Swiss Family


Left: Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, Visionaire's Cecilia Dean, and artist John Armleder. Right: Collector Uli Sigg. (All photos: Nicolas Trembley)

“Darling, I can’t go around changing these dates with CEOs, artists, collectors, and curators. It’s too much drama. Can you arrive earlier?” Such was the dialogue that ran rampant throughout last weekend’s loosely organized itinerary of art events in Zurich—a prequel to the Basel hurricane and a high-category storm in its own right that rained openings, tours of collectors’ homes, and VIP dinners on the assembled dignitaries. “Some people fit in four dinners in an evening,” someone noted—but not me. Who’s that hungry? Though I did feel as though I had some catching up to do by the time I arrived Friday night, already quite late in the proceedings for this nonstop crowd.

Zurich’s renowned institutions and galleries, facilitators of the important (and aggressive) Swiss market, were as efficient as always. The Rubells affirmed that it’s more interesting to visit Zurich’s galleries pre-Basel, especially those in the “red-light district,” because that’s where it’s really happening.

That night, Puma (recently purchased by PPR, the company controlled by luxury-goods magnate François Pinault), in association with the Serpentine Gallery, presented a can’t-miss evening in honor of artist John Armleder, who had curated the trendy company’s “Reality Bag,” a leather handbag featuring a logo in the shape of a brain. “It’s like a portable museum,” said Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, presumably because it’s made by artists. Hosted by Visionaire’s Cecila Dean and curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the dinner, organized by Glamour Engineering’s Michelle Nicol, was held in the storage room of one of Trudie Goetz’s designer stores. (Goetz owns all of the city’s hippest fashion shops.) I was seated between an avid Armleder collector and the enthusiastic Dianne Brill, one of New York’s “Queens of the Night” in the 1980s (another was Susanne Bartsch), who knows nothing about art. (She now devotes her energy to cosmetics.) We spent most of our time discussing pheasant hunting in Sologne, an activity Brill also particularly enjoys. All the Zurich locals said they were fleeing Basel after the opening of the fair to avoid the European Football Championship, which kicks off in earnest on Saturday. It’s always been difficult finding a hotel room during Art Basel, but now it’s mission impossible. “We’re going to Saint Tropez,” my other neighbor told me.

Left: Collector Helga Lauffs. Right: Kunsthalle Zürich director Beatrix Ruf and artist Richard Phillips.

Many artists, like John Tremblay (no relation) and Philippe Decrauzat, who also collaborated on pieces for Puma, were out until late into the night, first at the home of dealer Andrea Caratsch, who presented new works by Armleder, then at the club Saint Germain, where hundreds of liters of champagne had already been poured by the time we arrived.

On Saturday, there were openings all over town, and everyone eventually headed to the former Löwenbräu brewery that houses numerous galleries and the Migros Museum (which installed works from its collection in a display framework presented by Markus Schinwald in a prior exhibition). The evening’s highlight was Hauser & Wirth’s opening of two exhibitions—one for Louise Bourgeois and another featuring works from the collection of Helga and Walther Lauffs. Many works from the collection had been sold at Sotheby’s, and portions were presented at David Zwirner and Zwirner & Wirth in New York in May. Helga Lauffs told me that she was happy to sell the collection, which she had assembled with her husband and the discerning Paul Wember, former director of the Krefeld Museum, since many of the works were going to museums that could take proper care of them. She also said that she would continue to collect, this time with one of her grandchildren, and that she planned to devote her attention to young artists. The exhibition presented numerous museum-quality works, including incredible Serras, Christos, and an Yves Klein Anthropometrie from 1960, the only one, according to Zwirner, that depicts both the artist and his wife. For dinner, the gallery had reserved the entire first floor of the Kronenhalle, the city’s culinary hot spot, whose elegant, wainscoted rooms are peppered with Giacomettis and Picassos. Hauser & Wirth’s Roger Tatley placed me at a table with art advisers such as Patricia Marshall, South American collectors, the representative of Ikepod watches, and the Rubells. One eager speculator popped the question: “What do you think of Indian art?” to which everyone responded, “We don’t know yet, we just don’t know.”

Left: Glamour Engineering’s Michelle Nicol and artist Sabisha Friedberg. Right: Trudie Goetz.

Sunday morning, the Kunsthalle Zürich rented a bus for a field trip for collectors. Rosa de la Cruz, Thomas Grässlin, and art-world personalities like Suzan Geiz and Daniel Birnbaum jumped aboard. The first stop was the home of Uli Sigg, the former Swiss ambassador to China who later became one of the most prominent collectors of Chinese art. Perched on a hill beside a small private lake, his house is filled from top to bottom—from the kitchen to the bathroom—with works from his favored country. (Lucerne collectors in general are known to have a penchant for Chinese art.) Gallerist Urs Meile, who lives near Sigg, gave us a tour of his property, including a visit to the sculpture-filled garden. After a light lunch, the kunsthalle’s director, Beatrix Ruf, welcomed us to Lucerne’s Jean Nouvel–designed Kunstmuseum, which houses works from the collection of newspaper publisher Michael Ringier. Included in the conceptually daring, very black-and-white hanging were works by artists ranging from Cady Noland to Fischli & Weiss to Trisha Donnelly. Sitting on the terrace for yet another light lunch, I spoke with Hu Fang, artistic director of Guangzhou’s Vitamin Creative Space, who told me he was planning to present a different side of Chinese art. From the story Westerners like to tell, you’d think there was only one.

That evening, at a dinner and party held at collector Maja Hoffmann’s magnificent lakefront abode (designed by Marcel Breuer), the chatter had already moved past Zurich and on to Basel. According to some, there were still a few snags with the installation. Art Basel Projects, a series of large-scale works by four artists curated by Cay Sophie Rabinowitz (who resigned as Art Basel codirector in late April) was originally intended to premiere in Hall E but has since been relocated to Hall 1, where the works have been juxtaposed with those from the Art Unlimited section. Overheard: “The Carl Andre and Monica Bonvicini are a bit strange together,” and, “There’s a lot of chrome and brushed aluminum work by the likes of Takashi Murakami and Roxy Paine. There are many Chinese people in blue outfits. Wait, is Murakami Chinese?”

Anyway, during dinner, Hoffmann announced a new building at the kunsthalle, facilitated by her own Luma Foundation and a small team of big-time collectors. Everyone grew excitable, listening for further details, until a group of Spanish musicians arrived to provide a sound track to the confusion. If things continue at this pace, we’ll all be exhausted by Basel.

Nicolas Trembley

Left: Dealer David Zwirner. Right: Hauser & Wirth's Ursula Hauser and Marc Payot.

Left: Artist Seth Price. Right: Venice Biennale curator Daniel Birnbaum.

Left: Newspaper magnate Michael Ringier. Right: Artists Mai-Thu Perret and John Tremblay.

Left: Artist Walter Pfeiffer. Right: Dealer Iwan Wirth (left).

Left: Artist Markus Schinwald and Migros Museum director Heike Munder. Right: Artist Andro Wekua.

Left: Don and Mera Rubell with MUDAM director Marie-Claude Beaud. Right: MoMA curator Christophe Cherix.

Left: Hauser & Wirth's Florian Berktold. Right: Artist Fabian Marti.

Left: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, codirector of exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery. Right: Hu Fang, artistic director of Vitamin Creative Space in Guangzhou.

Left: Dealer Andrea Caratsch. Right: Hauser & Wirth's Roger Tatley.

Left: Artist Philippe Decrauzat (right). Right: Dianne Brill.