Customs Duty

Kate Sutton at openings in Zurich and Art Basel

Left: Artist Rodney Graham. Right: Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf with curator Francesco Bonami. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

“YOU MUST HAVE more respect for Switzerland’s traditions!” curator Beatrix Ruf thundered to no one in particular, inadvertently flicking cigarette ash onto the Giacometti-designed tables of the fumoir in the fabled Kronenhalle bar, where the pre-Baselites had gathered last Thursday to observe the Swiss in their natural habitat.

They put on quite a show. On one couch, David Weiss placidly perused a newspaper, immune to repeated interruptions from Valentin Carron, who kept sticking his head over the page to comment. Another couch overflowed with art students who had gathered to celebrate the opening of Thomas Julier and Cedric Eisenring at the plucky Karma International gallery earlier that evening. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster traded notes with some of the young artists, who had been working on a hybrid cinema space conceptually akin to the one the French artist was to inaugurate the following day at Kunsthalle Zürich. Staples like Sam Keller and Eva Presenhuber put in cameos. “Normally I’m the last to leave,” the latter begged off. “But tonight I must sleep. You all understand what this week demands.”

Amid all the traffic, an old-timey black phone offered a direct line to the bar downstairs (just dial 911), though the bartenders had quit taking orders from it for fear that the influx of art students would mean an enormous unpaid tab. It did. “This place is the most beautiful thing about Zurich,” Ruf continued, turning toward the Karma crowd. “Don’t fuck it up!” Having already paid for our own drinks at the bar proper, we ducked out the door before the berating could escalate. (It did.) “The funny thing is, part of the history of this bar is that artists come here and skip out on their bills,” New Jerseyy’s Emanuel Rossetti mused. “I mean, they even kind of brag about that in the book they published. It is the tradition.”

Left: Artists Jan Vorisek and Emanuel Rossetti. Right: Artists Tristan Bera and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Zurich has become a routine stopover for those headed to Basel, but these days “Swiss traditions” are not so easy to track—and not just because of young Turks like Karma, Paloma Presents, or Everest. Traditional giants Hauser & Wirth, Migros Museum, and Presenhuber have all recently relocated to the art-world enclave around the decidedly untraditional Prime Tower, the city’s solitary skyscraper and currently the tallest building in Switzerland.

Friday, I explored the area, beginning with Presenhuber’s sprawling exhibition “Sculpture Now,” which mingled the likes of Urs Fischer and Richard Prince with Oscar Tuazon and Alex Hubbard. If I could whistle, I probably would have: not just at the impressive conglomeration of objects, but also at the sheer number of dealers in attendance—Rachel Lehmann, Tony Shafrazi, and Gavin Brown among them. “Of course there’re a lot of dealers. It’s a twenty-seven-artist group show,” a friend reminded me.

One floor up, Peter Kilchmann offered works by Artur Żmijewski and Hernan Bas, who had modeled a suite of photographs after the Cottingley fairies. Paper cutouts frolicked in the woods or perched dreamily on rocks by a stream. Bas’s eyes sparkled as he explained. “There are people who look at my work and just see a bunch of fairies. So I figured, you want fairies? I’ll give you fairies.”

Left: Collector Peter Brant with dealers Tony Shafrazi and Eva Presenhuber. Right: Artist Artur Żmijewski. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

The crowds eventually funneled into a massive hall in a separate part of the complex for another tradition, the annual Zurich Art Dinner. After a quick once-over of the crowd, we retreated to Kronenhalle for Hauser & Wirth’s elegant supper for Rodney Graham, where Iwan Wirth saluted Graham’s show (“masterpiece after masterpiece”) and Graham himself—“A hell of an artist, and very good-looking too!” The Rodney Graham Band had originally been slated to headline the afterparty at the Helsinki Club, but some of its members were double-booked, so the artist tried his hand at the DJ booth instead, with the help of some Italian 45s from the 1960s and club fixture Tamara Rist (sister to Pipilotti and Tommy, who owns the place).

