St. Gallen, Switzerland

View of “John Armleder,” 2010.

View of “John Armleder,” 2010.

John Armleder


View of “John Armleder,” 2010.

After walking only a few feet from the St. Gallen train station, you might find yourself drawn—like light being sucked into the eye through the pupil—into a round opening at the entrance to the station’s nineteenth-century Lokremise, or roundhouse. At the edges of the big turntable that once rotated locomotives, six huge glass portals set into a delicate crescent-shaped addition welcome you to the various parts of a new cultural center: a theater, restaurant and bar, cinema, and exhibition/performance space. Hauser & Wirth gallery has already put on a show in this spectacular building, and now architects Isa Stürm and Urs Wolf of Zurich have designed a polyvalent series of rooms. The art exhibition area is a segment of a circle that narrows to a point, with movable partitions and an inviting entryway. John Armleder inaugurated it with a lavish exhibition framed by two large illuminated surfaces pulsating in a rapid rhythm: Voltes IV, 2004, a gleaming circle that kept flashing into brightness only to fade away from its center, was installed across from Voltes I, 2003, a rectangle of lights that traveled continuously from top to bottom. These long, slender neon tubes were rhythmically mirrored in a room divider of colored glass that harbored, in the triangular space behind it, Ascomycetes, 2005, a vitrine of dried flowers, fresh bouquets, and video monitors showing fleeting images of a TV childhood. The crumpled pink terry cloth rug in the installation MB (Furniture Sculpture), 2006, prevented us from sitting down in the work’s two armchairs. This memory-laden scene had already begun back in the entryway, where a light-flooded drum kit, Goldfish, 2008, struck up a silent prelude accompanied by a tall yellow cat-scratching post, Untitled (Furniture Sculpture), 2007, and prisms of a mirrored wall reflecting the light cast by a disordered heap of colorful neon tubes.

One often hears the word lightness used to describe Armleder’s work; critics speak of his nonchalant approach to the modernist repertoire. These qualities were evident here in the apparently spontaneous way he extended his work down the long wall of the restaurant area with a sequence of mirrored hemispheres. Amid the ever-changing light, a uniform, scintillating tranquility set in. Armleder produced a splendid space that even included the oversize, translucent form of a brain (Disturbingly Informative, 2004) that, utterly self-contained on a low white pedestal, served as an addendum to the scenery. After a long illness, Armleder here presented even more profoundly tautological images of the in-between—such as Thinkspaceny (Furniture Sculpture), 2006, eight tables piled up one above the other, as though stored after some grand event that had just come to an end or for one that would be starting tomorrow. “Leuchtet ein” (the phrase idiomatically means “makes sense” but translates literally as “casts light”) is the title he gave this space-transforming exhibition. It certainly made sense, the way Armleder cast light on this architecturally reinterpreted roundhouse. In the francophone context in which his work originates, such words can hardly fail to bear an implied reference to the insights and illuminations of the Enlightenment. Bright times await this new cultural center.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.