Helvetic Constellation: A Survey of the Swiss Art Scene


For institutions such as Art Basel (with Art Basel Miami Beach) or the Swiss Institute (with showrooms in both New York City and Paris), contemporary Swiss art is certainly not confined to national boundaries. Yet, Swiss galleries and museums very much give respect to their own artists, both with more established names and a new wave of young guns.

In Zurich, Galerie Eva Presenhuber represents local duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss, heavy hitters with a fantastic sense of humor that plays on the banality of objects taken out of context. Another big name in the Presenhuber stable is Ugo Rondinone, whose rainbow Hell, Yes! graces the New York’s New Museum, but is also known for bringing traces of melancholy to his work. Sylvie Fleury, with her chrome-plated Gucci shoes on display in the gallerist’s loft residence, also shines in this constellation; her works place women in positions of authority, drawing from the worlds of fashion, car racing, and even space travel. Bringing up the rear, young artist Valentin Carron is currently showing replicas of bas-relief sculptures representing traditional work activities — not without a touch of irony — at New York’s 303 Gallery.

Known for spotting rising stars, Galerie Francesca Pia also represents a cluster of young artists, including Mai-Thu Perret, Vidya Gastaldon, Stéphane Dafflon, and Philippe Decrauzat. Showing at the Aspen Art Museum, Perret’s work ranges from diary entries to papier-maché figures in utilitarian dresses — part of her fictive narrative about women living in a New Mexico commune. Fascinated with optical shapes, Decrauzat is a master of precision and repetition, constructing graphic works that include discrete references to both film and architecture. His current show at Elizabeth Dee in New York features paintings and installations designed to destabilize the viewer’s perception of space.

When Calvinist Geneva saw the opening of the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (Mamco) in 1994, it would have been hard to foresee what is now a booming art scene in its district. Recently, the museum paid homage to the founding figures of Geneva’s contemporary art scene, via a hugely popular Sylvie Fleury exhibition and a tribute to John Armleder, who revisited the works he has created since the ’60s. Around Mamco, young galleries such as Evergreene, under the artistic direction of Samuel Gross, also give a platform to Swiss contemporary artists. The youngest artist at Evergreene, Denis Savary, teaches at the University of Art and Design, Lausanne (ECAL), a school known for churning out talented artists, including Perret and Carron.

Galerie Evergreene artist Pierre Vadi‘s current solo show at Mamco spotlights his singular technique of recreating strange objects and galactic landscapes. Another Evergreene standout, Andreas Dobler creates paintings and sculptures that veer between the psychedelic and science fiction, using recurring references to skate and graffiti culture. Nearby, the more established Galerie Guy Bärtschi also supports Swiss artists, including Fabrice Gygi, who is representing Switzerland at the 53rd Venice Biennale this year.

There is nothing static about the Swiss contemporary art scene. With strong curatorial and collector interest, as well as institutional backing, the community continues to set a course for both big stars and bright new talent. Artworks are showcased abroad through satellite institutions and partnerships between international galleries, as well as by artists and curators who set up shop in cities like New York, where Olaf Bruening and Urs Fischer have studios — and where Pipilotti Rist drew big crowds with her monumental video installation at the Museum of Modern Art — or Paris, where curator Marc-Olivier Wahler directs the Palais de Tokyo.

Image: Pipilotti Rist, Small Homo Toes the Line, 2006