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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

Zurich Art Guide - October

Zurich Art Guide - October

The exhibitions selected this month are diverse – from Contemporary documentary photography and Conceptual art to 1960s street photography. All inspired in me a strong emotional response – a reminder of art’s ability to jolt us out of our everyday lives (and reflect on the human condition)!


Exhibition:  Prix Pictet: Space
Artists: Mandy Barker , Saskia Groneberg, Beate Gütschow, Rinko Kawauchi, Benny Lam, Richard Mosse, Sohei Nishino, Sergey Ponomarev, Thomas Ruff, Munem Wasif, Pavel Wolberg and Michael Wolf
Venue: LUMA Westbau
Dates: September 22nd to October 29th, 2017


The annual Prix Pictet photography award usually leans towards big name artists with a smattering of newcomers, and this year is no different. Touring different locations around the globe, it is always a behemoth event in the photography calendar! The theme this year (always relating to sustainability) is Space, presenting 12 shortlisted artists.

I struggled with the theme Space. The artworks take you in such different directions, from pollution to migration, overpopulation, even outer space with Thomas Ruff’s ma.r.s landscapes, that it lacked to me a wholeness or flow. I was initially perplexed by how Space even relates to sustainability and to each individual artist’s practice, but I started to discover connections the longer I spent with the works. 

This year’s winner is Irish photographer Richard Mosse, for his series “Heat Maps”. Made using a military camera that detects body heat from a distance of over 30 km, Mosse tracked the journeys of refugees from the Middle East and north Africa. In his panoramic photograph “Idomeni”, 2016 (header image), a refugee camp in Greece, the atmosphere is haunting; people appear ghost-like as inverted silhouettes due to the camera only picking up contours of heat rather than light and shadow. Unlike the endless press images of the refugee crisis, which we seem increasingly numb to, I became completely lost in this work, taken in by the huge expanse of the scene and wondering about these individuals’ plight - where will their journey end, how can we find space for them?

In contrast, Michael Wolf’s photographs capture the Tokyo rush hour through close-up portraits of faces pressed against train windows in the morning subway in Shinjuku station. Each passenger seems to be caught in a dream-state. I held my breath, feeling the claustrophobia of this reality for millions of commuters every day. I relaxed a little in front of Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph of the Japanese tradition of yakihata (controlled burning of fields). Her image of a hill divided in two by a wall of flame, one side scorched black, the other untouched is beautifully painterly. The message is meant to be of regeneration, however the blackened hill soon brought to mind global issues of over-farming and deforestation, and only awoke in me a warning. 

We’ve become so desensitized to environmental and humanitarian crisis that there’s certainly a timeliness to this theme. I left affected by unapologetic images of cramped cities, hemmed in commuters, restricted living quarters – perhaps the title should have been more pertinently “Out of Space”!

Michael Wolf ,       Tokyo Compression 18   ,       2010, from the series  Tokyo Compression , 2008–11  © Michael Wolf, Flowers Gallery, London and Prix Pictet 2017

Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression 18, 2010, from the series Tokyo Compression, 2008–11

© Michael Wolf, Flowers Gallery, London and Prix Pictet 2017


Exhibition: A Line Between the Morning Sun and the Evening Sun
Artists: Bill Bollinger, Hamish Fulton, Raphael Hefti, Mary Heilmann, Irene Kopelman, Gary Kuehn, Renato Leotta, Haroon Mirza, Roman Signer, James Turrell. 
Venue: Häusler Contemporary
Dates: August 25th to October 28th, 2017


“A Line Between the Morning Sun and the Evening Sun”. What a title! I kept turning it over in my head whilst ruminating over the various works in the show. Later I learnt the curator, Giovanni Carmine (Director of Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen) took it from Hamish Fulton’s artwork “From Coast to Coast (France)” (1992), featured in the show. Fulton is known as the “walking artist” - his experiences from extended hikes transfer to factual, text based graphic works; this one relates to the daily course of the sun’s orbit. The exhibition celebrates Häusler Contemporary’s 10-year anniversary, and for me the title beautifully encompasses a sense of time passing. Many of the artists place emphasis on process, seeing how far they can push materials (through experiments, extreme temperatures and science). They embrace that tension between control and letting go – a key component to any journey! 

