Such Great Heights

Doug Aitken, Mirage Gstaad, 2019. Photo: Stefan Altenburger.

I HAD TWO RIDE OPTIONS to the third iteration of “Elevation 1049,” produced by Luma Foundation with the involvement of Maja Hoffmann, and again curated by local artist Olympia Scarry and Neville Wakefield (the number refers to the ski resort’s altitude): driving with artist Sylvie Fleury in her new Tesla (the brand is popular in the Alps and it’s easy to find charging stations) or flying with Hans Ulrich Obrist in an Airbus helicopter (also very popular, with many local landing areas). But an unexpected snowstorm forced me to take a regular train from the Geneva airport to Montreux, and then to catch the panoramic GoldenPass, which stops at every village on the way to Gstaad. 

I arrived just in time to attend the Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster concert, Exotourisme, at the GreenGo, the iconic disco club that still exhales the presence of past clients like Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson. That night, DGF was dressed as Rachael, the iconic replicant from Blade Runner, and sang texts written by Paul B. Preciado over the synthetic music of Julian Perez. With a distorted voicoder, DGF clamed that we are crossing an “Involution,” (sort of a revolution in regression), an era of telluric forces similar to the movement of tectonic plates. “Is it like the Gilets Jaunes?” someone asked.

The audience was warned: times are changing. But maybe not that night, because we had to shuttle to the neighboring village of Saanen, where collector Ulla Dreyfus-Best and dealer Dominique Lévy were hosting a dinner with Hoffman, a regular de la station de ski. At “Chlösterli” chalet, the club owned by the billionaire Pastor family of Monaco, plates of salmon toasts were served, and a collective energy seemed to be brewing. Contemporary art performances challenging political or social issues, staged in an über-privileged, almost out-of-reality village in untouched, pristine nature were already generating many different feelings—and the main event hadn’t even begun. People were teeming with excitement, curious and hungry for more of everything. I was seated next to Kristen Joy Watts from Instagram, which caught the attention of everybody. “How can we have more followers? … Can I be certified?…”

Arriving late the next day for the performance programming, I unfortunately missed the singing of Naama Tsabar (Barricades), Nina Beier’s critique of commodity aesthetics dealing (Automobile), Zhana Ivanova on human behavior (Borrowed Splendour), and Marie Karlberg on commodity aesthetics. The latter’s performance, The Artist Will Be In Attendance, in Chalet Mittelgässli, addressed the expectations and challenges of young artists’ marketability and career. She wore a big puffy coat by Moncler, the event’s fashion sponsor.

Performance by Isabel Lewis, Poolside Pastoral. Photo: Nicolas Trembley.

In the poolroom on the old Gunter Sachs property, Isabel Lewis and her team of dancers were naked and moving like eels on the floor or walking like dislocated puppets among the public. Then they all jumped in the pool, where they recited poems from their phones, while songs from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack played in the background. “So excessive and inspiring,” said the woman behind me, drinking a raw berry juice from a tiny glass with her long polished nails.

The Vieux Chaletis is also the site of Hauser & Wirth’s gallery, where they presented original children book illustrations by Olympia Scarry’s late grandfather, Richard Scarry. Some of us jumped in horse drawn sleighs to the Lauenen church to listen to Improvisation on Five Sequences, by electronic music pioneer Suzanne Ciani, who started a site-specific “concert” sampling crisp ski noises. Above her was the text Christus spricht: Ich bin der Weg (Christ speaks: I’m the way). We didn’t follow Him but we all found our way by walking to lunch at hotel Wildhorn, where friends of the Swiss Institute—Fabienne and Charles Abrecht, among others—were offering low alkaline viande des Grisons, soup, and cheese. From there we all hopped into shuttles to the Saanen airport to attend a participative performance by Liz Magic Laser, Hanna Novak, and Cori Kresge, who asked us to drink a small vitamin mixture, put on an eye mask, and relax. We were all revitalized for a visit to Tarmak 22, a hybrid space founded by Tatiana de Pahlen and currently rented by Larry Gagosian, offering a solo show by Andreas Gursky (small formats available, for easy storage in the jet).

At sunset we walked to Doug Aitken’s outdoor site-specific sculpture, Mirage Gstaad. It’s the Land art snow version of Aitken’s mirror house first built for Desert X near Joshua Tree, and will stay up for two years. From the desert to the mountain, the house reflects the surrounding landscape and, according to your point of view, disappears. The main departure from the US version was that this one sported black lines to prevent birds from flying into it, and dying. Swiss people care about nature. 

Performance by Marianne Vitale.

Hot red wine was served, so it was aperitif time. Christie’s hosteda cocktail in bar Bellevue before we caught the cable car to the top of Eggli mountain, where Marianne Vitale was firing up (literally) one of her burning bridges sculptures in wood. At night, Agnelli heiress Tatiana de Pahlen and L’Officiel were hosting a memorable after party at Château de Rougemont, de Pahlen’s private residence. It was snowing and people danced and drank and drank and danced in the medieval courtyard, illuminated by candles and brazeros.

After the merrymaking, an early breakfast talk with Doug Aitken in the Alpina cinema, whose owner’s son Nachson Mimran decided to hire the Cayre Art Group to develop their extensive art collection for the public areas of the hotel—a Pierre Huyghe aquarium in the lobby, and a Wade Guyton in the restaurant next to a Jana Euler. Advisor Jacob King was explaining the why and what to the staff, who replied that clients missed the old Bosco Sodi paintings and that they should put it back instead of the Nicole Eisenman.

While having a bratwurst in an outdoor kiosk, I ran into Art Basel director Marc Spiegler, who had just came back from snowboarding, and then Almine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, who had just come back from Fondation Beyeler in Basel, where the institution was opening Picasso Périodes bleue et rose. From the Engadin Art Talks, the new Muzeum Susch, the art fair Nomad in St Moritz, to the Verbier Art Summit, Elevation was definitely a high point of this art alpine season After such heights, I was honestly quite sad to come back down to reality.

Michèle Lamy.

Designer Yolanda Zobel.

Artist Isabel Lewis.

Performance by Suzanne Ciani.

Collector Tatiana de Pahlen at Tarmak 22.

Artist Doug Aitken’s dealers with advisor Ana Sokoloff.

Collector Alex Hank.

Doug Aitken and collector Maja Hoffmann.

Doug Aitken, Mirage Gstaad.

Art advisor Jacob King and artist Marie Karlberg.

Elevation 1049 co-curator Olympia Scarry.

Artist Cecilia Bengolea and Elevation 1049 co-curator Neville Wakefield.

Musician Suzanne Ciani.

Artist Liz Magic Laser.

Artist Marianne Vitale, collector Staffan Ahrenberg, and Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler.

Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Party at Château de Rougemont.