Friday, 25 September 2009

Cult American artist, Renée Green, gets major retrospective in Lausanne

Renée Green, This Was Now Then, 1994 - beautiful drapery designed by Green to include startling images relating to slavery.
© Courtesy the artist & Free Agent Media

A milestone exhibition that includes works produced over 20 years by Renée Green, the most cerebral yet engaging of contemporary American artists occupies the entire Fine arts museum in Lausanne. Making use of multiple media, including photography, video and sound, the show is intriguing, packed with content and of interest to casual visitors, art amateurs and school children-alike.

A voyage through the meanders of her experiences and perceptions is what the American artist of iconic stature proposes. Renée Green is a painter, a photographer, a writer, a film-maker, an architectural and textile designer, as well as a sound engineer all wrapped into one.

Renée Green, Some Chance Operations: Between and Including, 1998
Installation. Média mixte: 9 ensembles de photographies noir/blanc et textes sous cadre sur des murs de couleur
Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Her works have received star billing at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Tapies Foundation in Barcelona, the Secession in Vienna and more recently at the art fair in Basel, but the labyrinth on display in Lausanne, entitled “Ongoing Becomings”, is the first time that her pieces over so many years are presented together.

“I am seeing things that I have forgotten about and discovering new layers and combinations” said the artist on opening day.

Renée Green, United Space of Conditioned Becoming 1, 2007
Installation. Média mixte, dimensions variables
Crédits photo: John Berens
Courtoisie l’artiste et Free Agent Media

As one enters the formidably ugly Palais de Rumine where the Musée cantonal des beaux arts (Fine arts museum) is housed and the retrospective is on show for the next three months, one is struck by an unusual sense of peacefulness.

This is strange, because there is nothing peaceful in the open-ended questions that Renée Green is asking. Through sophisticated installations, poems hung on flags, references to historical documents and archives of fictional and non-fictional films, she is bombarding us with thoughts that refer to origins, interpretations, immigration, identities and illusions.

The 30 works on display illustrate the “infinite process of linking” that Green applies “to allow other kinds of knowledge to emerge from unexpected conjunctions”.

This might sound arid, but it isn’t. Green is like a Renaissance woman of the 21st Century who explores our collective memory to suggest new interpretations and artistic associations. She is teasing our collective references.

Songs by the cabaret singer Josephine Baker, who was the darling of Paris in the twenties, images of the National Guard charging students at Kent State University in Ohio in the seventies, engravings of a Senegalese nun from a popular novel of 1824 woven into draping cloth resurface to shift the mosaic of our perceptions.

Renée Green, Partially Buried in Three Parts, 1996-1997
Installation. Média mixte, dimensions variables (détail)
Crédits photo: Pez Hejduk, Matthias Herrmann, Stefan Lugbauer
Courtoisie l’artiste, Free Agent Media, et Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1959, Green started a career in publishing and editing following her studies at the Parson’s School of Design, Harvard and Wesleyan University. It was not until 1989 that she started to construct the enigmatic and powerful pieces that were to become her hallmark.

Many of her pieces are site-related as she has pursued her “ongoing-becomings” in Lisbon, Berlin, Amsterdam, Naples, New York and Los Angeles. She currently holds the position of Professor and Dean of Graduate Studies at the Art Institute in San Francisco, that she now considers to be one of her homes, along with New York and Majorca, the birthplace of her husband.

Renée Green, Endless Dreams and Water Between, 2009
Installation. Média mixte, dimensions variables
Courtoisie l’artiste, Free Agent Media et le National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

“Endless Dreams and Water Between” is Renée Green’s most recent work and it closes the exhibition in Lausanne. It was completed at the beginning of this year for the Greenwich National Maritime Museum in London. The sound of waves and ships’ hooters saturate the air as visitors move between a suspended poem written by Laura Riding when she was living with Robert Graves on the island of Majorca.

A video on four fictional characters who comment a text written by George Sand when she spent a winter on the island with Chopin is woven into the time-frame of the installation.

That such experiments in “thinking and acting” are actually accepted as art and shown in museums and galleries is a tribute to Green’s creativity and to her capacity to make us alight into her world.

The curator of the exhibition, Nicole Schweizer, does not hide her passion for Green’s work. The two have worked together for two years to construct an exhibition that respects the instability of Green’s art, the fact that her works are rarely finite and can be revisited with different meanings.

“This exhibition is meant to be one of total immersion” says Schweitzer to explain how the pieces interact with each other and remain in constant flux. Sounds, constructions, vivid colors and moving images vie for the visitor’s attention, contributing to making the show attractive, even for children.

Green adds that she “wanted to activate the spaces so that they can be read both ways”, since the linear design of the museum obliges visitors to view the works twice, once on the way in and again on the way out.

Even so, one visit may not be enough. Renée Green is offering us an “Inventory of Clues”, “Certain Miscellanies” and “Idyll Pursuits” (all titles of her works) that make us want to come back for more.

Published with the generous financial support of the American Embassy in Bern, Renée Green, Ongoing Becomings, is a bilingual (French / English) monographic reference catalogue on sale for the price of CHF 50.-/ 35 Euros.

Saturday, 20 June 2009


Lee Sang-Hyun, Diplomatic Trade Delegation of Joseon, 2008, Sun Contemporary Seoul

Art Basel 40 reports its highest attendance figures ever and unexpectedly good sales. Less spectacular than former editions, the art fair caters again to the connoisseur, rather than the impulsive cell-totting speculator of recent years. But gone too is the cutting-edge excitement. The museum-like quality of many works on display, including by Picasso, Matisse and Chagall indicate a return to safe values.

