Local Color

Left: Artist Wolfgang Tillmans and dealer Daniel Buchholz. Right: Artist Anne Rochat. (All photos: Quinn Latimer)

SWITZERLAND IS SMALL, petite, pocket-size, economic, the same size as Presidio County in West Texas, however you want to call it, so any season opening invariably involves three or more cities. Thus Zurich’s anticipated early-autumnal kickoffs actually began in Bern, the weekend before, when Emanuel Rossetti and Tobias Madison’s latest curatorial endeavor—the hyperdiscursively titled group show “TCCA NEW THEATER 2012-2013 APN Research あぷん autoslides #1-3 shindisi home videos the deleted scene a fanzine as a museum / a museum as a fanzine cut-out bin / apnegative sci-fi sounds from the alienated kitchen OOO &&& LLL hc r 1” end stop—opened at that city’s kunsthalle.

I approached the institution’s steps with Swiss Institute director Gianni Jetzer, artist Annette Amberg, and musician Oliver Falk in tow. Director Fabrice Stroun—gallantly greeting the Swiss masses streaming in—started hooting and laughing. “You’re all in blue, I can’t believe it! You look like a fashion shoot. Wait, I’ll take a picture. Did you coordinate this?” We hadn’t, and didn’t get his excitement until we were inside, where blue was one of the themes of the evening. After perusing the aggressively laconic installations, we were lulled by two transfixing concerts—so many blues—by Stefan Tcherepnin and a group of Frankfurt musicians who sprawled on the floor, playing their instruments as close to the ground as possible. After a thunderstorm chimed in, vans swept us en masse to the museum dinner, where, under tents set up alongside the now-roaring Aare River, everyone described their summer holidays (Nice, Stromboli, Elba, etc.) and caroused until the nascent last trains to Basel, Zurich, and Geneva had friends frantically calling (and stealing) cabs to the station.

Left: Artist Valentin Carron. Right: Writer Tenzing Barshee, artist Fabian Marti, and curator Scott Cameron Weaver.

The following week the Zurich season openings began in earnest. Thursday night I found myself at the Diagonal Building for a private preview of Peter Kilchmann’s three-person show—Armin Boehm, Fabian Marti, Erika Verzutti—oddly tied together by the flashy Jean Genet quote (and the show’s title) “I give the name violence to a boldness lying idle and enamored of danger.” But Marti’s superb showing of psychedelic ceramics, as well as the boxerlike beauty of Genet’s portrait on the invitation card, made it work. Soon enough we headed to Kilchmann’s nearby apartment for dinner, where artists from far (Teresa Margolles) and near (Pamela Rosenkranz) were assembling.

“The last time I was here, that building wasn’t even on the skyline,” Amberg noted as we stood on Kilchmann’s balcony surveying the glassy green Prime Tower (small but sweet, it’s the tallest building in Switzerland) in silhouette against the West Zurich night. Migros Museum director Heike Munder told us that since the Migros’s opening with Ragnar Kjartansson was delayed—Löwenbräu problems— they’d be serving a special cocktail as a palliative the next night during the parade of new exhibitions that would open the refurbished brewery.

Left: Artist Raphael Hefti and Magaly Tornay. Right: Artist Kilian Rüthemann.

“The Löwenbräu Complex—Switzerland’s most important international location for contemporary art—has been saved,” a recent article trumpeted, perhaps ironically. Indeed, most of the talk from resigned dealers and harried curators was of the spaces inside, like Migros, that were unfinished—except for LUMA Foundation and Kunsthalle Zurich, which were able to hand over the necessary funds for faster construction. Before descending into that rift, though, we had quick stops to make. At BolteLang I said hello to artist Valentin Carron and Liste’s Jacqueline Uhlmann and apologized to Anna Bolte for not making it to the Fai Baba music video shoot in the space earlier that week, filmed amid the antic installations of Claudia Comte, Athene Galiciadis, and Mélodie Mousset’s candy-colored show.

Then we rushed down Limmatstrasse to Karma International, where Martin Soto Climent’s performance had just begun: Dressed in Day-Glo yellow, he slowly turned a weaving wheel hooked to a web of stockings as a lovely girl operatically sang lines about the wheel of life. At RaebervonStenglin I had a beer in the pastoral parking lot outside the gallery and its new showroom with artists Kilian Rüthemann, Saâdane Afif, and Berlin-via-Zurich duo Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs, the last of whom were remarkably relaxed, probably due to their excellent exhibition inside.

