PRINT April 2001


the Kunsthalle Zürich’s new director

The game of musical chairs among Switzerland's museum directors and curators continues: First Christoph Becker took on the Kunsthaus Zürich's directorship, beating out Bernhard “Mendes” Bürgi in a controversial appointment that caused critics to cry that turnstile clicks had beat out Kunsthalle cred. Then Bürgi, founding director of the Kunsthalle Zürich, reversed his fortunes, landing the director’s chair at the Kunstmuseum Basel in another fraught changing of the guard that pitted longtime board member and Basel philanthropist Maja Oeri against city officials. Passed over for the post, Oeri’s favored candidate, Kunstmuseum curator of contemporary art Theodora Vischer, tendered her resignation. Oeri’s response? She nabbed Vischer to head her own newly created Laurenz Foundation Viewing Warehouse outside Basel. The newest round: Beatrix Ruf, director of the modest Kunsthaus Glarus since 1998, has taken Bürgi’s old seat in Zürich and closed the circle. Got all that?

What’s most remarkable about this last appointment is the absence of scandal. Given the Sturm und Drang that’s followed this Bürgi-centered swirl of events, Ruf’s ascendance is all politesse. Indeed, with so much recent turmoil, Charlotte von Koerber, chair of the Kunsthalle Zürich’s board, says, “We wanted to get through the process of finding someone very quickly and quietly.” Beginning in September 2000 with nearly 100 names from Europe and the US, the board winnowed the list to seven by December and cast their votes. Ruf was in. She starts next September.

Though Glarus, a small Alps town, is far from the Swiss art scene's center, Ruf attracted respect with thoughtful shows that ranged from Joseph Kosuth’s early works to new art by Liam Gillick and Monica Bonvicini. “We didn’t want someone to come in and do hip-hop events,” von Koerber says. “We wanted to continue Mendes's seriousness. Beatrix does very good exhibitions, and she really wants to communicate with the audience.”

That is Ruf's challenge. Though Bürgi built the Kunsthalle’s reputation in the ’90s with star turns by rising artists, small annual budgets (currently $600,000) left little for outreach. Now the board is seeking more funds, and Ruf is hopeful. “I want to create something like a salon,” she says, “with lectures by the artists about theory and practice, about why they make what they make.”

As for the tempestuous Swiss art world’s media carnival, Ruf says, “The scene is getting a little calmer now,” then adds, “At least I think so.”

Steven Henry Madoff is a frequent contributor to Artforum.