An essential part of this season’s Grand Tour is the annual pre–Art Basel arrival in Zurich, when a slew of openings pop up around town, with the center of activity being the Löwenbräu complex. The place has been riddled with Swiss movers and shakers, plus those freshly into town via Kassel and Münster. Upstairs at Eva Presenhuber, Wyatt Kahn offered a new set of sculpture installed beside groovy photographs of feet, glasses, paint tubes, and the like. Ten minutes away by foot—or just about 20 CHF in a pricy Zurich cab!—is Presenhuber’s other space, which on Friday saw the opening of a fabulous show by Henry Taylor, his first show with the gallery, with lush oversized canvases extending his winning streak after his work was a highlight at the Whitney Biennal.
The dinner for Kahn and Taylor was part of a larger Zurich gallery supper at La Salle, a hangar of a restaurant north of the river, where a giddy Taylor sat with his dealers from L.A. and Paris, and then it was on to a party at ACRUSH, another post-industrial behemoth that houses a factory that fabricates elements of work for the likes of Urs Fischer. An exhibition there now features work by Jon Rafman, Anne de Vries, and Darren Bader.
Rafman was there, having missed the opening of the Julia Stoschek Collection’s ten-year anniversary show in Düsseldorf (curated by Ed Atkins), in which he has work.
“Ed texted me some pictures—it looked good to me,” Rafman said.
Bader was there at the ACRUSH party too, and when approached on the dance floor, Bader shrugged and said, “Why aren’t more people dancing?” before walking away.
The next day saw more openings at the Löwenbräu—a nimbly stunning little Alexander Calder and David Smith show at Hauser & Wirth’s upstairs space, with the gallery also opening a Jenny Holzer show at its space downstairs. Holzer was walking around and, when a friend approached, Holzer asked the inevitable question: “You gearing up for a crazy Basel week?” “Oh yes,” he said. “You?” Holzer was not.
A little later, the artist Zou Zhao gave a performance in the packed schwarzcafe as part of the show in the LUMA Westbau space, “The Americans 2017,” curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Simon Castets. Her work in the exhibition is a series of videos showing the artist in a gallery conducting monologues that relate to apologies, and, in the cafe, she began singing as a text projected onscreen explained: “The Apology Embassy is a research institute that works with public sectors and individuals to produce sophisticated, sincere, and well-crafted apologies.” Zhao then introduced us, with all politesse, to the founders of the apology embassy, who were just portraits on a wall.
Sunday night’s entertainment concluded with a talk between Obrist and Kenny Schachter, which promised at least a few fireworks—Obrist tends to be averse to the market ills as he jets around the word spilling curatorial pixie dust on spaces and institutions, whereas Schachter is an art market gossipmonger par excellence. Fireworks they did provide. Some snippets from Schachter:
“If you want to be cynical about it, a lot of art that is in these exhibitions is really for sale, just without the price tag.”
“Art has become a lifestyle. Artists have become brand. Art used to alienate people!”
“There’s a guy in California, Stefan Simchowitz, and he goes around criticizing galleries and then he does the same thing. It’s the hardest thing in the world to be a small gallerist. It’s a model that’s built to fail. Galleries should be subsidized by the government.”
Then Schachter broke into an anecdote about Vito Acconci, the artist who died this year after a career of spurning the market in favor of blazing his own path, which meant making unsellable work and living on his own terms. Schachter became close with him and ended up owning a lot of his work.
“So I got a call from this woman, Christy MacLear, who works from this firm called, um, Art Agency Whatever—also known as Sotheby’s. And she was asking what works by Vito I owned. And I was like, I don’t know this woman. And this was four days before he died.”
It turns out that MacLear—the former Robert Rauschenberg Foundation CEO who was recently poached by Sotheby’s to help lure in more potentially lucrative artist estates—had been tasked with selling Acconci’s work.
“I’m a little bit queasy because this is a man who never had a market, and now it’s gone to this market machine,” Schachter said.
With that, everyone left for Art Basel, where there is $3 billion of art to be bought and sold.