THE ART WORLD loves its rituals and one of them is Contemporary Art Day in Zurich. A kind of Vorspeise served on the Sunday before the große Fressen that is Art Basel, it attracts collectors, dealers, curators, and artists en route to the main event—many from Documenta 13 in Kassel, the icebreaker of many a conversation to come.
Held this year on Sunday, June 10, the day began with breakfast at the Baur au Lac, the 150-year-old grand hotel of choice. Carroll Dunham was at one table. Beth Rudin DeWoody and her fiancé, photographer Firooz Zahedi, were at another. Collector Howard Rachofsky was at the concierge desk in the lobby, where collector Alan Hergott and dealer Kenny Schachter were checking in, while Bill and Maria Bell, dressed in sneakers and sweats, left for a sprint by the lake. It all felt a little like summer camp, everyone flexing for a bus tour organized for a few dozen VIPs by the Kunsthalle Zürich.
The program began at the Museum Bärengasse, a beautifully appointed old house that is the Kunsthalle’s temporary exhibition home until its headquarters in the newly expanded Löwenbräu complex reopens in August. The tourists, who included collectors from Dallas (Christen and Derek Wilson), Miami (Carlos and Rosa De La Cruz), and of course New York (Diane Ackerman) happily drifted through the rooms of “Leaving the Museum,” a show of octagon paintings, videos, and photographs by the Swiss-born New Yorker (and Rip van Winkle–bearded) Olivier Mosset, his arm in a sling from his latest accident on one of his several motorcycles, another of which was on view.
Next stop was the Kunsthaus Zürich, where curator Bice Curiger welcomed the two busloads of visitors—now they included dealers Friedrich Petzel and Nicholas Logsdail as well as artist Doug Aitken—to “Deftig Baroque,” roughly translated as “Riotous Baroque” but actually referring to a coarse or lewd meal of excessively flamboyant art. Think of it as Def Jam baroque, a frothy mashup of old masters and contemporary young guns that had eyeballs popping and heads spinning.
The idea was to imbue contemporary art with the weight of the Baroque, and to see the seventeenth century in terms of the new. But the bawdy, flip-the-bird rapes, seductions, decapitations, and bloody sides of flayed beef portrayed in the genre scenes, still lifes, and portraits that Curiger pulled from basement archives made contemporary works like R. Crumb’s irascible cartoons, Maurizio Cattelan’s rear-view female crucifixion, and Nathalie Djurberg’s mutilated claymates look positively tame. The show gave sleepy Zurich a shot of adrenaline. “Bice’s my favorite curator,” said Aitken. “When you get away from fetishizing masterworks,” Curiger said, “you uncover all kinds of interesting things. The Baroque is very elastic.”
After this three-hundred-year stretch, the buses took off for private collection visits, while I stopped into Mai 36 Galerie for the opening of Matt Mullican’s “Who Feels the Most Pain in the Five Worlds,” a show that brought out Roe Ethridge, Ann Goldstein, and Christopher Williams, who was fresh from a daily swim in the lake. Then, back at the Baur au Lac, Gigi Kracht, the ebullient wife of hotelier Andrea Kracht, was hosting a luncheon preview of her ninth Art in the Park, an annual sculpture show in the hotel garden that she organizes with Galerie Gmurzynska, which provided the art.
The two big attractions were a sculpture by David Smith that had not been exhibited publicly in eons, and a rarely seen bronze door by Joan Miró. Smith’s daughter, Candida, spoke expansively of her father to an audience that included Peter Smith, Princess Michael of Kent, and Rotraut, the French artist who was once the wife of Yves Klein and who also contributed a work to the show. After a meal that began with vichyssoise garnished with Uruguayan caviar, I felt stoked for the opening of the Löwenbräu, where fortitude was needed, so large is the expanded building and so multitudinous was the art.
Actually, the building’s official reopening was the previous night’s dinner for five hundred, mostly locals. Sunday belonged to the art crowd, led by Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf and collector Maja Hoffmann, who jump-started the city’s financing of the complex and installed galleries for her LUMA Foundation within it. As Tate director Nick Serota, New Museum director Lisa Phillips, and artists Isaac Julien, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, and Helen Marten floated through shows of works by Hans-Peter Feldmann and Urs Fischer, Arto Lindsay played explosive guitar for the cocktail reception. “So cool for Maja to get Arto to play here,” observed 303 Gallery’s Lisa Spellman.
Upstairs, on the Kunsthalle’s two new floors, Ruf had installed new works donated by artists who have shown there over the past twenty-five years, all to be auctioned on June 28 by Christie’s in London for the institution’s benefit. On the ground floor, the Migros Museum opened its new home alongside Hauser & Wirth’s flagship—no doubt a harbinger of things to come when it moves its New York gallery into the old Roxy nightclub in Chelsea. Eva Presenhuber will have a satellite gallery in the complex, while Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth set up Freymond-Guth Fine Arts in her old space. “It looks so small now,” she said when she saw it. “I never thought it was before.”
But everything is bigger these days—art, art galleries, art money, art egos—everything except, perhaps, Hoffmann’s annual art day dinner at her Marcel Breuer–designed house overlooking the lake. “It doesn’t look like much right now,” Hoffmann said of the gorgeous, peak-modernist house. “I mean, we had to move out some furniture for the party.” This year she kept it “intimate,” with only a couple of hundred or so guests free to choose their own seats at tables set up under a tent on the lawn, damp from a chilly rain. I spotted Serota deep in conversation with Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, and the Swiss pretty much stuck together too. Hans Ulrich Obrist, Ruf, Hoffmann, and Fischer held down one long table, though Peter Fischli sat with Monica Bonvicini, Emily Sundblad, and John Kelsey. Barbara Gladstone and Gavin Brown paired up with Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, Laura Owens, and consultant Rosario Nadal, while Fondation Beyeler director Sam Keller, artist Walead Beshty, dealer Andrea Rosen, and curator Laura Hoptman scattered at tables hither and yon. “It’s a living odyssey,” said Tony Shafrazi of the world where we live. Hang on: The next time it turns, we’ll be in Basel.