Geneva Convention

Nicolas Trembley on Pierre Huber's collection show in Grenoble


Left: Dealer Pierre Huber. Right: Artist Sylvie Fleury.

Attending exhibition previews at Le Magasin, Grenoble’s national center for contemporary art, one tends to run into lots of visitors from Geneva. They come as neighbors and have been well acquainted with the center since the '80s, when Swiss-born Adelina von Furstenberg was at its helm. The preview for “Video in the Pierre Huber Collection” or “Video in the Collection of Pierre Huber” (“We hesitated between the two options,” grinned Yves Aupetitallot, the current director) was no exception. Huber, the well-known art dealer and one of the leading personalities responsible for the renewal of Art Basel, is based in Geneva. In fact, I'd been planning to travel to Grenoble with another Genevan, Huber stalwart Sylvie Fleury, and I had been looking forward to racing through the valleys to Grenoble in the artist's black Porsche. I ended up settling for the high-speed train, but my consolation was the company of Franck Scurti, whose work will be featured next at the museum.

Last year the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lausanne (also directed by Aupetitallot) offered an impressive glimpse of Huber’s collection, with works dated 1980 to 2000. Huber, a self-taught connoisseur who started out as a sportsman, explained to Grenoble’s mayor while walking him through this exhibition that he had even participated in the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, which he claimed had helped him acquire a taste for competition. For a long time, he has been advised by the likes of Swiss artist John Armleder and curator and critic Bob Nickas, and he has built a collection comprising also over one hundred video installations, a few of which were the focus of this exhibition.

Left: Le Magasin director Yves Aupetitallot. Right: Artist Annika Larsson.

Huber wanted the show to have an educational character, an aim that was arguably reflected in the wide variety of screening formats included at Le Magasin, which range from the very large (Shirin Neshat) to the extremely small (Tony Oursler). Beautifully arranged in a maze of black rooms with wall-to-wall carpet, the videos are short enough that one can watch them all in one visit and together provide an overview of the genre, starting with an excellent historical piece by Nam June Paik. The work of Fleury, who finally arrived with artist Amy O’Neill (in an old BMW), stands out because the show marks the European premiere of her video Strange Fire (first screened at Patrick Painter in LA), in which she steps on Christmas ornaments in high-heeled shoes (“I bought them on sale at Menudier”). We talked at length about positive waves, meditation, and chi. . . . “Video in the Pierre Huber Collection” is mainly preoccupied with representations of the body, and these are variously concerned with S&M (Isaac Julien), the homoerotic (Annika Larsson), teenagers (Rineke Dijkstra), fragmentation (Zhang Peili), and gore (Sturtevant versus Paul McCarthy).

When the time came for dinner, we all made our way to a freezing-cold room where a slightly disgruntled Pierre Huber declared that he should have spent more money so that we could at least have had something warm to eat. I agreed, but was pleased nonetheless to see Florence Derrieux, who curated the Tom Burr retrospective now on view in Lausanne, and Fabrice Gygi, who was in Grenoble to work on a school-building renovation project. He was chatting with artist Anna Líndal about his upcoming trip to Iceland. Lionel Bovier—the dashing editor of JRP|Ringier, an ambitious new publishing house—explained how he broke his own record by producing the exhibition’s catalogue, modeled on The Family of Man and designed by Gilles Gavillet, in a mere twenty-one days.

Left: Artist Linder Sterling. Right: Cosmic Galerie's Frédéric Bugada.

Later, Annika Larsson was explaining her piece to me when Frédéric Bugada, who played the part of a punk in Kim Gordon and Jutta Koether’s “reverse karaoke” (on view in another show opening at the museum the same night), turned to Claudia Cargnel, his partner at the Cosmic Galerie, and told her that he thought I didn’t like Annika’s work. Claudia looked at me and said, “Is that true? You’re naughty, you’re so naughty!” Before I dug myself in deeper, we all left to go to the Taxi-Brousse, a bar with a neo-Africanist theme, lost somewhere near rue Mozart. At the end of the night Pierre Huber drove away with longtime partner Robert Gomez-Godoy while critic Vincent Pécoil and I headed back to our hotel with an obligatory “See you next week in Basel!”

Left: JRP|Ringier editor Lionel Bovier. Right: Artist Amy O'Neill.