Happiness in the Artworld: Switzerland’s Art Scene Reopens

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Happiness in the Artworld: Switzerland’s Art Scene Reopens

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Art advisor Sab Cosmic has been immersed in the artworld for the last 30 years. She began her career in London, then New York, Mexico, and Paris. Now based in Switzerland, she is thrilled to rediscover that the art ecosystem there is alive and kicking again.

I am under the COVID impression that even without being able to travel, I have discovered great art again. And this is in Switzerland. 

Ugo Rondinone

The last LIFE exhibition (before COVID-19 put a stop to life as we once knew it) was at the Bass Museum in Miami in 2016, during Art  Basel.  It featured the work of talented mixed-media artist  Ugo Rondinone. Born in Switzerland, he lives in New York and his work frequently employs the experiential qualities of the commonplace, often dwelling on the fluid boundaries between fiction and reality. 

Renowned for being the ‘Magician of the Stones’ Rondinone engages with his incredibly joyful sculpture: a seemingly simplistic fluorescently-painted totem of happy stones.  There, I also saw his Target (1991) circle, which gave the notion of peace and fulfilment. But it was the installation in the park with its coloured stones piled up that was somehow, a truly inspiring moment. It stood there, 30m tall, in perfect dayglo colour combinations on a sunny day in Miami.  Rondinone’s totem references the Seven Magic Mountains in Nevada — but his stand out in pop art colours in the desert. A spiritual experience.  An out of body art experience in a desert landscape. 

Miami Mountain by Ugo Rondinone

But Rondinone wasn’t done here. Inside the Bass museum,  I had the strangest sensation: 45 highly realistic, life-sized clowns were sitting on the floor and smiling. It was both a playful as well as a macabre installation entitled Vocabulary of Solitude. And we all know clowns: there was that element of happy and sad at the same time.  I could feel the artist’s disillusionment with the world and his desire to overcome it with a smile, some tenderness, even pity. There was a sense of the artist communicating through a set of masks and conventions.

Tarmak 22
Artists of The Sunrise Sings Exhibition in Tarmak22, Basel Claudia Comte, Charlotte Herzig, Kaspar Ludwig & Ambra Viviani, Katrin Niedermeier and Gil Pellaton (from left clockwise)

Today, after the COVID lockdowns, quarantines, self-isolation, I  have finally been able to rediscover the beauty of my own country: Switzerland.  I see art in nature,  in charming villages and small Swiss towns. Art is everywhere. 

But it wasn’t enough. I started to crave the art scene, creativity, artistic expression. And then I found it — the perfect spot in the Swiss Alps, in Saanen, in the Canton de Berne, just 10 minutes away from Gstaad. At a private airport, on the first floor, is a gigantic gallery space that was first launched in 2019 with Larry Gagosian to exhibit artist Andreas Gursky’s photographs there. I loved it! My spirit soared! It was like being at MOMA in New York. 

Today, the gallery, called Tarmak22, is a new cultural platform for contemporary art.  Founded in 2019 by Antonia Crespi and Tatiana de Pahlen, its aim is to add something new, accessible, and dynamic to the cultural dialogue in the Swiss Alps. During the winter season, it hosts museum-worthy shows thanks to its international gallery partners, allowing them to fund a more experimental program in the summer.

It showcases a group of six young artists with ties to Switzerland: Charlotte Herzig, Kaspar Ludwig & Ambra Viviani, Gil Pellaton, Claudia Comte, and Katrin Niedermeier — and is full of energy and vibrancy; it’s worth the trek.  A show in the mountains reminds me of how great it is to be living up here. In pure Heidi Land! I also discovered Charlotte Herzig’s site-specific work, a wonderful peaceful mural in Tarmak22. The group exhibition, entitled “The Sunrise Sings” features happy unpretentious sculptures highlighting nature, delicacy, touch, empathy, fragility, subtlety. 

