Swiss Watch


Left: Dealer Iwan Wirth with curator Giovanni Carmine. Right: Artist Lizzie Fitch with dealer Elizabeth Dee. (All photos: Kevin McGarry)

EVERY YEAR, Zurich kicks off the back-to-school-season proper with a spate of hard-hitting art openings. This round commenced the Thursday before last when a cluster of smart exhibitions opened in the center of town.

At Mai 36 Galerie, the General Idea show was a bit sleepy, perhaps because AA Bronson, the only living member of the group (Felix Partz and Jorge Zontal died of AIDS in 1994), was still in Biel/Bienne for the opening of the big sculpture group show “Utopics.” Around the corner at Kunsthaus Zürich, I was happy to run into dealer Elizabeth Dee, who was merrily staving off jet leg with a pouch of silver-colored chocolate bonbons. I popped a couple, and we made our way over to Haus Konstruktiv to catch Philippe Decrauzat’s sensorially unnerving installation opening on the ground floor (Takehito Koganezawa and Rudolf de Crignis were upstairs), and then to the nearby dinner, where the artist’s friends and fellow Lausanne-gelinos held court at a long table on the river. There was plenty of chatter about the impending Friday-night blowout at the Löwenbräu building, home to such houses of (good) repute as Eva Presenhuber, Hauser & Wirth, Kunsthalle Zurich, and the Migros Museum. Francesca Pia, whose space faces the Löwenbräu from across the street, joined the meal with Hard Hat’s Fabrice Gygi before zipping back to the gallery to finish installing the (fantastic, as it turned out) Hard Hat–curated group show also opening on Friday. A bit burned out on art talk, I implored Pia to tell me something about her hometown, Bern. “What’s there to say? I swim in the river every morning, then commute to Zurich.” Name one dealer with an analogous daily ritual in New York.

TGIF. There were just two hours to navigate the warren of heavy-hitters at Löwenbräu, and traffic jams abounded in the converted brewery’s staircases. Pipilotti Rist’s “dream living room” realized in Hauser & Wirth’s ground-floor space resembles a psychedelic swinger’s pad and served as a great spot for a pit stop, replete with flashy curtains, pillows, and swirling lights. Upstairs at Presenhuber, the impeccable Douglas Gordon show filled the space with monitors of crows atop churches and a huge screen for a version of his 24 hour psycho, this one back and forth and to and fro. The dealer herself, one foot ensconced in a fuchsia cast, nicely complemented the stark, pink-and-brown Gerwald Rockenschaub piece inhabiting the gallery’s second showroom. I praised the Gordon show downstairs, and she demurred: “Just the work of a wonderful artist!” Migros Museum’s group show of four American artist teams and solo acts (Cory Arcangel, Jacob and Jessica Ciocci, Shana Moulton, and Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch—all younger than a certain iconic historical figure) filled huge rooms with works by each.

Left: Artist Jacob Ciocci (right) with parents. Right: Dealer Eva Presenhuber.

Soon enough, it was time for the Biergarten-y party on the loading dock. In line for bratwurst, I bumped into Hauser & Wirth’s Anna Helwing. The peaceable scene of one-thousand-plus art fans, yahoos, and blue-chip dealers waiting in line to bring carnival food back to jammed cafeteria tables was a surprise—it was all very well organized. “What do you expect? It’s Switzerland.” Helwing herself returned to Zurich not long ago after a decade-long stint in Los Angeles, where, as many know, she ran her own gallery. Looking out onto the vast, orderly, and largely happy crowd, I wondered whether she might be on to something.

Later that night, a small group of artists made off in the direction of an afterparty at a new club called Exil. En route, we reconfirmed our directions with a crew of local ladies clacking down Limmatstrasse who misunderstood the question (or did they?) and redirected us to X-tra, a venue popular with sixteen-year-olds, also apparently (according to ads plastered around the city) the site of an upcoming Peaches concert. Undeterred, we worked our way back to the Löwenbräu and found the party there still ablaze. I joined a table with some Italian-Swiss dudes tickled to be drinking Campari after dinner (by 3 AM, the wine had run out), one of whom turned out to be Emanuel Rossetti of Basel’s New Jerseyy project space. He was leaving in the morning for a battery of Basel events the next day, and he may have been the only one left on that loading dock with morning in mind.

Left: Collector Galila Barzilai Hollander with Rotwand's Bettina Meier-Bickel. Right: Art Basel directors Marc Spiegler and Annette Schönholzer.

On Saturday (afternoon), I rolled out of my flat and into the dining room of Terroir, a handsome second-floor restaurant across town, for a seated lunch honoring Bronson. Afterward, he and I walked over to Mai 36 for a quick tour of the show, which I had only glimpsed two nights before. It’s a re-creation of the collective’s final exhibition, originally presented at Mai 36 in 1994, with the addition of a room of early works and three of their iconic AIDS monochromes—“self-portraits, in a sense.” The exhibition, elegant and heartening in concept and execution, was my pick of the weekend.

Saturday also marked a new, post-Löwenbräu initiative called Rendez-View, put together by a consortium of younger, international galleries including BolteLang, Freymond-Guth & Co, Claudia Groeflin, Karma International, and Rotwand. Cars ferried guests between the spaces for afternoon tours, and those still in town by evening gathered at the Hotel Helvetia for a seemingly endless cocktail hour and dinner. I could be mistaken, but I think they served something called Paella-wurst. At a table with Lizzie Fitch and the Migros Museum’s Raphael Gygax, Fitch regaled us with tales of of a tour earlier in the week that had culminated in an I Love Lucy–style conveyer-belt chocolate binge. We tried reenacting the scenario when the waiters returned with dessert. The wine flowed until it didn’t; some danced and some fled. I danced, then fled—home to my flat and onto my train the next morning, which glided out of the Hauptbahnhof not a minute after its scheduled departure.

Left: Kunsthalle Zurich director Beatrix Ruf (right). Right: Migros Museum's Sergio Pastor with artist Shana Moulton.