When the 40th edition of Art Basel closed this weekend after four days of intense showcasing, visitors were left to wonder: does the annual get-together for the art glitterati still make sense when over-inflated prices can no longer defy market forces and the numerous satellite events that have sprung up around the fair are more exciting?

Reporting its highest attendance ever with 61,000 visitors to the 300 galleries that exposed over 2,500 artists, Art Basel announces “solid business”, “surprisingly strong results”, “huge success against sober expectations”.

Creating a buzz during the first days, the international trade journal for the art cognoscenti, The Art Newspaper claimed “Surprise success: Art Basel dispels credit crunch blues”.

“We came with no expectations, but it went really well for us. There were many pleasant surprises and we connected with many new people” said Tim Blum from Blum and Poe in Los Angeles.

For just under $1m, film star Brad Pitt, who for the second year running attended the VIP exclusive opening, snapped up a work by Neo Rauch, a painter from the Leipzig school, whose paintings were worth less than a quarter of the price three years ago.

Like many other gallery owners, Gilli Stampa, of the eponymous Stampa Gallery in Basel is convinced that this year’s edition of Art Basel is of better quality. And indeed, if quality is to be measured by the quantity of works by modern masters, the ground floor of the fair was like walking through a museum of fine arts.

But no matter how upbeat the exhibitors and their enthusiastic buyers wanted to appear, the event appeared uncharacteristically subdued. The fact is, Basel Art is now 40 years old and beginning to show that it has reached middle-age. Although galleries from Spain (see Elba Benitez and Soledad Lorenzo in Madrid) and India (see Nature Morte / Bose Pacia in New Delhi) are contributing fresh and exhilarating art, there was nothing much else on show to send your pulses racing.

As a consequence, younger events have sprung up all around Art Basel and because they take place at the same dates but in different areas of Basel, a dedicated enthusiast will spend a lot of time just getting from one venue to the next.

Volta, Basel’s Contemporary Art Fair for new and emerging art, was started in 2005 and now occupies the spectacular Markthalle at a stone’s throw from the train station. The art on display was irreverent, sometimes messy and often fun. I’m betting on a South African artist by the name of Deborah Poynton, whose tormented nakedness is a female version of Lucian Freud, but with an unabashed dash of self-interrogation thrown in.

Deborah Poynton, Detail from The Lesson, Michael Stevenson Gallery

Deborah Poynton, The Right Place, Michael Stevenson Gallery

LISTE, the Young Art Fair in Basel, has been around since 1996 to introduce galleries that are in general no more than 5 years old and who present artists under the age of 40, most of it oddly conceptual. It is presented in cells surrounding the unfriendly gridded staircase of the community workshop Warteck pp. The artist who retained my attention was Glasgow-based, Henry Coombes who will soon have a solo exhibition with Sorcha Dallas.

Henry Coombes, The Little Man Would Like You to Document the Approaching Debauchery, 2007

SCOPE, a global art fair that takes place in several cities, including New York, London, Miami and the Hamptons, is in Basel for the third time, but it almost didn’t make it this year. Fierce opposition to its choice of a sports field on which it pitched a tent close to the main venue jeopardized arrangements until the last minute. Unlike Volta, Scope is not curated and therefore presents art that can perhaps be qualified as mainstream experimental.

My own favourite is The Solo Project in the southern suburb of Basel. The labyrinth itinerary brings you into close contact with the works of the individual artists. The Dutch media artist Sylvie Zijlmans’ startling water-inundated photographs were totally captivating.

Sylvie Zijlmans, z.t., 2008, inktjetprint/aquarelpapier

From Korea, Lee Sung Hyun, represented by Gallery Sun Contemporary demonstrates the cross-fertilisation between Asian and Western artists at its best, but with a personal magical lightness.

Also at cultural cross-roads, the Turkish artist living in Germany, Nezaket Ekici is a multimedia artist who uses her own performances to create works of haunting imagery and powerful poetic impact.

Nezaket Ekici, Blind

And then there was Stephan Reusse whose delightful laser figurines make you want to dance with them.

Friday, 19 June 2009

French modern masters dazzle at Gianadda museum“From Courbet to Picasso”, a collection of masterpieces from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, is on loan t

“From Courbet to Picasso”, a collection of masterpieces from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, is on loan to the Gianadda Foundation in Martigny over the summer months. Covering 60 years of intense artistic activity in Paris from 1858 onwards, the exhibition is an instant art history lesson with works from just about all the great painters of that time, including Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Cézanne and Picasso.

From the period immediately preceding Impressionism to the one just short of Abstract art, the exhibition that runs until November at the Gianadda Foundation tells three interesting stories. It is a marvelous introduction to the beginning of modern art, bears testimony to the history of Russia over that period and speaks of the destiny of two enlightened collectors.

Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin, whose collections form the backbone of the exhibition in Martigny, belonged to a new generation of art collectors at the end of the 19th century whose wealth came not from aristocratic lineage but from the Industrial Revolution. However, unlike Paul Mellon or Solomon Guggenheim whose art legacies in the US have survived, their fortunes ended with the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Before then, the two Russian textile barons dedicated their wealth to amassing and occasionally commissioning innovative French art.

Ivan Morozov was the more conventional of the two. His choices were rarely impulsive and he is recognized as the first art collector who carefully selected works from the different French schools, including Impressionism, Fauvism and the Nabis. Masterpieces by Renoir, Degas, Cézanne and Denis made up his collection, of which many are on show in Martigny.