The Sunrise Sings Exhibition, Charlotte Herzig
Elevation 4567

Not far from the airport, in Schonried I found an amazing installation, Frequencies, the third winter iteration of Elevation 4567 featuring ‘Mirage Gstaad’, a new outdoor site-specific sculpture by Los Angeles-based artist Doug Aitken. Other participating artists are Nina Beier, Suzanne Ciani, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Zhana Ivanova, Marie Karlberg, Liz Magic Laser, Cori Kresge and Hanna Novak, Isabel Lewis, Naama Tsabar and Marianne Vitale. Mirage is a sum of the landscape around it, an installation for two years (2019-2021), reflecting and interacting with the mountain landscape over the changing seasons, chameleon-like. Made out of mirrors, this ranch style chalet reflects and interacts with the mountain landscape of the changing seasons.  

Mirage Gstaad, Elevation1049, Doug Aitken
Festival Images Vevey

Just this week, I saw a mindblowing show at the most important visual art biennale in Switzerland, Festival Images Vevey 2020. Every two year,s the city becomes a true open-air museum with an exclusive photography exhibition concept on façades, in parks, indoor exhibitions in unusual venues, and joint ventures with people who ensure Vevey’s status as a ‘city of images’ all year round. 

This year’s theme was Unexpected. Le hasard des choses. I entered the main building and got a shock. There, in front of me, was a magnificent installation by French artist Christian Boltanski. He presented a similar one at the Venice Biennale in 2011, but this one is dedicated to Vevey. Gigantic scaffolding with a long, moving scroll printed with dozens of pictures of newborn babies’ faces taken from birth announcements in a Polish daily newspaper took up the entire space. I was without words, staring at this incredible installation: I have seen a lot of art, but this impressed with its sheer strength, its artistic vision, its monochrome elegance. Boltanski is supposed to be depressed: past trauma comes from not knowing if he was going to be born or aborted. But somehow, this time, he has overcome this and produced something incredibly uplifting and positive.

Chance by Christian Boltanski at Festival Images Vevey

Entitled The Wheel of Fortune, CHANCE it is a thematic exploration of its namesake, playfully exploring the luck and fate of newborns, whose beginnings are subject entirely to chance. While the title translated in French has a positive connotation of luck and good fortune, the English interpretation conversely suggests hazard or risk, rendering the exhibition ambiguous.  

At the end of the room, oversized digital counters enumerate the world’s population for the diptych: the death displays the world’s daily total of deaths in red while the births display the counterpart figure in green. The numbers are tabulated every evening at midnight, with the number of birth on average 200’000 higher than the number of deaths. 

Le Locle

What else did I see? It was a rainy day last weekend and off I trekked to a lost town in the middle of the Jura mountains. Proudly known over the last few centuries as a mecca of precision watch manufacturing, today, Le Locle is a ghost town. Yet, there, I found, to my delight, the most amazing graffiti!  

Le Locle wants to renew its image by hiring genius writers from all over the world.

There are only two streets to walk through, but there is great art to look for on each one. I felt like I was on an art treasure hunt! To get a map of this innovative idea, I had to crash at my main information centre, the MCBL. A cool building, cool art.  Nobody around. Like in a movie.

Capsule 8 by Sylvie Fleury

There, I found a gigantic capsule named 8. It is by mega Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury: you sit, surrounded by black velvet and rhinestone and an essential oil diffuser.  Only one person at a time can enter in Capsule 8, the name referring to the symbol of infinity. Once it is closed, the visitor is immersed in a meditative experience within a glittering galaxy. 

Fleury had already impressed me in Geneva in 2009 with her gigantic mushrooms, and her Fusée to go to space. And she had done it again here. I thought I was on the moon in that strange city.  What a glowing experience, on a rainy Sunday!

Not Vital

Now with COVID, I want to see pure Art.  I want to discover the work by famous Swiss artist Not Vital (yes, that is his name) in the Grisons. A long way to drive, but thanks to COVID, I’m following my new spiritual (and physical!) path all the way to a sculpture museum in Tarasp. 

Pelvis, by Non Vital

There, I find simplicity, spirituality and beauty.  Pure reality; real purity.  I remember discovering Not Vital in 1995 at Sperone Westwater in NY.  That’s where  I discovered  Pop Artists like Rauschenberg, Warhol and Jeff Koons.  Not Vital always fascinated me with his perfection in time and place.  His evolution came to hanging sculptures in the Swiss Alps.

At the end of the day, with COVID, you learn how to appreciate less in order to get more happiness. So as for the travel ban — who needs the MOMA when I’ve got this on my doorstep!  

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