In both the first and second space, Raphael Hefti’s “Various Threaded Poles” (2014), soar up to the ceiling, interrupting the space with shifting bands of colour. A quick glance down revealed Gary Kuehn’s “Melt Piece” (1969), fluid aluminium spilling over a rectangular brick nestled in the corner of the room. A playful surprise! Roman Signer’s “Stuhl und Wind i.O.” (2017) comprises an old vintage ventilator fan, noisily blowing out air, beneath a simple wooden chair. As Signer is famous for his exploding artworks, I wondered if any second the chair would lift-off! 

The idea of a line in the title is wonderfully descriptive. Irene Kopelmann’s “Lianas” (2014), a row of faint, delicate pencil drawings reveal knotted vines that lead us round the first corner into the second space. Then a short pause, followed by a minimal grey, horizontal line. At first, I wondered if this was a part of the gallery wall – it is in fact Bill Bollinger’s “Channel Piece for Corner” (1968), which points to small colour drawings by the artist, roughly sketched. 

I loved the way the exhibition incorporated such diverse works – sculpture, painting, drawing, photography by artists young and old. But amongst this multiplicity, I instantly felt a cohesion and relatedness, like the sense of calm you only feel when watching the sun rise or set! 

Installation view, “A Line Between the Morning Sun and the Evening Sun”, Galerie Häusler Contemporary, Zürich  Photo by Mischa Scherrer, Courtesy Häusler Contemporary München | Zürich

Installation view, “A Line Between the Morning Sun and the Evening Sun”, Galerie Häusler Contemporary, Zürich

Photo by Mischa Scherrer, Courtesy Häusler Contemporary München | Zürich



Exhibition: No title
Artist: Jill Freedman
Venue: Fabian & Claude Walter
Dates: September 28th to October 21st, 2017

“The first time I touched a camera, I went right out into the street with it” recalled street photographer Jill Freedman (b. 1939, New York). And that’s exactly what you feel when looking at her black & white photographs - the camera was part of her and she was fervidly drawn to her subjects. The small exhibition in Fabian & Claude Walter’s intimate cabinet space present a selection of vintage prints from the 1960s and early 1970s, with a host of characters – anonymous pedestrians, protestors, the downcast on the streets of New York, circus clowns and artists. 

Freedman’s images are gritty with a prickly edge and biting humour. One photograph, “Untitled, NYC” 1970, captures what appears to be two young people having sex surrounded by a crowd, but only the man’s backside and the woman’s hand and legs are visible - the rest is concealed underneath a large sheet of ripped and crumpled canvas or paper. I wasn't sure if I should be appalled or burst out laughing! She also brilliantly captured momentary juxtapositions in the street - in “Christ Loved Men Only, London”, 1967, a dour group of British ladies, one blowing her nose and another taking an ungainly lick of an ice-cream cone is flanked by the wry graffiti scrawl of “CHRIST LOVED MEN ONLY”. 

Sure, the overall message is bleak but amongst all the toughness, I felt her tenderness and wicked humour too. The exhibition offers more questions than answers, as you ponder, you’ll find it hard to look away. Freedman’s images carry both poetry and punch – she’s one girlboss I’d like to meet!

Jill Freedman,  Christ Loved Men Only , 1969  © Jill Freedman, Courtesy of Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Zürich     Banner image:   Richard Mosse,   Idomeni,   2016, from the series  Heat Maps , 2016-17   © Richard Mosse, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Prix Pictet 2017

Jill Freedman, Christ Loved Men Only, 1969

© Jill Freedman, Courtesy of Fabian & Claude Walter Galerie, Zürich


Banner image: 

Richard Mosse, Idomeni, 2016, from the series Heat Maps, 2016-17 

© Richard Mosse, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York and Prix Pictet 2017