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Zurich Art Guide - November

Zurich Art Guide - November

The exhibitions selected this month shift between documentation, a quest for purity and escape from reality.


Exhibition: Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Curated by Martin Jaeggi)
Artist: Walter Pfeiffer
Galerie: Gregor Staiger
Dates: Until November 25th, 2017

This is Galerie Gregor Staiger’s first exhibition of Walter Pfeiffer (b.1946, Switzerland). Pfeiffer is best known for his candid and informal photographs recording his life, friends and lovers. What makes this exhibition unusual is it presents his less known, but no less important, drawings (he only started photographing in the 1970s as a means to inspire his drawings!), alongside the photographs.

There’s a playful rhythm to the hang with its variety of scale, format, tones and subject. A pair of black & white closely cropped portraits of two young men with intense, knowing stares really grabbed me on entering – I felt like they were challenging me to come inside! Groups of small drawings (switching from colour inks to pencil sketches) of nudes and still lifes, are interspersed with photographs. A small ink drawing of a simple wooden chair covered in a thick, red blanket hangs next to a minimal line drawing of a seated nude, his chin rested on his knee with a wistful gaze. This intimacy is reflected on the opposite wall by a black & white photograph of an empty sofa bathing in morning light with a dented pillow pressed in its corner, a trace of someone’s sleeping head? The mood changes with a photograph of a wide-eyed cat, its head poking out of the top of an upside down cardboard box. It seems the cat was just as perturbed by my intrusion! I loved these shifts in gear, from quiet reflection to explosive energy, with moments of humour and lightness.

In its extension of his own life and snapshot style, his work naturally aligns with other photographers such as Larry Clark, Peter Hujar and Nan Goldin. However, his quest for seeking out beauty (albeit often the darker sides) sets him apart. When asked what drives him to capture beauty, he responded: “Because you don’t know how fast it is fading”. The exhibition title, “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”, is taken from Antônio Carlos Jobim’s song (reinterpreted by Frank Sinatra). The languid mood exudes the same sense of nostalgia and serenity as Pfeiffer’s photographs, but still augers something darker. Sinatra sings “We will live eternally in this mood of reverie away from all the earthly cares around us”. I allowed myself to get lost in Pfeiffer’s dream-like world of care-free yet melancholic protagonists, but wondered ‘from what and whom are they escaping?’

Walter Pfeiffer, Untitled, 1978/2017 Courtesy the artist and Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich

Walter Pfeiffer, Untitled, 1978/2017
Courtesy the artist and Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich


Exhibition: Bernd and Hilla Becher (Selected by Max Becher and organised with Olivier Renaud-Clément) 
Artists: Bernd and Hilla Becher
Galerie: Hauser & Wirth Zürich
Dates: Until December 22nd, 2017

For over 40 years, the husband and wife duo Bernd (1931–2007, Germany) and Hilla (1934-2015, Germany) Becher photographed the architecture of industrialisation from the 1960s to early 1990s. Hauser & Wirth presents their archetypal blast furnaces, cooling towers, gas tanks, water towers and winding towers, perceived by the artists as modern-day cathedrals. As professors at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, the artists significantly influenced a younger generation of artists including Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff and Thomas Struth, who retained the Bechers’ controlled objectivity and documentary method but applied new technical/digital possibilities with a contemporary vision.

The Bechers described their subjects as “Anonymous Sculptures”, transformed into abstract forms, focusing on the geometry of circles, triangles and rectangles and closely aligning with the minimalist art movement of the time (particularly in the US with artists such as Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre). Always shot with an 8x10 large format camera and on grey overcast days (sunshine was their nemesis!), they would isolate their subjects with close cropping, usually taken from the same angle. They organised their photographs into series based exclusively on functional typologies and arranged them into grids or rows, both highlighting and reinforcing the sculptural properties of the architecture.

Every frame reveals an absence of humans and nature. This was essential to achieve their desired pure aesthetic, focusing solely on their subjects, without distraction. Indeed, they went to great lengths to achieve this – they’d been known to cut down tree branches or pay train drivers to move out of the frame (beer was their currency of choice!), in order to remove any extraneous information. Just as scientists work in labs, it seems the Bechers were documenting these disappearing industrial landmarks as specimens for preservation, with the same level of dedication and obsession! As I observed structure after structure, I was reminded of biomorphic forms. Overall the exhibition has an unsettling post-apocalyptic quality, removed from any recognisable reality.

Bernd & Hilla Becher, Terre Rouge, Esch-Alzette, L, 1979 © Estate Bernd and Hilla Becher, Courtesy the Estate and Hauser & Wirth

Bernd & Hilla Becher, Terre Rouge, Esch-Alzette, L, 1979
© Estate Bernd and Hilla Becher, Courtesy the Estate and Hauser & Wirth


Exhibition: Lento Violento
Artist: Talisa Lallai
Galerie: Bolte Lang
Dates: Until December 16th, 2017

What a pure sensory pleasure to enter Talisa Lallai’s (born 1989, Germany) exhibition, which radiated the southern Italian summer heat on a blustery Autumnal day in Zürich. Although the artist has always lived in Germany, both her parents are Italian and she spent many summers in southern Italy. The exhibition comprises Lallai’s own photographs alongside found photographs, objects and installations - a utopian view of a place she feels part of, but has never fully belonged.