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec Woman by a Window, 1889, 71 x 47 cm, Musée d'Etat des Beaux-Arts Pouchkine, Moscou, © The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

The more flamboyant Sergei Shchukin developed strong infatuations for arresting and colorful works by Monet, Gauguin and Picasso (whom he referred to as “the demonic Spaniard”), endeavoring to collect their paintings with a zeal that bordered on the obsessive.

Paul Gauguin Her name was Vaïraumati, Vaïraumati tei oa. Son nom est Vaïraumati, 1892, 91 x 68 cm, Musée d'Etat des Beaux-Arts Pouchkine, Moscou, © The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

Shchukin also formed a long association with Matisse whom he commissioned to create Nasturtiums and the Dance for his mansion in Moscow, a painting that is one of the star attractions of the exhibition.

Henri Matisse Nasturtiums and the Dance, Les Capucines à la danse, 1912, 190.5 x 114.5 cm, Musée d'Etat des Beaux-Arts Pouchkine, Moscou, © The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

Both Morozov and Shchukin turned their palaces into private museums of modern art. Shchukin’s private gallery became “a place of pilgrimage where the young artistic elite of Moscow was able to see the creative innovations from Paris even before they became acknowledged in France” explain Anna V. Poznanskaya and Alexey V. Petukhov, authors of the magnificent catalogue that accompanies the exhibition.

The Russian Revolution brought a brutal end to private enterprise, including in the arts. In 1917 Lenin issued a decree that transformed the Morozov and Shchukin collections into public museums. Their owners fled the country.

Henri Rousseau Muse Inspiring a Poet La Muse inspirant le poète (Portraits de Guillaume Apollinaire et Marie Laurencin), 1909, 131 x 97 cm, Musée d'Etat des Beaux-Arts Pouchkine, Moscou, © The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

When Stalin declared that the bourgeois art was “ideologically corrupt” and “anti-national”, the paintings from the two collections were dispatched to the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad and the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow, where they lay hidden until the beginning of this century.

It was thanks to the infatigable efforts of the current Director of the Pushkin Museum, Irina Alexandrovna Antonova, that the Russian collectors and the paintings that they chose so carefully are being rehabilitated today. Her long-standing friendship with Leonard Gianadda, the Director of the Martigny museum, is the reason for this rare show in Switzerland.

Martigny is conveniently located on the path from Geneva or Lausanne to Verbier, Italy or Zermatt and is worth a stop. However, as is often the case in the concrete sanctuary that serves as the Gianadda showcase, the exhibition looks like the works have been hung in someone’s kitchen. The stark lighting against the grey walls and the dull chronological hanging allow very little poetry to expand from the paintings.

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful works of art to be admired, not least of which a painting by Gauguin from his Tahiti period and a very unusual Van Gogh showing prisoners walking in a circle with bowed heads, except one, who engages the onlooker and who bears a striking resemblance to Van Gogh himself. Two tiny butterflies flutter in the oppressive environment.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Prison Courtyard, La ronde des prisonniers, 1890, 80 x 64 cm, Musée d'Etat des Beaux-Arts Pouchkine, Moscou, © The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow

The 56 paintings on show at the Gianadda Foundation are a sample from the collections of the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in Moscow that only the ones in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Met in New York are said to rival.

Monday, 16 March 2009

‘Vague, but exciting', three words that unleashed th web

20 years ago, almost to the day, Timothy Berners-Lee wrote a memo that laid the premises of what was to become the web. ‘Vague, but exciting’ is how Mike Sendall, his boss at CERN, recognized the proposal. But today, Berners-Lee is more interested in the potential that the web has yet to unlock.

Information Management Memo, 1998 © Cern

’I wrote the information management proposal 20 years ago, but 20 years ago nothing happened’ said Berners-Lee during the www@20 celebration organized on March 13, 2009 at the CERN . ‘Sendall gave the go-ahead and allowed me to purchase a NeXT machine, but it was a wink, rather than a nod. The project only took off when random people got involved and that’s what was so exciting.’

Berners-Lee holding the proposal, laird, 13.03.09

The ‘random people’ who were to make history with Berners-Lee were all present at the anniversary meeting. And what a bunch of kids they have remained. Their juvenile enthusiasm and spontaneity remains intact after all these years, bringing the day’s Master of Ceremony, Laurent Haug, the Director of Lift Conference whose idea the celebration was, to remind them during the official proceedings that they could perhaps reserve their noisy reminiscing for the post-event dinner party…

Ben Segal, often referred to as Berner-Lee’s mentor, was the first to speak. He admits that he still does not understand the “picture” that Tim submitted to Mike Sendall. At the time, he was the Cern’s Internet Coordinator. He remembers Berners-Lee saying ‘People just need to agree on a few simple things.’ The miracle, he says, is that people did, ‘just enough to make it work.’

He added ‘The web was created at Cern, but from its weakest point and using underground resources. What Tim was doing was tolerated, but he had vision and perseverance, and he had the tools.’

Ben Segal,Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Photo Maximilien Brice 13.03.09 © Cern

Berners-Lee invented a way to easily share and search electronic documents by presenting texts and images in a universal format. When the coding language, HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) was combined with a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) users could access the documents independently of the systems that their computers were working on.

Cailliau and Berners-Lee. Demo of the NeXT computer on which the Web was developed, Photo Maximilien Brice 13.03.09 © Cern

Without Robert Cailliau two things might not have happened: the necessary resources for the research to be pursued might never have become available and the web might not have remained free. Cailliau was the Head of Office Computing Systems at CERN when Berners-Lee made his proposal. He became a tireless lobbyist and had the foresight to keep the web in the public domain. As Berners-Lee acknowledges, ‘if there had been royalties, the web would be dead’.

