From Then To Now: Reminiscences Of The Artworld While In Lockdown

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From Then To Now: Reminiscences Of The Artworld While In Lockdown

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Art advisor Sab Cosmic has been immersed in the art landscape for the last 30 years. She began her career in London, then New York, Mexico, and Paris. Now based in Switzerland, she is delighted to be writing for Happy Ali.

It is Sunday late afternoon. I  am at the Lausanne train station. Skiers are coming in droves out of the trains even though we’re supposed to be in lockdown here and we’re back in another partial shut down. At least, that’s how it is for the cultural side of life and, of course, all non-essential businesses. 

Anne Rochat

I have two hours left to go and see the newly-built museum: Plateforme 10. The project inhabits three museums and opened up a new arts district in Lausanne. Perfectly located, Plateforme 10 is the former train station reserve parking lot for locomotives. It welcomes you with the most beautiful sculpture by Giuseppe Penone, an Arte povera artist. Such an amazing storage place transformed into a museum. 

I need to be re-energized by the art scene. I rush into the museum — and it is free today!  I walk down to the ground floor and I am enlighted by eight video art installations by a new Swiss artist, Anne Rochat. I am in that gigantic room feeling the displacement, body-oriented videos of suffocation, unease and freedom.  These videos are shot in eight different cities around the world. Right now, I am in China. Anne Rochat’s In Corpore won the national Manor 2020 prize.

Taking shape mostly as performances worked out in reaction to given contexts and venues, the Anne Rochat’s practice involves, as she puts it, “the perceptible experience of displacement, discomfort, the exotic, the disturbing, or the surprising, and then seeking to recreate their substance in a form made flesh in a body, generally hers.”

Here, I feel almost as though I’m in a gallery in New York at the New Museum in Bowery Place. I am filled with this eternal youth from a stimulation installation with incredible sound technology. The artist is also a musician and her embodiment of sensational sound and videos transport me to China swimming counter-current in the river. Every video tells you about a moment in time.  I am transported: I can travel today by looking at art and at least I have that pleasure.

Kiki Smith

On the second floor, I find a major show, Hearing You with My Eyes, by American artist Kiki Smith. I discovered her work while I was studying in London at Sotheby’s in the ’90s — quite possibly the best time to have been in the artworld when young international artists were creating a movement. Running into the Serpentine Gallery, I was shocked by Damien Hirst’s first show with artists from Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away in May 1994 and the first international exhibition that Hirst curated for a public institution. At that time, I was discovering artists on an international scale and learned how Damien Hirst, with his multifaceted talents, could be an artist, a curator and an initiator of the new English artist movements.

Hearing You with My Eyes, Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith was there too, in London in the 1990s. Today, I stand again in front of the Kiki Smith tapestries that I saw in London in a gallery at the Kiki Smith Biennale. Damien and Kiki transformed the genre: I remember her Virgin Mary and his weird cult of two cows in formaldehyde. If I had invested in them then, I would be a millionaire now!  Then I saw Kiki at the Venice Biennale and now again here in Lausanne where she is exhibiting her beautiful Middle Ages type of tapestries with animals and witches. There is also a beautiful sculpture that was exhibited at the Paris Hotel de la Monnaie two years ago. And suddenly I realize that I am in the best place to look at art. On top of it all, it is free!

Kiki’s attitude towards the body and the reluctance it provokes disintegrates flesh to show the female body. I remember at Royal Academy I saw a shocking sculpture of a woman defecating in a room. I also remember having seen her sculpture above the wall at Metropolitan in New York. Her work is everywhere and it is not afraid to show the body at its most abject. Her tapestries remind me of 19th-century tales on carpets. The wolf and the little girl in red — very symbolic. 

The Gianadda Foundation

A magnificent Valloton painting that was first sitting in my living room in Cannes that my grandfather owned first went into the Gianadda Foundation in Martigny; a year later it sat next to a Hodler in Christoph Blocher’s private museum. This was my starting point 30 years ago. I gave private tours for a Degas exhibition in three languages: German, English, French. I took the train from Lausanne to Martigny to lecture about Degas’s danseuses because I loved that connection with art, it fed my passion for my subject. I remember teasing Léonard Gianadda and trying to play smarter. He was a lot of fun but was also very very busy recording his ideas and plans all day long. I guess that is what smart successful people do. Léonard started his empire alone and upon the death of his brother Pierre, he built his private museum on Romain ruins.

