LIKE OTHER TRIBAL CULTURES, the art world has rituals. One of them is Zurich Art Weekend, foreplay for pilgrims heading to Basel and feeling starved for visual stimulation after a long flight. With Kunsthalle Zürich leading the action, galleries and museums serve up a sophisticated menu of exhibitions, talks, and dinners so people who haven’t seen each other since the last stop, as much as a week ago, can gather for reunions.
Last Saturday’s art flanks could have been divided between exhibitions in the Löwenbrau complex and those on the soulless Maag Areal plaza. Fortunately, no one had to choose a poison because everyone went to everything, even Beat Reaber and Matthias von Stenglin’s where-are-you-taking-us? industrial space behind a few warehouses and a parking garage near the Maag.
Hauser & Wirth’s two spacious galleries at the Löwenbrau now seem modest compared to the giant outpost that partner Paul Schimmel will open soonish in Los Angeles. Schimmel was, naturally, front and center for LA-based Mark Bradford’s inaugural show with the gallery, but so was Bradford’s other dealer, Jay Jopling, British gallery mate Tracey Emin, and (wearing her collector hat) dealer Dominique Lévy. In H&W’s downstairs space, Louise Bourgeois’s longtime right hand, Jerry Gorovoy—dressed in flower-print, vintage Helmut Lang trousers (“I’ll never give them up!” he said)—showed visitors around his beautifully installed sampling of the high points in Bourgeois’s career. Some curmudgeons in the crowd complained loudly that it was pure bloat. It wasn’t, but art is no fun without argument, especially over the tart Bourgeois, who no doubt would rip a few new ones if she were in the room.
Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth was also paying respects to a deceased feminist with a knockout, four-decade show of revealing art-world portraits by Sylvia Sleigh. (They include a delectable 1949 painting of her husband, Lawrence Alloway, in drag.) “You had to come to Zurich to see work by a New York artist,” Freymond-Guth laughed. That was no joke. Around the corner, Galerie Francesca Pia brought a new group of works by Thomas Bayrle, while upstairs, openings for Michael Williams and Carroll Dunham were underway in Eva Presenhuber’s two spaces. Dunham was showing a new group of flattened yet voluptuous, jungly female nudes to a crowd that included two of his other dealers, Barbara Gladstone and Jeff Poe. “It’s all about perspective,” Dunham said—of the paintings, that is.
Haim Steinbach, whose traveling retrospective, “once again the world is flat,” was in the Kunsthalle, was also on the scene with his dealers, Laurent Godin and Tanya Bonakdar. The gallerists had shuttled over from installing their booths in Basel, while Presenhuber had to move between the Löwenbrau and her Maag gallery, where Valentin Carron was opening a show of decidedly cool new sculptures with his Los Angeles dealer, David Kordansky, at his side.
Clearly, it’s share and share alike on weekends before the biggest and best art fair in the world. If Hauser & Wirth clients departed for dinner at the Kronenhalle, everyone else—not just dealers, collectors, and artists but museum curators like MoMA’s Laura Hoptman and Leah Dickerman, Aargauer Kunsthaus director Madeleine Schuppli, Swiss Institute director Simon Castets, and Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf gathered for a gang’s-all-here meal of veal at La Salle.
They were at it again on Sunday, which began with a visit to “Untitled Horrors,” the surprising Cindy Sherman retrospective at Kunsthaus Zürich. Even for those with intimate knowledge of Sherman’s work, this show revealed her strengths as few others have. Installed and regrouped by the artist a couple of weeks ago without regard to chronology or conventional hanging, it included many of her nastier, more disturbing pictures from the 1980s that were absent from her sanitized MoMA show. Even the most disgusting looked somehow beautiful here.
The rest of the day was given to gallerygoing and various lunches, including one in Munich. Gladstone flew twenty-five people there for a look at Matthew Barney’s exhibition at Haus der Kunst, where director Okwui Enwezor was conducting a talk with the artist and his collaborator, composer Jonathan Bepler. “It’s such an amazing show,” said the loyal Gladstone, who has represented Barney throughout his career. “I just want people to see it and, well, Munich is a little out of the way.”
Some of us who stayed in town, including the collectors Laurence Graff and Swiss Institute president Fabienne Albrecht, attended a lunch at the magnificent Baur au Lac Hotel hosted by Guggenheim International Director’s Council member Gigi Kracht and her husband, Andrea Kracht, who owns the hotel. On view in the garden was “Yves Klein: the Venus Project,” a Vegas-style installation of faux Venus figures on Greek columns. In his lifetime, Klein made a Venus multiple based on souvenirs from the Louvre gift shop and painted them his signature blue. These, however, were fabricated in fiberglass (in a different blue) and sheathed in Plexi boxes by Galerie Gmurzynska in collaboration with Klein’s widow, Rotraut, who said Klein always wanted to do such an installation but never had a chance. “Jeff Koons doesn’t make his own work,” said Gmurzynska director Mathias Rastorfer, in defense of the project. He gave it a €1.6 million price tag.
Back at the Kunsthalle, the afternoon found Steinbach in a deep conversation with artist Helen Marten and Bard CCS director Tom Eccles within the installation of his superb retrospective, where the little-known early work now looks totally ready for prime time. “I collect statements,” Steinbach said. “And some of them I make into art objects.” Downstairs, at the Migros Museum, director Heike Munder led the way to an absorbing show of photographs by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles. Really good. Back upstairs, Maja Hoffmann and Michael Ringier presided over the opening of their POOL/Westbau foundation’s third group show, organized by guest curator Arthur Fink—“Remember that name,” said Ruf—after which all boarded the shuttles to Ringier’s home for the annual Art Weekend tour of his collection.
Thus, the social circle remained unbroken and then grew in size for dinner at Hoffmann’s Marcel Breuer–designed house in the hills above the city. The new additions included a soaring Franz West sculpture that Hoffmann had acquired for installation at LUMA/Westbau but had to take home, temporarily, after running into technical problems. She was apologetic about its ungainly proximity to the horizontal architecture of her house. “It doesn’t belong there,” she said, but her guests disagreed. The contrast, most said, was an enhancement to both. Hoffmann still felt embarrassed, as if she had betrayed her house and the artist. “I loved Franz West,” she said. “And I miss him every day.”
Nice to hear such passion on Art Basel Eve. After this, it’s going to be all about the market. As Steinbach said at dinner, “We do what we do, and then the world does whatever it does with it.” So true.