to blockbuster.
Just as the city itself is a microcosm of the entire ‘culture industry’ the expansive practice of German conceptual artist Michael Riedel unravels the world of art production and consumption. Entering the exhibition at Kunsthalle Zürich, you walk through the museum entrance only to encounter a replica entrance followed by still another replica to create architecturally “displaced facsimiles.” Each iteration is a little more distorted in a twisted game of déjà vu and confusion that is signature to Riedel’s work. Reminding us that there are many modes of entry into a work of art, just as there are many entry points into the vast constellation of exhibitions during Zürich Art Weekend.
Even though the Löwenbräu Areal is the obvious choice to start, we leave the building after the Kunsthalle and suggest a more circuitous route beginning with one of the most exciting galleries in the city, BolteLang. The duo of gallerists presents a two-person show of artists Athene Galiciadis and Ruby Sky Stiler titled “I shall wash your shadow.” Galiciadis presents new, acrylic painted ceramic works. She dubs these tenderly misshapen vases “Empty Sculptures,” at times encased in neon-accented plexiglass cubes that transform them into stools. Stiler uses formally similar elements of strong geometry that juxtapose biomorphic shapes. However, in her work, the figure is depicted as an image. Here she presents three females that each start from the same outline and become unique variations.
Nearby, still in District 5, is a gallery whose program we follow closely, Grieder Contemporary, showing a solo presentation of Berlin-based Michael Sailstorfer. A bit of a hometown hero, he is famed for quirky installations that could be said to be ‘phenomenological art’ a fancy art word meaning it’s amazing to experience in person (like an entire room filled with popcorn). Here he presents a new series of works titled “Altenheim für Populisten” which are more modest in size but big in ideas. They are divided into three levels of sculpture: carpets, on top of which he displays pink ceramics on white plinths and a Vespa with its motor replaced by a stove that runs but cooks nothing. As we enter the exhibition, we find the work “Teppich Zürich” consisting of carpets in various shades of blue (a nod to Yves Klein and Rudolf Stingel). Carpeting usually signifies ‘Gemütlichkeit’ (meaning comfy) but before you curl up on these works check their material list which includes decommissioned Zürich police uniforms. Suddenly the carpets, ceramics, and Vespa take on a darker socio-political symbology of civilization and its discontents.
Right across the street at Dammweg is the ever brilliant and extremely international Galerie Maria Bernheim showing a satirical exhibition titled “FATEBE x OLDPUT.” The show creates a narrative between two fictional avatars created by young American artists Ebecho Muslimova and Bailey Scieskza. First, Muslimova takes a stab at the norms of female beauty with the obese, uncoordinated and silly character of FATEBE. It's the kind of humor that makes you laugh but stop and suddenly feel uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Bailey Scieskza presents drawings, installations, writings, and performances, centered around a figure titled OLDPUT, a drunk old lady clown ranting, and day-dreaming. The clown has been a classic trope in art from the Harlequin in Commedia dell’Arte onwards. And one of the first avatars artists used to perform an entertaining slapstick that also holds deeper truths.
In the same district but appropriately in a former manufacturing building (suggestive of gentrification) are two galleries that have been in Zürich since the 90s. It is a treat to see an artist at her pinnacle being (re)discovered by a whole new audience in a new context. Colombian legend Beatriz González, who is often grouped with her contemporaries in Pop art, has until recently remained relatively unknown in the West. Here González presents a group of haunting paintings at Galerie Peter Kilchmann. Unlike American or European Pop art, centered around ubiquitous consumerism, Gonzalez portrays the timely theme of displaced people in the so-called ‘third world.’
In the same building on Maag Areal is an artist at the height of his practice, the intensely gifted Los Angeles-based Henry Taylor. For his exhibition at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, he tackles the historically loaded trope of portraiture. His figures come from all different times and realities and uncover a new psychologically charged figuration. With an economy of gestural marks, the paintings recall the hard edges of Jacob Lawrence or even Alex Katz. Taylor places his representations of the black body (in all its complexities) at the center of his work. He bursts way beyond the reductive label of ‘identity politics.’ The gallery is also presenting the British artist Mark Handforth in Gasträume at Steinfelsplatz presenting one of his iconic oversized five-pointed stars (a sign with many meanings) symbolically ‘broken’ and titled “Snow White” which refers to its color and its direct appropriation from culture.
Off the beaten path in District 1 (on the Limmatquai river near the 17th-century Rathaus which is a perfect location for such politically radical work) we find the largest exhibition to date in Switzerland of Argentine force of nature Tomás Saraceno at the Museum Haus Konstruktiv. He is known for embracing utopian and sustainable futures (in a sincere way) by approaching the natural world with reverence. His lifelong project has been imagining an airborne sustainable future. Formally his work is stunningly inspired by the morphologies of soap bubbles, cellular structures and astronomical diagrams. Like a scientist he innovated ways to 3D scan and model spider webs as well as using live spiders to create sculptures. His work exists at the touch point between art and science in what he calls "more-than-human" coexistence.
Now we return to Löwenbräu to see one of our favorite art spaces anywhere, LUMA Westbau. As a sidenote: one power dynamic in the art world is the stuff of legends, a great curator advising a great patron. Peggy Guggenheim said of Marcel Duchamp “I took advice from none but the best. I listened! That's how I finally became my own expert.” So that brings us to the present day exhibition “89plus: Americans 2017” the brainchild of a Swiss trifecta made up of curators Simon Castets and Hans-Ulrich Obrist vis-a-vis the great collector Maja Hoffmann. Here they present works that are generation defining. Among the artists included are AB6AL, Andrea Crespo, Bunny Rogers, and their peers who are contributing to the future of art. Interestingly the artists from all countries challenge the idea of ‘Americans’ being limited by borders. We would see any exhibition Bunny Rogers is in. Her visual work relates to her diary-like confessional poetry, which intimately exposes the digital native generation’s teenage angst. While trans artist Andrea Crespo makes video work with new narratives of queer potential for selves that are not male nor female but a hybrid body. ‘They’ is a post-gender artist updating the relational ideas around images shaping reality.
At ACRUSH, one of the most interesting non-exhibition spaces to see exhibitions in, is a show of Anne de Vries, Darren Bader, and Jon Rafman. The building is a private art fabrication warehouse that makes mostly large-scale sculptures, including 3D printed and router-cut objects. They are known for producing the artworks of blue-chip artists, but on special occasions, they mount exhibitions that display artworks next to the sites of art production. There is so much to say about the brilliant Jon Rafman who simultaneously defines and breaks the mold of a moment annoyingly dubbed ‘post-internet.’ His videos and their reified sculptures persistently show the perverse underbelly and reverent ecstatic states of real and virtual worlds folding into each other. Darren Bader also uses humor in convincing yet unexpected ways. He wins for one of the best all-time titles which describes the artwork: “Anus and/with Greyness.”
Many galleries open shows timed with the two evening events, the Zürich Art Dinner organized by the big players in town including Eva Presenhuber, Peter Kilchmann, and Mai 36 Galerie. The other one is the brand new Wicky Wacky Woo Dinner & Party at ACRUSH co-organised by the hip galleries including Galerie Bernhard, BolteLang and Gregor Staiger. We aspire to have the unique ability of HUO to at both places at the same time.
We never leave Zürich without having a Dry Martini at Kronenhalle where chef Peter Roth keeps a notebook containing names along with favorite cocktails under the bar. Masterpieces of Modernism (we want the Giacometti or the drawing from Tinguely in the guest book) hang with no fuss on the wooden walls, reminding us of the boundless merger of art into everyday life.
– Justin Polera