Before the Fall

Myriam Ben Salah at Zurich’s season kickoff

Left: Dealer Eva Presenhuber. Right: Mavra with Parkett cofounders Jacqueline Burckhardt and Bice Curiger. (Except where noted, all photos: Myriam Ben Salah)

REMEMBER SUMMER? I ended mine with one foot already in the fall season, nabbing a four-hour train to Zurich for last weekend’s early-bird, back-to-school opening rush, where many an art acolyte sought to show off her tan before the great fall fade.

Thankfully, it was an inspiring congregation of shows, and a solid reminder that sometimes it’s worth sacrificing one’s tan (and sleep schedule) for some great art. I wasted no time when I arrived on Friday, running straight to the intimate lunch at la Terrasse in honor of Dorothy Iannone’s show at the Migros Museum. There, her longtime collector Franz Wassmer rubbed elbows with dealers Javier Peres and Florence Bonnefous, Berlinsche Galerie director Thomas Kohler, and Migros director Heike Munder. Peres exposed us all to MeituPic, a new Chinese photography app that makes you look younger and thinner. But Iannone didn’t need an app to look fab: The eighty-one-year-young artist looked marvelous as ever, albeit slightly flustered as she hadn’t seen the show installed yet.

As some guests jumped into a collector’s Rolls Royce (hello Zurich!) for an impromptu preview, I followed Migros curator Judith Welter onto the tram. The show was stunning. Taking her 1982 artist book Censorship and the Irrepressible Drive toward Love and Divinity as a point of departure, the exhibition features more than fifty years of love and sexual liberation, and includes some of her greatest historical responses to suppression, like her 1970 book The Story of Bern, or Showing Colors, which logs the controversy over her images that erupted during a 1969 show at the Kunsthalle Bern.

Left: Peres Projects's Nick Koenigsknecht and Javier Peres. Right: Artists Harold Ancart and Wyatt Kahn.

From there I explored the newly expanded Löwenbräu building, an epitome of Swiss efficiency. “It’s like being at a fair 24/7,” said graphic designer Maria Lusa as I entered Vittorio Brodmann’s show at Galerie Gregor Staiger. “Except that people are relaxed here.” (I think that was a compliment.) Next was Parkett’s space, where cofounders Bice Curiger and Jacqueline Burckhardt were giving collector Ursula Hauser a tour of the exhibition they organized for the august publication’s thirty-year anniversary. (Their current issue features a cover by Shirana Shahbazi and a special section on performance.) Each of the works on view evoked a personal anecdote from Curiger. I would have liked to hear more about the time she introduced Jeff Koons to Martin Kippenberger over lunch.

As the crowds began to amass in the Löwenbräu, I realized the party was almost upon us. I worked my way into the former brewery’s lodestar—and that day’s elephant in the room: Kunsthalle Zürich. There was plenty of chatter among insiders about who would succeed the black-clad, sharp-minded art priestess Beatrix Ruf, who’s moving on to direct the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam full-time on November 1. Three names were on everyone’s lips, but in the end, as we now all know, it came down to that incorrigible wit Daniel Baumann.

Good luck to him! Ruf is hell-bent on setting high standards until the end: Slavs & Tatars precise and elegant proposition “Mirrors for Princes,” in the Kunsthalle’s first space, was one of the weekend’s standouts, combining an incisive approach to religion and politics with bold irony and unexpected sensuality. To be sure, the guided tour by Payam Sharifi, one-half of the beguiling collective, was very persuasive. “Art is to this decade what fashion was to the ’90s and movies to the ’70s: a zeitgeist catalyst,” Sharifi argued. “Which gives us artists a huge responsibility.”

Left: Migros Museum director Heike Munder and Berlinische Galerie director Thomas Kohler. Right: Collector Ursula Hauser.

Joined by S&T partner-in-crime Kasia Korcsak and dealer Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany, we moved on to Eva Presenhuber to take on Wyatt Kahn’s impeccable Swiss debut and a remarkable comeback by painter Steven Shearer. I then jostled through the crowds to get a view of, well, everything: solo shows by Matthew Day Jackson at Hauser & Wirth, Nedko Solakov at Bob Van Orsouw, Jutta Koether at Francesca Pia, and a group exhibition curated by Arthur Fink at LUMA’s Westbau.

“It used to be inconvenient to open before everyone else at this period of the year,” said dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth, who launched stellar shows by Loredana Sperini and Martin Disler at his space. “No one came to Zurich, but somehow it changed.” You bet it did: What used to be a mostly local affair, a once-a-year stopover B.B. (Before Basel), has become a mandatory destination on the competitive art circuit. Freymond-Guth kindly offered vouchers for drinks at the Löwenbräu afterparty that featured a “Macedonian wedding band,” three words that made my heart sink. “Don’t go,” said a fellow Parisian reveler I ran into in the stairs. “It will rain, the sound system is really bad, and even the bratwurst aren’t that good.” Trusting in the perspicacity of French snobbery, I took the advice.

Left: Artist Judith Bernstein and Karma International's Karolina Dankow. Right: Artist Marc Bauer and dealer Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth.

I retreated to Presenhuber’s dinner at Times in honor of Kahn, Shearer, and Sam Falls. “Anyone going to São Paulo…?” began someone seated on my left, while the debate to my right centered on “unacceptable” tax increases in Zurich. How much I had missed these quirky talks over summer. The food was delightful, and so was the company, among them Peter Fischli, dealers Franco Noero, Kurimanzutto’s José Kuri, and T293’s Marco Altavilla; Swiss Institute director Simon Castets; and Kahn’s charming family. While everyone was planning postprandial drinks at Gonzo, I had a sudden rush of conscientiousness (or was it just FOMO?) and repaired to the party at Limmatstrasse. I came, I saw, and I turned in early(ish): Sometimes, when you’ve been gone from the party too long, no amount of beer will get you on the same page as the swirling crowd.

I enjoyed my last few hours in sunny Zurich as well as I could on Saturday. Brunch at Markthalle seemed to be the ultimate rendezvous for the hungover art crowd. After eggs and Bircher muesli, I ran to Karma International to check out Judith Bernstein’s impressive solo show, and then to the Kunsthaus to glimpse Cindy Sherman’s bewildering survey. With Iannone as head of household, it seemed that the new season was all about girls for a change. Just another example of how Zurich is ahead of the curve.

Left: Artist Matthew Day Jackson and the Migros Museum's Judith Welter. Right: Slavs and Tatars's Payam Sharifi and Kasia Korczak with dealer Amadeo Kraupa-Tuskany.

Left: Dealer Gregor Staiger, graphic designer Marie Lusa, and artist Vittorio Brodmann. Right: Dealer José Kuri and collector Sara M. Schär.

Left: Eva Presenhuber's Markus Rischgasser and Swiss Institute director Simon Castets. Right: Anne Dressen, curator at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and dealer Nicklas Svennung.

Left: Cahiers d'Art's Stafan Ahrenberg. Right: Artists Emanuel Rossetti and Tobias Spichtig. (Photo: Marie Lusa)

Left: Artist Sam Falls and Erin Falls. Right: Writer Quinn Latimer, Kunsthalle Bern assistant curator Tenzing Barshee, and artist Marie Angeletti. (Photo: Marie Lusa)

Left: Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo's Eugenio Re Rebaudengo. Right: Dealers Franco Noero and Pierpaolo Falone.

Left: Galerie Joseph Tang's Valentina Cipullo and Karma International's Marina Olsen. Right: Eva Presenhuber's Maria Florut and T293's Marco Altavilla.

Left: Dealers Javier Perez and Florence Bonnefous. Right: Oskar Weiss.