Laurent Haug, MC, leads the discussions

‘Of all the decisions that you made at the time, are there any you regret?’ asked Haug. Berners-Lee had to think a while, but admits that the colon and double slash, as in http:// (for Hypertext Transfer Protocol) were not ideal. He would also have reversed the denominations, as in ch.swisster instead of .

As for the name of world wide web, it was chosen by Berners-Lee because he wanted people to share their information with the world and because he deliberately wanted to stay clear of the Greek mythology after which so many scientific projects seem to be named. Zeus, Odyssey or Mercury were not for him.

Role reversal: Berners-Lee catches the photographers

‘The danger of celebrations is to look back and forget that we are only at the beginning of the web’ said Berners-Lee who refers excitedly to its ‘unlocked potential.’ He is convinced that the linking of the huge masses of random data that are out there will allow for unsuspected discoveries.

In a recent TED talk, he gave the example of the development of new drugs to treat Alzheimer due to the linking of two unrelated databases, one on genomic profiles and the other on proteins.

‘Let us share what we know’ says Berners-Lee ‘but let us also share what we don’t know.’

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Discover the key to Fellini‘s dreams

One of the 50 original drawings by Fellini in the show © Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

On the theme “Fellini, Dreams of Venice and other Reveries” an exhibition in the lakeside town of Morges sets out to illustrate the origin of some of the most outlandish and unforgettable scenes in cinema. The Italian film maker of La Dolce Vita was not only a master story-teller, he was an amazing draughtsman as well.

The choice of Friday the 13th of March for the inauguration of an exhibition dedicated to Fellini’s fantasies would no doubt have amused the artist. The show is made up of 150 originals works, including about 50 drawings that he produced to tell his dreams or brush a powerful caricature. It is completed with behind-the-scenes photographs taken on the sets of most of his other films, including 8½, Amarcord, Satyricon and Roma, as well as of many of the legendary actors who played in them like Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale.

Anita Ekberg with Fellini on the set of La Dolce Vita, 1960, © Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

All the documents are on loan from the Fellini Film Foundation which is unexpectedly based in Sion in the Valais. When a young Swiss film aficionado was taken on as Fellini’s personal assistant and secretary in 1970, a position that Gérald Morin held for seven years, he became his accidental archivist. Over the years he has obsessively collected over 13,000 documents, photos, posters, scenarios, drawings, props and costumes related to Fellini or to works about him by other film producers, including Robert Altman and Jean-Luc Godard.

The foundation has recently signed a partnership with the Swiss Film Archive in Lausanne where the originals, available to researchers, will be kept.

The purpose of the exhibition says Yvan Schwab, the Director of the Forel Museum in Morges, is to “show a Fellini that we do not know”, a man who was an artist not only in his films. Ever since his museum exposed the preliminary sketches and scenery designs of the clown, Dimitri, five years ago, Schwab wanted to organize another show connecting performance and the fine arts. A man of theatre himself, he knows what he is looking for.

The Forel Museum is housed in a delightful 16th Century Italian-style house in the center of Morges. The contrast with the extravagance and sexual jubilation of Fellini’s works could not be greater, although the giant portrait of Casanova, of Donald Sutherland fame, appears wonderfully in context.

Donald Sutherland on the set of Casanova, 1976,© Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

Casanova in old age as drawn by Fellini,© Fondation Fellini pour le cinéma

Dreams, or what Yvon Schwab calls “the esthetic of dreams” is the theme that runs through the exhibition. It is meant to illustrate the origin of the powerful images that are the hallmark of Fellini’s art. “My visual imagination is the greatest gift that I ever received. It is the source of my dreams. It allows me to draw. It shapes my films” said Fellini.

We learn that many of the wild scenes that inhabit Fellini’s films were remembered from his dreams and scribbled onto a paper immediately when he woke up. He also used his formidable drawing skills to communicate to his decorator or make-up artist what he expected from them. Fellini rarely signed his sketches, or facetiously signed them in the name of another artist, for example Matisse, saying to the autograph seeker “You wanted the signature of a famous artist, well now you have it!

The exhibition also offers insight into Fellini’s way of working with the actors, which could not have been more different from the Actor’s Studio approach in vogue during his time. Instead of memorable emotions, he wanted memorable images. A priest on roller-skates or Anita Ekberg in the Trevis Fountain were some of them.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Erotic Rodin opens in Martigny

Le soleil couchant © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

The title of an exhibition that starts on Friday at the Giannada Foundation in Martigny leaves no doubt about the works on display. The sculptures and drawings by the great French artist, Auguste Rodin, are primarily of women in erotic postures. But make no mistake, these are the works of an inspired genius, not of a voyeur.

From the collections of the Rodin Museum in Paris, 30 sculptures and 70 drawings have been selected to join those already owned by the Giannada Foundation, including the famous “Kiss”. These works belong to Rodin’s later period, from 1890 until his death in 1917.

Rodin had by then gained the notoriety and the means to afford live models, often several at a time. They remained in motion during the drawing sessions, while Rodin sketched without interruption, rarely looking down to see what he had drawn.
He wanted to capture the tautness of their limbs as they folded their bodies into abandonment and desire. Some of the poses are positively acrobatic.

Luxure © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

It is precisely Rodin’s ability to capture those fleeting moments that preserves his drawings from any form of vulgarity. He celebrates the beauty of a woman’s body, allowing her to appear nude, but never naked.