Sunday morning, we trekked to the Aargauer Kunsthaus to catch Mai-Thu Perret’s show and performance before returning to Zurich to enjoy tofu sausage (Alpine vegetarians rejoice!) at the pop-up space for Everest. There, artists Emil Michael Klein and Greg Parma Smith presented a smart treatise on technique that curator Piper Marshall had coltishly titled “Dick Blick meets Herr Boessner.” The conversation around craft continued at the Ruf-run Kunsthalle Zurich, where “Town-Gown Conflict,” a Lucy McKenzie–initiated group show, lifted up the skirts of the academic gown: schoolgirl meets social critique.

The Kunsthalle opening dissolved into another undisputed Zurich tradition: the mythic Maja Hoffmann dinner. I opted instead for cheap beer and pricey takeout at Helvetiaplatz before heading to Longstreet Bar for an all-nighter featuring music from artist Jan Vorisek and DJ Yung Bukakke (spiked with a last-minute set by McKenzie and crew). Clearly the force to be reckoned with on the Zurich scene, the club offered an excellent vantage point on Langstrasse, a street known for a kind of Swiss tradition best not mentioned in the parlors of the Kronenhalle.

Left: Dealer Glenn Scott Wright with artist Hernan Bas. Right: Artists Kim Seob Boninsegni and Tobias Madison and friend. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Monday, I slumped off the train in Basel and toward the Messeplatz for the kickoff of Art Unlimited. This year, architectural shifts amplified the sense of space in Hall 2, but those searching for impact to match the new scale were a bit frustrated—unless they weren’t paying enough attention while navigating Kendell Geers’s field of bricks.

From there we went to Liste, the “Young Art Fair” that should probably stop calling itself that. The sultry weather only intensified the fair’s notorious issues with circulation—both of the air and of the visitors, who had to squeeze past one another in the high school–esque hallways, endangering the ubiquitous examples of what dealer Darren Flook termed “art that leans.” Just then, our beer-garden reverie was pierced by what sounded like a gunshot or—more likely—a work down. “It’s a dangerous genre,” Flook muttered, shaking his head.

Tuesday morning brought the opening of the big fair and a “covert” e-flux project, whose “super-secret” agenda included a full-page feature in the Art Newspaper, mock VIP cards, and nebulous directions that led to a clandestine destination . . . directly next door to the main fair. I decided to save my strength for Kim Seob Boninsegni’s opening at New Jerseyy and the block-party bash that was sure to follow.

Left: Dealers Darren Flook and Christabel Stewart at Liste. Right: The gas station VIP lounge. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Kim’s Pink Floyd–derived exhibition title, “We Are Only Coming Through in Waves,” pretty much fit the scene outside the modest gallery space at New Jerseyy, where throngs had taken over the better part of the platz. Guests had long since drained the gallery’s libation reservoirs and began to migrate toward the nearby gas station, forming an impromptu VIP lounge. Inside, I compared beer options with artist Tyler Dobson, critic Karen Archey, and French curators Mathieu Copeland and Matthieu Poirier. “This may be the best dinner I’ve had all week,” Poirier grinned, picking the most promising-looking baguette out of a basket.

My evening could have ended there, with the mass feeding frenzy at the neighborhood pizza place (a New Jerseyy trademark). After all, I had already sworn backward and forward that this year I wouldn’t end up “back on the boat”—the notorious annual Le Baron party hosted by Emmanuel Perrotin. Nevertheless, a cocktail or two later I found myself leaning against the Das Schiff DJ booth, bobbing along to Oh La La! band beside Takashi Murakami. Maybe some traditions are just too strong to break.

Left: Fondation Gutzwiller founder Florian Gutzwiller. Right: Swiss Institute curator Piper Marshall with artist Olympia Scarry. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Dealer Rachel Lehmann. Right: Artists Saâdane Afif and Karsten Födinger. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Left: Oh La La! (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Artist Mark Barrow with dealer Elizabeth Dee at Liste.

Left: Dealer Hannah Robinson of Mary Mary at Liste. Right: Dealers Chiara Repetto and Francesca Kaufmann at Liste.

Left: Dealer James Fuentes at Liste. Right: Dealers Paola Guadagnino and Marco Altavilla of T293 Gallery at Liste.

Left: The telephone at the Kronenhalle. Right: The crowd at the Kronenhalle. (Photos: Kate Sutton)