No such relaxation followed as we made our way up the steps of the Löwenbräu, which was bursting at its stolid, white cube–ridden seams. As promised, the Migros Museum’s doors were shut. In front of them, an impromptu bar served drinks topped with tropical umbrellas. Munder materialized and I found myself with a pocketful of small, orange drink tickets. Nice. We pushed upstairs through the throngs to survey the new Kunsthalle Zurich and its packed show of new work by Wolfgang Tillmans, a quasi bookend to his exhibition there in 1995. The huge, matte images clamped to the walls followed one after the other, without end. It was like flipping through a photobook: frame, frame, frame. “It’s just so sexy!” one excitable lady yelled to her friends, gesturing at a close-up image of pipes. Her friends looked at her alarmed—or maybe that was me. Art Basel’s Marc Spiegler trucked on past with some collectors in hand.

Left: Artist Dani Gal, dealer Jean-Claude Freymund-Guth, and artist Sam Porritt. Right: Dealer Giangi Fonti and Migros Museum director Heike Munder.

Also on hand were Swiss debuts: At the Kunsthalle was Helen Marten’s sprawling, elliptical “Almost the exact shape of Florida.” At Hauser & Wirth was Thomas Houseago’s show aptly called “The mess I’m looking for.” In another corner was Freymond-Guth Fine Arts’s Dani Gal solo. “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” While Gal’s film-and-image admixture was wonderful per usual, at this point I felt like, taken together, the various exhibition titles were trying to tell me something—but what?

But art missives weren’t the subject that night anyway; the new space in which they were being written was. And that was an even more obscure letter to parse. Cue the comment of the evening: that the building’s repeated formula of big white rooms with concrete floors and fluorescent lights felt like Chelsea’s early corporation in New York, ten years ago.

I headed downstairs to the packed mezzanine, swirling with people and bars and grills. I sat with Francesca Pia for a sausage—her space wasn’t done either, and would be opening later in the month, she told me between bites. Just then I got a text from Museum fur Gegenwartskunst curator Scott Cameron Weaver: “We’re upstairs at the private sausage party; come!” Upstairs, I ran into Basel Kunstverein president Peter Handschin—“Don’t forsake Basel for Zurich!” he warned me, laughing—and finally found Weaver and Tillmans and dealer Daniel Buchholz, all smiling, joyfully, wanly, at the crowd. Then it was to another private sausage fest: the Tillmans afterparty at the ever-bucolic Longstreet. The tiny space upstairs was packed with dancing bodies: I joined artists Stefan Burger and Raphael Hefti—in a dashing Usain Bolt T-shirt—near the stripper pole and at some late hour (I think) Beatrix Ruf came barreling through the crowd, dishing out bear hugs.

Left: Artist Annette Amberg and Art Basel's Léa Fluck. Right: Dancer Anna Pajunen and artist Alexandra Bachzetsis.

The next afternoon I joined the slightly hungover Swiss art world on the train to Aarau, where the Aargauer Kunsthaus had mounted a generous survey of youngish Swiss artists (Shirana Shahbazi, Marta Riniker Radich, Adrien Missika, Ana Roldán, Vanessas Billy and Safavi) from across the federation, most of whom I had danced with in Zurich the previous night. Performances began immediately: Nino Baumgartner flew up and down the circular staircase, a bag of sand in hand and a video camera attached to his pith helmet. Alexandra Bachzetsis performed her study in duality, A Piece Danced Alone, with dancer Anna Pajunen. Like a human chandelier, Anne Rochat hung from the ceiling in a skirt of wineglasses; as her legs swirled, glasses began trembling, chiming, slashing (her), and smashing to the floor near some seemingly bemused Josephsohn sculptures.

I soon set off to the roof for the grill with Kunsthalle Basel director Adam Szymczyk. Everyone tucked into their sausages (what else?) and no one felt like breaking glasses. Suddenly everything was the color of a Georg Trakl poem: gray rain, brown wine. It was raining, the faces were familiar, and the season—like so many others—had begun.

Left: Tobias Huber and artist Pamela Rosenkranz. Right: Artist Nino Baumgartner.

Left: Artists Nico Krebs and Taiyo Onorato. Right: Artist Martin Soto Climent.