La Faunesse, © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

Perceptions during Rodin's time were naturally different. According to Christina Buley-Uribe, world specialist of Rodin’s drawings and one of the co-authors of the catalogue, the scandal that the works generated was due to the absence of academic poses, but also to Rodin’s introduction of “instantaneity and accident” into his drawings.

She quotes Ella Young, an English visitor who accompanied W.B. Yeats to a show in the artist’s presence as saying “He is mad, beastly and sensually mad.”

Rodin maintained that the 10,000 or so drawings that he produced were the “the key to understanding my work.” They served to capture the tenseness and emotions that he wanted his sculptures to express. He was not interested in perpetrating the classical allegorical tradition of his time.

Instead, his figures were intended to convey strong characterization and a powerful physical intensity. Remember his Thinker or his portrait of Balzac.

The Kiss, of which there are only three in the world, greets the visitors at the exhibition. It was recently purchased by the Giannada Foundation and is the symbol of a long love affair between the foundation and the Rodin Museum.

Léonard Giannada founded the FDG in 1978 in memory of a younger brother, Pierre, who had died in a plane accident. By 1984 he had already organized his first Rodin exhibition in Martigny, followed by three related exhibitions; this is the fifth.

Over the years he has constituted an admirable collection of Rodin’s works for the foundation, all of which will mingle with the ones on loan from Paris. Giannada is the only foreign member of the Rodin Museum’s acquisition commission. "Ever since I bought a book on him at the age of 15, Rodin continues to be an important part of my life," he says.

Erotic Rodin is drawn out of the 1,000 drawings and numerous sculptures in which Rodin expressed an astonishing sensual liberty. How the profoundly catholic Valais where Martigny is located will respond is anyone’s guess.

Lutte amoureuse © Musée Rodin. Photo Jean de Calan

Despite the title, Erotic Rodin is not an exhibition meant to titillate. It is the stamp in time of the lesser-known work of a great artist, of which he is said to have been particularly proud.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Christo and Jeanne-Claude unveil project in Lausanne

Over the River, Project for the Arkansas River, Collage 2007
© Christo 2000, photo Wolfgang Volz

The Hermitage Foundation in Lausanne presents the latest project by legendary artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Known for their spectacular environmental art, the husband-and-wife team reveals a current work-in-progress, the plan to cover a 64-kilometer stretch of America's Arkansas River with shimmering fabric, but not before 2012.

Visitors to Lausanne's Hermitage museum have a unique opportunity to discover the process that leads the couple to transform a site and make it a work of art. Ever since they met more than 50 years ago, Christo, of Bulgarian origin, and Jeanne-Claude, the daughter of a French army officer, have created 20 memorable environmental art projects in various countries, the latest one being The Gates in Central Park, New York, their home town for the past 45 years.

The Gates, Project for Central Park, NYC, Drawing in two parts / © Christo 2004, photo Wolfgang Volz

Until May 24, the Hermitage exhibition tells the story of a project that was started in 1992 and might materialize in 2012 - if all the necessary permits come through by the end of this year. Silvery sheets of fabric will be stretched onto panels girded by the banks of the Arkansas River in the state of Colorado, USA. For the duration of two weeks, visitors will see from above shimmering paths between water and sky, or they can embark on a rafting trip of five-and-a-half hours down a continuation of translucent tunnels.

The exhibition is best described as the living diary of a work in progress, from the very first sketch to the present day. Christo's preparatory drawings and collages, some as large as a veranda window, others as small as a folder, adorn the walls of what is arguably Lausanne's prettiest museum.

Telling photographs of meetings and discussions with the authorities, neighboring residents, environmentalists, engineers and lawyers, as well as site visits, pepper and enliven the remaining walls. And to give substance to the project, there is a real-size sample of the aluminum-covered fabric to be used as the sheeting, already prepared for the cables and pitons that will secure them.

Over The River, Collage 2007 in two parts / © Christo 2004, photo Wolfgang Volz

Over the River was originally conceived in Washington DC as a lobby tool to wrench the necessary permits from the US Federal government that owns the land through which the project is due to run. If approval is granted, it will take two years for the project to be set up.

Christo recognizes that the fierce administrative obstacles they face for each of their projects are due to lack of precedents. Who would want to cover a river or wrap a building? But they only borrow the sites for “gentle disturbances” and give them back in their original condition. “We may not be the world’s most famous artists, but we are the cleanest,” says Jeanne-Claude. All the fabric and materials used to produce the art works are entirely recycled.

Running Fence, Sonoma and Maric Counties, California 1972-76, Photo Jeanne-Claude / © Christo 1976

Shedding a new light on a site in an urban or a rural environment, but one that has already been transformed by man, is what Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been doing together for the past 50 years. Whether wrapping the ethereal Pont Neuf in Paris (1985) or the massive Reichstag in Berlin (1995), surrounding the Islands off Miami with flamingo-pink tutus (1982), dotting valleys in Japan and California with gigantic Umbrellas (1991), orchestrating orange Gates to flap in disrupted harmony in Central Park, New York (2005), each is a work that now belongs to our modern day imagery.

The Pont Neuf Wrapped, Paris, Drawing 1985 in two parts / © Christo 1985, photo Wolfgang Volz

Surrounded Islands, Drawing 1982 in two parts /© Christo 1982, photo Wolfgang Volz

And yet none of these wonders exist any longer. Following decades of preparation, the works take place over a short period of time and then disappear into the collective memory of cultural icons.

