Oh My Gstaad

Nicolas Trembley at Elevation 1049 in Gstaad

Left: Artist Thomas Schütte. Right: Artist Pipilotti Rist. All photos: Nicolas Trembley.

WITH RECORD-LOW SNOWFALLS, Swiss ski resorts appear to be the latest casualty of global climate change.

Which is a shame, since winter sports are now intrinsically bound to Swiss contemporary art—that is, to cultural attractions that keep residents busy or attract new ones.

These past few weeks, one could take part in master classes at the Verbier Art Summit in Valais (with Rem Koolhaas, Tino Sehgal, or Beatrix Ruf) or in the Engadin Art Talks in Zuoz (with Oscar Tuazon, Hito Steyerl, and even Eileen Myles). But the only alpine event that promises to resemble an art exhibition is Gstaad’s Elevation 1049 (the number references the resort’s altitude in meters). This is the second edition of the event, produced by the Luma Foundation and founded by Maja Hoffmann, with luminary patrons such as Almine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Maurice Amon, and Camilla Al-Fayed.

For those who have never been, Gstaad is a small village with chalets that harbor, in discreet luxury, considerable fortunes. The town’s boarding school, Le Rosey, educates royalty.

Left: Artist and curator Olympia Scarry. Right: Curator Neville Wakefield.

This year’s iteration of Elevation 1049 is called “Avalanche,” a reference not to natural disasters but to Willoughby Sharp and Liza Béar’s 1970s post-Minimal/post-Conceptual magazine. For the second time, the artistic directors are local artist Olympia Scarry and curator Neville Wakefield.

From the pool of the famous Palace Hotel—which resembles the Sleeping Beauty castle—we traveled to the top of the Diablerets Glacier, where some fifteen artists produced an in situ body of work that reinterprets Land art through sculpture, performance, and film. During three days that were like a wild goose chase, we surveyed the regional map drawn by Tatiana Trouvé to discover the different works scattered throughout the area.

On Thursday night, the eve of the opening, collector Mick Flick welcomed the artists in his minimalist chalet brimming with works by Bruce Nauman. With guests including dealer Gisela Capitain, Serpentine director Hans Ulrich Obrist, and collector Ulla Dreyfus, the party could easily have been mistaken for a dinner at Art Basel. Even Marc Spiegler was there, in town to meet with all his heads of VIP, who were attending seminars at the Palace that same weekend.

The following day, the Swiss Institute—where Hoffmann is also chairwoman—hosted the welcome brunch in the Post Hotel Rössli. After some spätzli with spinach we jumped in BMW 4x4s to the slopes of Wispile to visit Thomas Schütte’s pavilion, inspired by and meditative in the mountain’s silence, coproduced by French dealer Pietro Sparta. From there we continued to Michaël Borremans’s first-ever sculpture, Rosa, a fiberglass character without a face standing upside down as if it fell from the sky.

Left: Luma Foundation founder Maja Hoffmann. Right: Dealer Iwan Wirth (right).

At 4 PM, artist Sarah Morris welcomed us in a Montreux–Oberland Bernois golden-pass funicular railway train, customized and painted in her colorful abstract style. We spent the journey in our winter suits to Saanemöser Valley, where a cable lift took us to the mountaintop for a performance by Douglas Gordon and Morgane Tschiember.

We were joined by artists including Sylvie Fleury and Christian Marclay and dealers from Gérard Fagionnato to David Zwirner and Salon 94’s Fabienne Stephen, as well as local doyenne Patricia Low, who just opened the exhibition “Toilet Paper.” Around a small lake, Gordon and Tschiember placed logs in a circle and lit them up to the howls of wolves. A few latecomers couldn’t make it back down and had to spend the night in the village of igloos on top of the mountain.

Too bad for them, because that evening, dealer Iwan Wirth welcomed guests at the Vieux Chalet—Gunter Sachs’s old residence, with a legendary cave-pool and waterbed that continue to exude the presence of Brigitte Bardot and of parties probably much more fun than any we are lucky enough to attend today. Wirth presented an exhibition in the style of “a collector’s chalet”: There was a Calder sculpture outside, a Miró above the chimney, and a work by Pipilotti Rist projected onto the pool and the bed.