Entering the gallery, I was immediately transported: a vibrant photograph of banana plants set sharply against a bright blue sky, the leaves rustling in the summer breeze like arms swaying in a crowd. A quick glance up revealed a terracotta plant pot with bright green vines drooping freely. To the right, a colourful swimming towel depicting a kitsch beach scene complete with ocean, palm trees and sunset in faded pinks, yellows and green hangs from a white towel rail. The works awoke in me a yearning for summer, a time for relaxation, where the days stretch out into a seemingly never-ending distance, but a season that nevertheless seems to end all too soon.

A sense of nostalgia continues in Lallai’s celebration of a period when photography was still developed manually, and was subject to imperfections. There is an installation of three found photographs depicting a beach and typical southern Italian village, dimmed in fading colours with a slight reddish tint, hung in their original gilded frames. Opposite hangs one of her own photographs, a peaceful ocean-scape behind a minimal, geometric rail – the exact same location as in one of the found photographs, which you would have no way of knowing but the kind of subtle hidden connection, Lallai enjoys. Taken with a cheap 1960s camera, the print contains all the grain and blur that she holds dear, far from high-end, crisp digital photography.

The meticulous display of works is both clean and minimal, and the objects pure. For example, I imagined the towel rail would be rusty, but it is pristine white. Another piece – a white postcard rack with a single pile of postcards, faded by the summer sun, is radiantly clean and new. The same goes for the plant pots. Though the installations are direct reflections of what the artist finds in Italy, they are removed from their context, like cut-outs. These contrasts give distance to the romantic view of crumbling, dusty streets and create a contemporary aesthetic. Lallai successfully combines nostalgia with an elegant and fresh aesthetic - a cool, energizing view to the haze of summer heat!

Installation view, Talisa Lallai “Lento Violento”, BolteLang, Zürich. Photo by Alexander Hana, © Talisa Lallai, Courtesy of BolteLang

Installation view, Talisa Lallai “Lento Violento”, BolteLang, Zürich. Photo by Alexander Hana, © Talisa Lallai, Courtesy of BolteLang

A short gallery hop in Zurich!

A short gallery hop in Zurich!

I’m pleased to introduce a few exhibitions worth seeing in Zürich currently, to highlight the diversity and scope of art in just a few galleries; from emerging to established, modern to contemporary; design, sculpture, photography, painting, video, installation, and sometimes all these interwoven into a single artist’s practice!

Mai 36
Koenraad Dedobbeleer (until 4 March)

Mai 36 is one of Zürich’s most established galleries, founded in 1987 by Victor Gisler. The gallery represents many great Contemporary artists such as John Baldessari, Franz Akermann and Thomas Ruff, as well as significant Artist Estates such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Luigi Ghirri and Peter Hujar, which reveals the gallery’s leanings towards the photographic medium. 

The gallery recently opened “Koenraad Dedobbeleer: Images Entertain Thought” that incorporates sculptures, installations and photographs full of associations, witty commentaries with art historical references. Dedobbeleer focuses on everyday objects, which he modifies and re-contextualises. These transformations prompt the viewer to question the essential quality of things and their existence within newly created frames of reference, allowing for a variety of interpretations. The exhibition comprises 40 analogue photographs, which are often the result of a reproduction of a reproduction. When observing the prints closely, occasionally one sees lines across an image where the quality has been compromised or other imperfections. Here, the artist may have photographed an image from a magazine or from his iPhone. Dedobbeleer enjoys this element of guile, also the layering, the subtle shifts in seemingly identical images and the dialogue between different objects. Most of all, as in the title “Images Entertain Thought”, he hopes these images will be the starting point for the viewer to make unexpected associations and discoveries. 

Koenraad Dedobbeleer, installation view of “Considered Unrepresentative”, 2016
Courtesy of Mai 36, © Koenraad Debdobbeleer

Koenraad Dedobbeleer, “Serve” 2016 triptych
Courtesy of Mai 36, © Koenraad Debdobbeleer

Galerie Edwynn Houk
Lillian Basssman (extended until 18 February)

The Edwynn Houk gallery was founded in 1980. Since then, the gallery has specialised in vintage photographs by leading figures from the Modernist movement. The gallery has represented the Estate of Brassaï, Bill Brandt, Dorothea Lange, André Kertész, Ilse Bing and the Robert Frank Archive. Houk also runs a strong Contemporary programme representing artists such as Lalla Essaydi, Abelardo Morell and Sally Mann. Their main space is in New York, and in 2010, they opened this second gallery in Zürich. 