Wrappped Reichstag, Berlin 1971 / © Christo 1995, photo Wolfgang Volz

The artists were asked why they bothered to spend so much time on temporary installations. Jeanne-Claude responded that each idea springs from their desire to create art works of “beauty and joy” and that these ideas need to be built to be seen. But just as emotions are intensified when they are fleeting, so must their works be ephemeral. Temporality remains a key ingredient of their artistic process.
Christo said that what they do is “irrational, useless… irresponsible” since no one can buy the environmental site projects and they cannot be possessed. Almost as if to taunt the art market that jealously guards its artists, small squares of the fabric used for each of the works are distributed freely to the onlookers, as many as a million per project. The same is true of their signatures, which they distribute with lavish generosity.

Fiercely independent, the artists have never relied on galleries or sponsors to help finance their monumental projects. “It is expensive to be free”, says Jeanne-Claude, so to raise the kind of budget that would allow any national museum to survive for years, Christo’s exquisite preparatory sketches and collages are sold directly to institutional or private collectors.

The cost of wrapping the Reichstag was 15.3 million dollars in 1995, about 35 million today. The umbrella project in Japan and the USA cost 26 million dollars in 1991. These figures give an idea of the value of Christo’s art work and of the complementary ability of his wife to help translate the drawings into reality.

Because it is spectacular and uses man-made materials, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s art appears disconnected from nature. And yet, the opposite is true since each project is designed to espouse and highlight a particular season. Over the River can only take place in the summer, the Gates in Central Park needed the branches to be winter-bare, and the Surrounded Islands could only take place during a spring window, before the hurricane season.

Ironically, another of their works-in-progress is one that escapes seasons entirely: The Mastaba is a work of art made of approximately 410,000 horizontally stacked oil barrels in the United Arab Emirates. It was conceived in 1977 and is still on the drawing board.

Jeanne-Claude and Christo in front of Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, 1998 / Christo 1998, photo Wolfgang Volz

Christo and Jeanne-Claude are the birds of the art world: they are free, will take no ideas from anyone and will never fly into the cage of a gallery. They are also funny, charming and seemingly lighthearted. How they have achieved amongst the most complex and ambitious art works to date is no doubt due to a combination of outrageous poetry, uncommon patience and great generosity.

Over the River: a Work in Progress makes Lausanne the envy of the art world for three months.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

An international conference on technology not just for geeks

Lift Conference (Geneva, 25-27 February) is an opportunity to meet the people who are transforming technology. It was started by an expat in 2006 and is now attended by more than 700 people from around the world.

Once a year, Geneva becomes the converging point for everyone who is anyone in the unstoppable world of technology. Laurent Haug who founded the Lift Conference three years ago at the age of 29 has made How a young man who is patently not a geek has created an international trampoline for virtual ideas is what we tried to find out.

Haug, who is French, had no idea where to go for his university studies and ended up in Switzerland almost by accident. Now he has become one of its best ambassadors. He says that Lift is just the accelerator of the energy, innovation and creativity that are already present in this country, but points out, ruefully, that 80% of the companies are run either by foreigners or by Swiss nationals with a foreign parent.

“Switzerland’s a great place to become an entrepreneur, but for the wrong reasons” explains Haug. Because there are so many obstacles, “if you actually do succeed, you feel protected and things get easier”. According to Bruce Sterling, the best-selling sci-fi author and a regular participant in the conference, Lift has built in three years what others build in seven.

In fact, Haug shouldn't even be in Switzerland. When he finished his studies in the business section of the University of Lausanne, the quota of work permits had dried up. Despite this, he secured jobs with a variety of companies, all of which, he points out, collapsed when he joined him, including the unsinkable Arthur Andersen. That's when he decided to found his own.

Along with his generation, Laurent Haug had fallen head-first into the web. But he felt intuitively that there was more to technology than protocols. He observed that deep social changes were taking place and he decided to connect the people the globe over who were making them. Lift was born.

The Lift program is a captivating balance between techno-pioneers from Microsoft, Netvibes, Podtech, Creative Commons, Mozilla, Intel, etc. and people from unexpected horizons. See the on-line videos of talks by: Sister Judith Zoebelein who set up the Vatican’s progressive website, Sugata Mitra who brings $100 computers to school children in India, Jan Chipchase, the anthropologist who helps Nokia design phones for the illiterate, Kevin Warwick, the first cyber robot with web controlled implants, Eric Favre , the inventor of Nespresso capsules, Florence Devouard, the former chair of the Board of the Wikimedia Foundation (that owns Wikipedia), who will also be returning this year.

Haug gives credit to his team and partners, a community of talented individuals who are expected to bring a spark of intellectual and artistic novelty to make the three-day event interesting and memorable. The conference’s creative collaboration with Bread and Butter, the adventurous Lausanne design studio, has helped produce a strong identity and brand. As for the Advisory Board, it is composed of people with a desirable combination of vision and connections.

The theme of the Geneva conference this year is Where did the future go?, a reflection on predictions that did not materialize or that may yet prove us wrong. The man most often called the "father of the internet", Vint Cerf, will be giving one of the key speeches.

But Lift is not just a conference, it is an experience. An on-going collaboration with artists brings a zest to the proceedings and enlivens the otherwise drab Geneva International Conference Center. This year’s edition will feature installations by Think Tank Kitchen Budapest , MIT media artist, Kelly Heaton and Nabi, a hip art center in Korea. One of the star speakers is Natalie Jeremijenko , an Australian new media artist who works in New York at the intersection of contemporary art, science, and engineering.

