Clock Wise


Left: Dealer Francesca Pia. Right: On the Limmatstrasse outside BolteLang. (All photos: Kevin McGarry)

LIKE CLOCKWORK, every year, as August draws to an end, Zurich’s art season kicks off with synchronized openings around the city. For as long as anyone can remember, the main event was the converted Löwenbräu beer factory on Limmatstrasse, home until recently to such heavyweights as Hauser & Wirth, Eva Presenhuber, Kunsthalle Zürich, and the migros museum. With the factory undergoing renovations through 2011, the Löwenbräu was effectively out of commission this year, and thus there was no loading-dock bratwurst party for one thousand to commence the weekend. (Several of the displaced residents have temporarily relocated to Hubertus Exhibitions on Albisriederstrasse, which will open on September 24.) The gap in celebrations offered a prime opportunity for some of Zurich’s younger galleries to step to the fore, beginning with the second annual “Rendez-view,” a string of events organized by BolteLang, Claudia Groeflin Galerie, Freymond-Guth & Co. Fine Arts, Karma International, and Rotwand that unfolded over five unseasonably chilly but festive days.

Wednesday evening featured the galleries of the Langstrasse red-light district. While certainly atmospheric, the mixture of friendly prostitutes and chain-smoking hipsters proved a cyclist’s nightmare. I wove by Perla-Mode, Claudia Groeflin, and Rotwand on my way to one of the most anticipated shows of the season: Sylvia Sleigh at Freymond-Guth, the ninety-four-year-old painter’s first solo exhibition in Europe since 1962. (She has recently been enjoying some stateside celebrity, though, with presentations in “WACK!,” at I-20 Gallery in New York, and again at MoMA PS1 in curator Cecilia Alemani’s contribution to the “Greater New York” rotating gallery.) Inside, I met Megan Francis Sullivan, an artist who helped organize the show, having first encountered Sleigh’s anomalous portraiture in a Berlin library. “It’s the first time I’ve seen them all in person myself. She has this uncanny way of staying weird.” At the osteria around the corner, I-20’s Paul Judelson regaled me with another Sleigh anecdote: “When she was a girl, she had a conversation with someone who was actually in the Crimean War! Tells you something about time.”

Left: Karma International's Marina Leuenberger and Niels Olsen. Right: Mitterrand+Sanz's Christina Dietschi with I-20's Paul Judelson.

The galleries near Lake Zurich had their turn on Thursday. I swung by Magnus Plessen’s show at Mai 36 on my way up to Karma International for Emanuel Rossetti, one of the men behind New Jerseyy, Basel’s formidable, precocious artist-run space. Amid digital portraits of totemic stones and screens looping 3-D tours of hypothetical art pavilions drawn in Google SketchUp, I found a window gazing onto a courtyard of people drinking champagne from little soda cans. On my way down I spotted a woman with gripping style—resembling a red-haired, clothed Kembra Pfahler—who was identified to me, by a fan, as Sibylle Berg, a Weimar-born writer who is “very famous in the German speaking world . . . for being cynical.”

The remaining Limmatstrasse galleries opened their shows on Friday. Kinesis seemed to be the prevailing theme: At BolteLang, artist Florian Germann hung above the crowd in a harness, hammering a stake into a muddy hole in the gallery wall; at Nicola von Senger, just as I noticed that one of Arcangelo Sassolino’s sculptural contraptions was dripping actual blood, another one behind me—a steel box hooked up to a compression system—produced a thunderous crack that caused the most sensitive art lovers, among them a wailing toddler, to vacate. I followed suit, crossing the hall to Francesca Pia’s gallery, which was hosting John Tremblay’s deft translations of painting into sculpture, sculpture into painting. The Swiss Institute’s Piper Marshall was also on hand, in town doing double duty for a Bern Porter show she and Tremblay put together at New Jerseyy. Marshall dished on a bash for the Kunsthalle Zürich the previous weekend, which had included a witching-hour swim in the Limmat. “It was cold, but all the beautiful people were doing it.”

Left: Darsa Comfort's Fredi Fischli, Carmen Tobler, and Lorenzo Bernet. Right: Curator Fabrice Stroun with artists Melodie Mousset and Emanuel Rossetti.

After Pia, I rode across town to catch a reception at Darsa Comfort, a new gallery that has repurposed a small storefront in a high-end plaza near Selnau, whose show was co-organized by Lorenzo Bernet, Fredi Fischli, and Carmen Tobler. “Darsa,” Bernet explained, “is an uninhabited island off the coast of Yemen. But it could just as easily be the name of a girl in Texas.” He gave me a tour of the show, “Issued,” curated by Fischli, which was billed as a kind of (anti-)centerpiece for “Rendez-view.” Presented in collaboration with Presenhuber, Hauser & Wirth, Bob van Orsouw, and other veteran spaces, “Issued” is a survey of reproducible works by artists such as Isa Genzken, Wade Guyton, and Josh Smith, shown together with gallery marketing materials and other detritus. As we lingered on a sculpture forged from tangled boxes and tape-labeled ISA GENZKEN / HAUSER & WIRTH, I was informed that the materials had been found on the loading dock behind the gallery, along with a pack of American Spirits. An amused Anna Helwing, director at Hauser & Wirth, appeared behind us to issue a corrective—“those boxes were Isa Genzken’s. But the cigarettes were not”—then smiled and returned to the crowd.

Competing downpours of rain and champagne stalled my trip back to Francesca Pia for the dinner there, which was being prepared by Zurich’s go-to art chef, photographer Tim Standring. I finally arrived, soaked and tardy—but just in time for truffled lamb short ribs and a text message from Marshall that she was downstairs on the loading dock. I got in the elevator and joined a small posse in the improvised kitchen overlooking the parking lot. After hearty bowls of fish stew we migrated back upstairs, where the bright, white, echoing space of the gallery set the stage for an altogether unusual, but fun, setting for dinner. “It’s like eating in an operating theater,” said Tremblay. A kindly, opera-loving pediatric gastrologist drove me back to Selnau for a final nightcap with dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth and “a small table of nice people.” The small table turned out to be about thirty feet long and strewn with the charred remains of many Neapolitan pizzas. I sat down with Freymond-Guth, Art Basel codirector Marc Spiegler, and Christie’s Michèle Sandoz, and lost myself in the pleasant conversation about everything from the multifaceted personas of polyglots to the je ne sais quoi of certain Chicagoans. Zurich, for a moment, seemed like home.

Kevin McGarry

Left: Dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth, collector Josephine Hsieh, and artist Wolfgang Mayer. Right: Artist John Tremblay, the Swiss Institute's Piper Marshall, artist Tina Braegger, and artist Tim Standring.