On Saturday the weather was terrible, all gray fog and rain and snow. Because of the wind, it was too dangerous to climb the Col du Pillon, where Superflex had installed a totem. Instead, we went to an old barn in the heights of Gstaad to see a movie that showed how the artwork was installed. Outside, Richard Scarry Jr., a local dandy, father to Olympia, and son of the illustrator of the same name (recall the Best Word Book Ever), played a traditional alpine horn while we drank bone-marrow soup through a straw. On the way to the barn, I passed Vera Michalski-Hoffmann––sister of Maja and patron of the Sommets Musicaux, the other major event in Gstaad—walking by with her pilgrim stick.

Nayla Audi, Whitechapel Gallery chief curator Lydia Yee, and artist Christian Marclay.

In the middle of the main street, called La Promenade, and close to the fashionable shops is Chalet Lulu––a showroom for cars so fancy we don’t even know their makes––where artist Yngve Holen has installed hubcaps on the facade. We walked down a small path by a stream behind Rosey’s campus to reach a barn in the middle of the forest, where Allora & Calzadilla were showing a film about the wood used for the Stradivarius and other instruments.

Ryoji Ikeda was the author of by far the most ambitious and successful noise/video installation. It was in the tent used to host the Menuhin Festival, another large event that takes place during the summer. Ryoji’s fans include Michèle Lamy and Rick Owens’s team, adviser Olivier Renaud-Clément, and Vinyl founder Tim Robinson—the Vinyl Factory even produced a record linked to the installation—all of whom traveled from afar to witness the work.

The weather was getting so cold that I skipped the Grace Hall sound installation that you can hear only underwater in the local sports center. Then we all received e-mails saying that, unfortunately, dinner at Eggli was canceled because the lift going up to the mountains was closed. Cecilia Bengolea, who was supposed to perform there, had to relocate, too. When she finally showed her video projection and dance on a ski slope, it was great, though we all thought of how cold she must have been in her thin costume.

I went for a little drink to Maurice Amon’s chalet, designed by Peter Marino in a crazy James Bond style and filled with customized Richard Prince cars in the garage and Rudolf Stingel–designed bathrooms, where you can inscribe your name in the aluminum-foil walls. Luma moved all the guests to the new Hotel Huus for the distribution of hundreds of raclette, which made Fondation Beyeler director Sam Keller, collectors Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, and Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles director Bice Curiger’s day.

Left: Bice Curiger. Right: Artists Morgane Tschiember and Douglas Gordon.

As usual, the evening drew to a close at the bar at the Palace and its never-ending parade of personalities, and then later at the legendary GreenGo Club, its logo and décor in Verner Panton style, unchanged since the 1970s. This is the place Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made famous. Nowadays, the crowd is younger and includes dealers from Karma International and artists such as Tobias Spichtig and Hope Atherton.

As we were leaving, a totally face-lifted woman said to the vestiaire attendant: “I’m sorry I lost my ticket, but I have a big white lynx fur coat.” He opened the curtain, revealing a line of at least thirty of the things. “Which one madam?” One might have mistaken it for an installation by Nicole Wermers, except that hers consisted of leather biker jackets that she customized with patches and installed on chairs outside the Palace. Don’t worry. Nobody will take them. Gstaad is safe.

Left: Artist Sarah Morris. Right: Artist Cecilia Bengolea.

Left: Artist Ryoji Ikeda and dealer Almine Rech. Right: Artist Anna Lena Vaney and Luma Foundation CEO Mustapha Bouhayati.

Left: Architect Lukas Baumewerd and dealer Gisela Capitain. Right: Advisor Olivier Renaud-Clément and Michèle Lamy.

Left: Artist Nicole Wermers. Right: Superflex.

Left: Artist Tatiana Trouvé. Right: Vera Michalski-Hoffmann.

Left: Dealer Pietro Sparta. Right: Dealer Gérard Fagionnato.