And now with an autumn edition of Lift Asia that takes place in South Korea - a country that Haug considers to be at the forefront of invention - the Lift community is expanding.

In the first three years of its existence, Lift is said to be surpassing other techno-ventures on account of Haug’s quiet magnetism and his ability to identify and attract the people, trends, ideas and opportunities that will impact our future. Lift is only one of his many entrepreneurial projects and it is clear that Laurent Haug is out to make a difference. But he also wants everyone to have a good time: the Lift fondue party (imagine serving 700 fondues!) on the second evening is legendary.

Full program on Lift09.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Cully Jazz Festival strikes a blue note

Heidi Happy - A Swiss artist who will blow your blues away

The box office is now open for the Cully Jazz Festival and here are some hot tips to make your choice of concerts ahead of the crowds. Small in size, the festival is huge in inspiration.

Over the years, the Cully Jazz Festival (March 27-April 4) has become the jazz connoisseur’s answer to the Montreux Festival, now considered to be as close to jazz as … baseball is to cricket.

This year Cully offers again the enjoyable jazz cocktail that has become its hallmark, with surprising musical discoveries from the world over alongside mainstream artists.

The result of the jazz panorama is that there is something for everyone, from the adventurous to the conventional, including more than 60 free concerts and nine DJ evenings.

Bringing the main program to your finger tips, Swisster invites you to explore the following links to confirm or discover your preferences.

This year’s prestige event will celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the legendary “Blue Note” label (who brought us Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and more recently Wynton Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson). The “All Stars Night” on 31st March will be a concoction of five Blue Note artists from both sides of the Atlantic, including the world famous saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Ron Carter and pianist Jacky Terrasson.

Staying in the mainstream vein, Abdullah Ibrahim, the South African composer and pianist formerly known as Dollar Brand and often compared to Thelonius Monk (also a Blue Note artist), will be giving a rare solo performance. Moving on, the ageless Grammy award-winner, John Hammond, whose stage colleagues included Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, will be strumming a blues afternoon with his guitar and harmonica.

If you melt at the sound of a saxophone, Joshua Redman, son of Dewey, is bringing his trio and his own free and gentle compositions to Cully.

And how a musician who plays to his feet can make us soar so high is the mysterious achievement of the Swiss-French trumpeter, Erik Truffaz. He belongs to that uncommon breed of artists who can entwine their music into the notes of other performers to create new genres. On one evening he will be playing with Talvin Singh, the Asian Underground tabla player of Madonna fame and Murcof for his hispano-electro sounds. On another he will be pitching into the beat boxer, Sly Johnson's vocal escapades. Not to be missed.

Erik Truffaz and Sly Johnson

To be exciting, a festival must also lead to discovery. See the artists who are heading for the big time and discover them first in Cully: Yaron Herman sets fire to the key-board, the Swiss group, Rusconi, are the quintessence of jazz dreaminess and Avishai Cohen’s trio produces a jazz that is upbeat, elegant and fierce.


Ladies are getting their voices heard as well. From the 78 year-old Buena Vista star, Omara Portuondo, to the 25 year-old Swiss sensation, Sophie Hunger, from the Celtic-sounding songs from Mali by Oumou Sangare to the squeaky Haitian blues by Canadian artist, Melissa Laveaux, the concerts will be mellifluous, but powerful. And don’t forget to keep a bit of space for Happy Heidi who will blow your blues away.

The amazing Sophie Hunger

For nine days, the small village of Cully becomes a musical carousel. Every café, every venue, even the town church vibrate late into the night to the tune of the invited artists. And because Cully lies at the foot of the Lavaux vineyards (recently inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site), opportunities to sample local wines contribute to the merriment.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Turning NGO’s into brands in the Geneva area

Edited version first pulished on Swisster on 13.12.08
This is the original article.

A small revolution is taking place in the Geneva area. International and non-governmental organizations are adopting brand and marketing strategies to advocate their values. What appeared to be a savvy trend before the present economic turmoil may now become a necessity.

International organizations in the not-for-profit sector are competing against a growing number of worthy causes and the Geneva area is home to the highest density of them in the world. Their ability to sustain institutional and private goodwill will depend increasingly on how they stand out. But this kind of branding is not about logos, it’s about improving internal perceptions.

John Kidd, Corporate Communications Manager at the IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, says that because the world is more competitive “you can’t get by if you send out confused signals”. As early as 2004, he realized that even within his organization there was “a big gap in common understanding”.

Kidd set out to build his organization’s identity in a process that he refers to as “deep branding”. The essence, passion and values were there, but they needed to be clarified and brought into focus. Only then could the internal business practices begin to reflect those values coherently.

The IUCN turned to the Geneva office of Young & Rubicam to pilot its efforts. Sue Mizera, Managing Director of Young & Rubicam Business Consultants and an expert in branding and brand positioning told Swisster “Organisations do understand that they are brands, but they lack the necessary tools and training to tell their story.”

This is a story that must permeate all the layers inside the organization before it can cross national and cultural frontiers. Feng Min Kan, Senior Coordinator for Advocacy and Outreach unit of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction admits that her organization faces a crucial moment. Because of the complexity of the issues at stake and the need to increase the efficiency of processes with “multi-stakeholders”, her unit too has turned to the marketing agency for help.

The patented methodology used by Young & Rubicam to extract “the story” is the Octagon. It is built on the premise that intangibles can be equity and when coaxed out, can produce strong brands. “If it’s powerful inside, it’s powerful outside” explains Mizera. The novelty of the approach is that it can help build partnerships around core values, including with the commercial world.

