Martin Disler, Untitled, 1980, acrylic on cotton, 7' 11 1/4" × 10' 4 1/2". From “Ausbruch & Rausch: Zürich 1975–1980 Frauen Kunst Punk” (Eruption and Intoxication: Zurich 1975–1980 Women Art Punk).

Martin Disler, Untitled, 1980, acrylic on cotton, 7' 11 1/4" × 10' 4 1/2". From “Ausbruch & Rausch: Zürich 1975–1980 Frauen Kunst Punk” (Eruption and Intoxication: Zurich 1975–1980 Women Art Punk).

“Ausbruch & Rausch: Zürich 1975–1980 Frauen Kunst Punk”

How do you re-present two historic exhibitions that indelibly marked cultural and social life in Zurich and beyond, and that both disregarded orthodox definitions of what an exhibition should be? And why do so now? Bice Curiger was a member of the feminist collective that organized 1975’s “Frauen sehen Frauen” (Women See Women) and the solo curator of 1980’s “Saus und Braus: Stadtkunst” (which translates roughly as “Living It Up: Urban Art”). Re-creating the two at their original venue in “Ausbruch & Rausch: Zürich 1975–1980 Frauen Kunst Punk” (Eruption and Intoxication: Zurich 1975–1980 Women Art Punk), Curiger and writer Stefan Zweifel recently posed the question of what happened then that had not seemed possible before—or afterward.

The central figure in the photo-novel Das geheime süsse Leben der Ministerin Brenda Schloss (The Sweet Secret Life of Minister Brenda Schloss), 1974, is a woman wearing a suit; the young man with her is clad in fewer clothes, and soon even less. She visits him, champagne is poured, another couple of young men join in, and fun is had by all. The work, mocking the power dynamics of conventional pulp fiction, was created by and featured Curiger with fellow students Rudolf de Crignis, Daniel Jablonsky, and Klaus Mettler. The piece was one of many in “Frauen sehen Frauen” to challenge bourgeois models of domesticity and insist on women’s self-determination, showing a willingness to upset established mores and rattle those feminists who questioned the logic of overt sexual emancipation along the way. Staged at what was then Zurich’s municipal gallery, the exhibition was not only organized by but also about and for women. In a show addressing themes including housewife life, women’s position in society, and the patriarchal blinkers through which women are framed, not everything on view was an artwork, and the artworks themselves imitated other forms. The setup included a children’s play area; in another corner Irene Staub prepared for work as prostitute Lady Shiva; Ellen Meyrat installed Art. 120 BV, 1975, a phone line playing recordings of women recounting abortions; Sissi Zöbeli and Monica von Castelberg ran Porno-Kiosk, 1975, selling edible, wearable, and amusing sex-shop wares; and an unruly program of associated events and concerts resonated beyond the gallery.

Five years later, Curiger was invited to curate “Saus und Braus,” an exhibition capturing the punk generation’s broad conception of art, which celebrated amateurishness as much as expertise. Though that show was more like a conventional art presentation, one that marked the first joint institutional appearance of Peter Fischli and David Weiss and included a painting by Martin Disler, an immersive environment by Olivia Etter, and miniatures by Rosmarie Iten, it, too, spilled out into music events in the garage of the Strauhof and farther afield.

The Strauhof, a wood-paneled, low-ceilinged eighteenth-century building, now houses a quiet literary museum, and “Ausbruch & Rausch” commemorated the two earlier exhibitions via documentation rather than reenactment. While some works—including Doris Stauffer’s biting Patriarchalisches Panoptikum (Patriarchal Panopticon), 1975; eight peep-show boxes from “Frauen sehen Frauen”; and Klaudia Schifferle’s large untitled painting on cardboard from the 1980 exhibition—were on hand, much other material was secondhand, including press and television coverage and Sigmar Polke’s films of performances and photographs of the Zurich feminist scene in 1976, in the wake of the first show. The single-issue handmade catalogue for that first exhibition was shown in a vitrine; the publication for “Saus und Braus” was reprinted. This was enough to make clear that these exhibitions were extraordinary, emerging out of a perfect storm of Protestant social conservatism, which has marked Zurich since the sixteenth century and had in the latter half of the twentieth century provided a point of friction for the youth protests of the late 1960s, the drive for equal rights in a country that disallowed women a national vote until 1971, and the developing punk scene of the late 1970s. Above all, this retrospective of the two shows celebrated individuals: a bevy of irrepressible artists, musicians, and writers who embraced ad hoc collectivity and rejected the limitations of any one form. Curiger and Zweifel did not so much explain what happened then as they acclaim those who were there.