PRINT January 1998

International Shorts

new directors for Bern and Lucerne

THERE IS FRESH BLOOD at two venerable Swiss art institutions. Ulrich Loock, the German curator who has been the director of the Kunsthalle in Bern for the past twelve years, left in August to become director of the Kunstmuseum in Lucerne. The Kunstmuseum is moving into a new home, now under construction and scheduled for completion in January 2000. Replacing Loock is Bernhard Fibicher, a Swiss curator who spent several years at the Museum of Fine Arts in Sion—capital of the alpine state of Valais—before moving to the Kunsthaus Zurich in 1995 to head its department of works on paper.

Though little known in contemporary art circles outside Switzerland, Fibicher follows in formidable footsteps. The Kunsthalle’s previous directors include not only Loock (himself an unknown quantity when he took charge in 1985) but Harald Szeemann and Jean-Hubert Martin. It was during the former’s tenure in the ’60s that the institution came to international prominence with such exhibitions as the 1969 “When Attitudes Become Form.” It was one of the first large-scale shows devoted to the latest tendencies in US and European Conceptual, post-Minimal, process, and Land art.

During the early ’80s, Martin’s three-year stay at the Kunsthalle was no less remarkable with his organization of several important one-person shows by artists such as Daniel Buren, Dan Graham, and Hans Haacke. Loock continued the policy of large, in-depth exhibitions of individual artists, including memorable installations by Michael Asher, Matthew Barney, Marlene Dumas, Robert Gober, and Raymond Pettibon. Observers expect Fibicher to bring a more Swiss perspective to the institution.

At his new post, Loock is faced with reinstalling the Kunstmuseum’s permanent collection—predominantly Swiss and some international art from the sixteenth century to the present—into an almost 27,000-square-foot space, which is part of a larger complex designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel. The Kunstmuseum will share its new digs, a tripartite structure unified by an immense glass and steel roof, with a state-of-the-art concert hall and convention facilities. The galleries will occupy the upper floors to profit from the abundance of natural light. Loock describes the spaces as “basically four walls, a floor, and a skylight.” His main challenge will be to balance the needs of the collection with Kunsthalle-like installations for which he is known.

“While I originally thought to keep these aspects separate,” says Loock, “I am tending, given the amount of space, toward the integration of the two, to bending the contemporary works to fit within the context of a historical collection.”

The museum’s new home is not without its critics. The previous director, Martin Schwander, resigned in protest last spring. He calls the 200 million Swiss francs ($139.8 million) being spent on the complex “absurd,” given Lucerne’s population of some 70,000 people, and says that the space allotted to the museum—about 5,400 square feet more than the old building—is “insufficient.” He also denounces the building’s commingling of commercial and cultural functions as “sad.”

The Kunstmuseum now has an annual budget of 150,000 SFr for collecting purposes and 250,000 SFr for temporary exhibitions. Loock says he hopes to supplement the latter amount from both public and private sources.

Elizabeth Janus is a writer based in Geneva.