What is goodwill doing in bed with the devil, asked Swisster? Feng Min Kan retorted that “We are all marketing people, one way or the other.” And when the IUCN and Shell work together to redirect a pipeline in order to preserve biodiversity, they are “over-lapping their Octagons” said Kidd. In fact, many Shell employees have an NGO background.

Sometimes the brand precedes the story. The red cross and red crescent emblems were created more than fifty years before the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was formed in 1919 and have remained the universal symbols of its values. Bekele Gelata, the recently appointed Secretary General, declared in an interview to le Temps that his Federation uses its strong branding to accomplish “humanitarian diplomacy”, but now wants it to help transform the very habits that are provoking the disasters, including climatic.

“To remain relevant and accessible to all, the IFRC must embrace new ideas and technology”, adds Pierre Kremer, Head of Communication. He recognizes the importance of partnerships that are a way of reaching new audiences “particularly the young people who will be the humanitarian leaders of tomorrow”.

The appeal to the young raises the question of whether organizations - including in the business world - that are capable of communicating and sustaining their values remain more attractive. Several young people questioned for this article declared that a sense of positive ownership was more important to them than financial rewards.

Sue Mizera is adamant that companies and organizations should not be reducing their branding efforts during the economic downturn, but doubling them. The ones that understand this, she said, will come out better.

Related links:

International Union for Conservation of Nature

UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Young & Rubicam

DJ’s mix with classical violins to ignite the interest of the young

Published on Swisster on 10.12.08

A novel alliance between a hot dance club and a classical chamber orchestra is about to be launched in Lausanne. “Noces” takes place on Wednesday at the Métropole and the MAD. Over 30 year-olds, please abstain.

Pronounce the words classical music and the I-Pod generation usually responds with a grunt or a smirk. Getting them to take an interest in what goes on in classical concert halls is a problem facing orchestras the world over. Programmers and administrators are looking for solutions that need to be playful and attractive.

The USA has led the way by mixing classical and electro, Germany has followed with the Berlin Philharmonic organizing concerts with non-professional singers and only last week the Scala in Milan reserved a performance of the opera “Don Carlos” for under 26-year olds only.

Not to be left behind, Switzerland has come up with its own program, albeit one initiated by an American in Zurich. David Zinman, at the head of the famed Tonhalle orchestra has been organizing concert-discos under the label of “Tonehalle-Late” for the last six years. And always to a full house. 1’600 young adults pack the hall, discovering for the first time Ravel’s Bolero or Beethoven’s Fifth without a rap beat. But that doesn’t keep them from tapping along with their feet.

Noces is a dare-devil marriage made in Lausanne. The Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, known as OCL, is recognized as one of today’s best chamber orchestras. The Moulin à Danse, known as the MAD, is a trendy venue that has contributed to building Lausanne’s reputation as the clubbing capital of Switzerland. Together, they have put together an evening meant to rapture and electrify.

The evening begins at 8 p.m. in the foyer of Lausanne’s landmark Metropole concert hall with an hour long DJ performance by Igor Blaska of the MAD. Then the wonderfully engaging Christian Zacharias will lead the OCL through a program of Vivaldi (Concerto for four violins), Johann Sebastian Bach (the unusual Concerto for four pianos), finishing off with a piece, Noces (The Wedding, also for four pianos), that Igor Stravinski composed when he was living in Morges around 1917.

The audience will then be ushered out of the Metropole, across the street in the Flon to the MAD, where the cult DJ, Mr. Mike will be joined by two brave musicians from the OCL.

An evening of new cultural frontiers for the price of a pizza. And no old foggys.

Swiss artist, Sylvie Fleury, lights up Geneva's culture scene

Published 29.11.08

Breaking all records of attendance, a retrospective at the MAMCO in Geneva of a contemporary Swiss artist shows that Sylvie Fleury is more than just an art fashionista. She is a master in contemporary iconography.

Hub caps and shopping bags are amongst Sylvie Fleury obsessions and they play a large part in her show at Geneva’s Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (Mamco). So do high heels, neons and mushrooms.

You can’t help feel that Fleury’s show has come at just the right time. Her exuberance is an instant antidote to the reigning gloom. The exhibition may not have set out to be joyful, but it is. It’s like walking into a contemporary Alice’s Wonderland, with undersized rockets instead of flower pots and oversized popcorn instead of hats.

Is she being playful, or is she being perverse? Symbols of consumerism and glamour mix with the vestiges of crash tests and punctured Gucci bags. In mesmerizing videos, creatures of extraordinary beauty wash a 1960’s car in stiletto heels or drift around a mechanics work shop. Real-sized demolition cars are bright pink, red or purple, as if laquered with lady's nail polish.

And everywhere you look large neon messages remind us to “Be amazing” and “That every minute is special” or to “Soothe” “Lighten” or “Purify”. There is even a purpose-built catwalk above a furry white floor and visitors, as they advance one step at a time, admit to feeling like stars the time it takes to cross the room.

The suggestive qualities of the exhibition provoke a form of escapism not unlike that of a spiritual experience. Marcel Duchamp’s transfiguration of everyday objects is considered art at the second degree, but he never had much of a sense of humor. With Sylvie Fleury, we enter art at the third level, because there is a constant reminder of irony in her use of epoxy and sequins. Art may never be the same again, but the real fun is that Fleury seems to be telling us that it's all a big spoof.

Entitled Sequins and Dependencies or the Fascination of Oblivion, the show occupies all four floors of the museum and runs until 29 January. Children are flocking there with their parents.