Léonard Gianadda

Louise Bourgeois

It is endlessly snowing.  The winter and the New Year have commenced with new restrictions and Switzerland is closing again for the third time. I want to see the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at Saanen airport as fast as possible. The show is by Hauser & Wirth, one of five the most powerful galleries in the world. I hope the road to that exhibition will drive my answers about her work, The Couple.

After a trip on the train through the snowfall, I made it to Saanen Airport. There, at Tarmak22, hiding in the mountains, was Bourgeois’s The Couple, as amazing to the eyes as it is to the soul. Why I love Louise Bourgeois is because of how ambivalent her work is: the sculpture, The Couple spirals and slides up and down endlessly. It is, of course, a museum piece.  Louise Bourgeois art is not necessarily “happy” but it speaks to you with youthful feminine energies.

The Couple, Louise Bourgeois. Image via Hauser & Wirth

Articulated by recurrent motifs, personal symbolism and psychological release, the conceptual and stylistic complexity of Louise Bourgeois’ oeuvre is deeply affecting. While the artist’s visual imagery is highly personal and formed by particularly painful childhood memories and the fraught terrain of femininity, it also resonates on a much wider scale, conveying universal themes of emotion, anxiety and longing. It is this idiosyncratic approach to art-making that positions Bourgeois among the most important and influential artists of the 20th century. I love her work! While I’m there, I speak to Leonie, who describes the work of Louise in a poetical way. In lockdown, in these Covid-era moments, people working at the galleries talk like curators. And that’s when I realize that art is needed in these times more than ever and that knowledge of art, and conveying that knowledge are an integral part of the art world.  

Andreas Siegfried

I struggle in the streets of Saanen looking for a coffee. And there I meet Andreas Siegfried and his dog, quite by chance! I’m thrilled to see my old friend in the arts. Andreas is the most beautiful man in the artworld. I met him through my grandmother in New York with an artist called Alberto di Fabio and immediately fell in love with him. I was 25, he was 27.  In a loft in Soho. Andreas is an ex-model and works as a gallerist for the primary market. What a happy day to have bumped into him quite literally!

Andreas Siegfried. Image via Andreas Siegfried Contemporary

Founder of Siegfried Contemporary art advisory, Andreas champions young artists through private exhibitions in both London and Switzerland and he is a collector in his own right.

From his chalet, Andreas is currently showcasing the work of Georgian-American artist Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili who lives and works in Berlin. Ketuta’s works combine digital, analogue, staged and snapshot photographic techniques to build a visual language.

I like America and America Likes Me,Ketuta Alexi Meskhishvili. Image via Andreas Siegfried

The colourful abstract photographs are mysterious and cryptic and I am immediately attracted to both the ambience and the mood. Andreas always loved curating shows by contemporary artists whose work he enjoys promoting.

Dog Smile, Ketuta Alexi Meskhishvili. Image via Andreas Siegfried

So now I know why I took the train this morning in a snowstorm, looking to find some answers. We talked about how hard it is to be working independently in the artworld in these times. 

Andreas asked if I had regrets. 

No, I said… I just need to find purpose in the artworld again and work from there. And when I look around and see so much that the artworld still has to offer, I know that this is what I want to do, and where I want to be.

Gstaad Palace

For the last three years, the famous Gstaad Palace hotel has enlightened the city with amazing art shows. Outside, at the top of the mountains. I once saw a beautiful Alexander Calder–his massive sculptures engage the invisible forces of gravity, air, time and chance, brought buoyantly to life through simple figures, organic shapes, and abstract elements of bolted steel plate that coalesce to form a complex interplay of interjecting forms and negative space.

It has been some years since the Gstaad Palace has been displaying artists on its facade. Last year it was Jenny Holzer, the American conceptual and installation artist whose work deploys text in public spaces across an array of media, including electronic and LED signs, carved stone, billboards, and printed materials.

When I finally return to Gstaad I gaze at facade with its beautiful neon work by renowned British artist Martin Creed.  

Work No. 3485 EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT, Martin Creed at Gstaad Palace Hotel. Image via Hauser & Wirth

Awarded the Turner Prize in 2001 for ‘Work 227: The lights going on and off’, Creed has become known for hugely varied work, which is by turns uncompromising, entertaining, shocking and beautiful. The work on view in Gstaad is one of his most well-known installations: the phrase ‘Everything is going to be alright’ has been used by the artist in a series of large-scale neon works since 1999, and has been installed across internationally renowned institutions and buildings, including the façade of the Tate in London, and most recently Braemar Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

I stare up at the installation, reading and re-reading the message.

“Everything will be alright.”

Is it a sign for this year? Somehow, like the best of art, it gives me hope in an uncertain world.

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