Edwynn Houk’s current exhibition presents Lillian Bassman’s elegant and dream-like fashion photographs. Bassman’s images appeared on the pages of Harper’s Bazaar from the late 1940s to 1960s. She trained and worked under famed art director Alexey Brodovitch. Having abandoned photography for two decades, in the 1990s Bassman returned to her old negatives and re-interpreted them. She changed the original framing, accentuated contrast and softness and retouched areas. They became far more abstract and daring, leading to a renewed interest in her photography among editors, curators and collectors. She told the New York Times in a 1997 interview that she wanted to “take the hardness out of photography” in order to make it less literal, which she accomplished using darkroom techniques such as bleaching, dodging and burning with selective focus. She can be credited for introducing a new aesthetic in fashion photography. 

Lillian Bassman exhibition installation view
© Lillian Bassman Estate / Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

Lillian Bassman, “Black with one white glove, Barbara Mullen, dress by Christian Dior, New York, Harper's Bazaar”, 1950
© Lillian Bassman Estate / Courtesy of Edwynn Houk Gallery

Anyway Part Of It (until 4 March)

Bolte Lang was founded in 2008 by Anna Bolte and Chaja Lang. The gallery shows a variety of emerging artists working with all media from sculpture and installation to painting, drawing, collage, photography and film, often with a focus on material and studio practice. 

The gallery’s newly opened exhibition “Anyway Part Of It” was curated by Jeanette Apitz, a collector of design objects, who invited internationally recognised designers Kueng Caputo and Clémence Seilles, as well as fine artist Patrick Hari to collaborate on this project. 

When entering the gallery - dimly lit by Kueng Caputo sculptural light bulb pieces (“A piece of Wall”, 2014) - one encounters an array of colourful objects, textures and sound. In the front room, a selection of the designers’ latest works are arranged to create a platform for the music performance. Speakers, acoustic panels, lighting, room dividers, stage props and a lonely microphone are carefully arranged, creating a stage without performers. The music playing is by singers that were censored in different countries, making a statement for the freedom of musical expression. Venturing further into the gallery is a pure delight for the senses. Typeface letters are scattered on the floor and travertine bowls are placed above, elegant rock stools along the wall with the introduction of movement via a circular hanging mobile that gently turns. The third room hosts a large sculptural work by artist Patrick Hari entitled “Muppet Villa – Dreaming Alone is a Boring Land”. A large wooden structure, it hints at function but simultaneously denies any use. His use of different materials and the sculpture’s suggestion of a domestic microcosmos creates a playful dialogue with the design pieces. A common thread running through all their practices is the focus on material with a high level of craftsmanship.  

Anyway Part Of It exhibition installation view
Courtesy of BolteLang, © Kueng Caputo & Clémence Seilles

Patrick Hari, “Muppet Villa - Dreaming Alone Is A Boring Land”, 2017
Courtesy of BolteLang, © Patrick Hari

RODNEY GRAHAM (until 11 March) 
HENRY MOORE (until 11 March) 

Hauser & Wirth need little introduction, an international gallery devoted to Contemporary and Modern art, founded in Zürich by Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Ursula Huser in 1992. It is a global enterprise with spaces in Zürich, London, New York, Los Angeles and Somerset, UK. The gallery represents over sixty established and emerging artists, and several reputable Artist Estates such as the Louise Bourgois Studio, the Estate of Philip Guston and the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. 

Hauser & Wirth in Zürich currently presents two very different exhibitions, Vancouver-based contemporary artist Rodney Graham on the ground floor and early works on paper by the late British artist Henry Moore on the second floor. On entering the formidable ground floor space, within the Löwenbrau complex, we encounter Rodney Graham’s large-scale photographic lightboxes comprising highly detailed, allegorical and witty compositions. Each image is a fictional self-portrait with the artist in costume portraying a variety of characters. From the elaborate props to the intricate costumes and stage sets, each scene is executed with great precision and technical skill. In “Antiquarian Sleeping in His Shop” (2017), where Graham plays a collector sleeping amongst his many precious objects, it feels as though one could reach into the frame and pick an item from a shelf, peer a little closer even and read the titles on the book spines. Since the 1980s, Graham has developed his diverse practice to encompass photography, painting, sculpture, film, video and music. 

Then walking up to the gallery’s second floor space one discovers what feels like a small-scale museum exhibition, “Henry Moore: Myths and Poetry”, curated by his daughter Mary Moore. The exhibition focuses on the artist’s early works on paper (1940s – early 1950s) and includes poetry magazine covers, illustrations for poems by Herbert Read and sketches, exploring the graphic side of Moore’s practice. In addition to etchings, lithographs and drawings, several sculptures are also on view including a large-scale work carved from Elmwood that has not been exhibited since the 1950s. One of the highlights of this exhibition is the supporting archival material on show including Moore’s tools, personal possessions such as books and chairs, photographs of the artist in his studio and correspondence with friends such as W.H. Auden and Herbert Read. This offers an intimate view of a great artist with a unique glimpse into his private space and early working practices. 

Installation view of Rodney Graham, “Media Studies 77”, 2016
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, © Rodney Graham

Henry Moore, “Cover Design for Contemporary Poetry and Prose”, 1937
Reproduced with permission of the Henry Moore Foundation. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

- by Diana Poole

* Cover pic: Rodney Graham, “Antiquarian Sleeping in his Shop”, 2017
Courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth, © Rodney Graham