The fall art season has yet to begin, but Beatrix Ruf is already working at the Kunsthalle Zürich, where she officially replaces founding director and curator Bernhard “Mendes” Bürgi in September. Ruf, head of the Kunsthaus Glarus since 1998, was chosen last year to succeed Bürgi, whose nomination as director of the Kunstmuseum Basel caused a dispute between city officials and the museum hiring committee (see Steven Henry Madoff’s “Hire’s Grounds” and “Smooth Move” in Artforum, February and April 2001, respectively). By comparison, Ruf’s appointment to the Kunsthalle Zürich was a more subdued affair, as was the selection of her successor, Nadia Schneider, who takes over at the Kunsthaus Glarus after having organized several projects for Helmhaus in Zurich.

Ruf, who has shown artists as diverse as Monica Bonvicini and Peter Doig, acknowledges that Bürgi is a hard act to follow. “Mendes created an international reputation for the Kunsthalle,” she explains, “and one can’t gamble that away; it has to be valued and taken seriously.” The move to Zurich also brings the challenge of curating for a new audience. “Of course, the expectations are very different here than in Glarus, which is out in the country,” says Ruf. “Zurich is demanding because it’s a very charged context.”

Despite coming from a smaller institution, Ruf appears to be stepping into her new position with a keen awareness of how the entire Swiss contemporary art scene has changed in the past decade. “We’ve always had collectors for international contemporary art, but to become acquainted with new work, even work by Swiss artists, they had to go outside of Switzerland. Now, it happens inside the country.” The new awareness of contemporary art has also led to new conflicts and confusion, especially about the relation between private financing and public culture. “Most people don’t realize to what extent public institutes are funded by the private sector,” Ruf explains, adding that the Kunsthalle Zürich was created by a private Kunstverein (art society) and receives the majority of its funding from the private and commercial sectors. “With increased private financing of the culture industry,” explains Ruf, “it’s important to renegotiate the social contract between public and private. What does one expect from culture? And how should one support it?”

Ruf hopes to formulate some answers at the Kunsthalle Zürich by organizing lectures, artists’ talks, and public discussions which, she claims, "cannot be commercialized.” For her first exhibition, Ruf has invited the Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset to create a performance work during upcoming renovations at the Kunsthalle in November. Once the dust has settled, a selection of their sculptural projects will be on display throughout December. Next year, one can look forward to an exhibition of paintings by Richard Prince, a choice that suggests a commitment on Ruf’s part to closing the generational gap in contemporary art. “I believe that the Kunsthalle can show positions that have nothing to do with birth dates,” she explains. “Artists don’t have to be born after 1970 in order to take part in the contemporary discourse.”