Saturday, 19 July 2008

ECLAIRAGES at the Musée Cantonal des beaux arts


The battle currently raging on the location of a new Cantonal Fine Arts Museum in Vaud, which is the subject of a referendum planned for 30 November , may have inspired the exhibition that starts today. In the event, “Eclairages”(Spotlights) points to a solution that could appease those who are vehemently against the museum leaving the center of Lausanne.

In a summer exhibition that runs until 14 September, five artists and two architects use the past of the museum to tease its future. They explored the 8,600 works stocked away in the reserves of a museum too small to display them and came up with a show that is curiously conceptual, but brilliantly effective.

Two of the artists, Arianne Epars and Ilona Ruegg show no art at all. The first, in a sound installation, runs the full inventory of the works that are not seen, because of lack of space. The recording last six hours. The second presents scaffolding and crates borrowed from the famed Planque collection (which includes works by Picasso, Cezanne, Degas, Van Gogh and Klee) that will only become part of the museum’s collection if it moves to Bellerive.

Bachman & Banz use Marcel Duchamp's reflective masterpiece inspired by a waterfall in Chexbres, (13 kilometers from Lausanne). They have created four different spaces devoted to the theme of intense sexuality that Duchamp explores in Etant Données, the piece that draws crowds to the Philadelphia Art Museum. The reserves of the museum offered up hidden delights to fit the theme.

Robert Ireland is the most mischievous of the lot because he has selected works from celebrated artists not by chronology, nor by theme, but because they are all the same height.

But the main attraction is undoubtedly the experimental work Climats presented by the team of architects, Jean-Gilles Décosterd and Catherine Cotting, assisted by a Swiss Institute of Technology engineer, Max Monti and a post-grad student, Saurabh Indral. Together they have devised a work that defies the frontiers between art, science and ecology. A huge grid of florescent lighting interprets the luminescent variations in the Alps. As you stand talking, the lighting diminishes when clouds, in real time, pass above the mountains. Another room responds to variations in humidity and a third is dedicated to the absorption of pollution by high-tech materials, all important factors of conservation, especially in a museum.

François Marthaler, one of the seven State Cabinet members and the only Green, could hardly contain his enthusiasm. Reminding us that the Zoology and Gem museums housed in the same building also act as the reminders of shifts in climate, there is no doubt, in his eyes, that the Palais de Rumine would make a wonderful Institute on Biodiversity and Climate change when the art museum moves to where the Cabinet believes it should be, down by the lake.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Musée cantonal des Beaux Arts, Lausanne


The fate of a new Fine Arts Museum by the lake in Lausanne will lie in the hands of the Vaud population. A referendum against the building designed for Bellerive has obtained 18’000 signatures, a third more than was necessary to succeed. The project planned on the present site of Orange Cinema has been put on hold, while the opposing committees gather their forces for a vote that will probably take place on 30th November 2008.

“This referendum has ironically provoked a strong favorable response to the project from the political parties, as well as the cultural and the business communities” reflects Anne-Catherine Lyon, the Vaud Minister of Culture, whose department is in charge of the plan. But because the debate between partisans and non-partisans is tense, the fact that the urns will finally decide is considered with relief by many. The Director of the museum, Bernard Fibicher, who was appointed a year ago, adds that “otherwise, the opponents will always interfere and continue to slow things down.”

The project has been dragging on for years. The plan to move the art collections out of the Palais de Rumine, deemed to be unsuitable for the fine arts almost as soon as it was built in 1905, was decided by the State Council in 1991 and approved by the State Parliament in 1994. It took another five years to identify 16 potential sites, with Bellerive finally considered to be the most promising one by the experts.

A question often asked in the present debate is where the opponents who want the museum to stay in the city were at the time of the initial planning, since most of the other sites considered were in the centre of Lausanne. Only when the Bellerive project was well advanced and several credits had been voted by Parliament, did a coalition of unlikely forces come together. In a surprising line-up for Switzerland, the referendum committee includes members from the entire political spectrum, save the centre-right Radical party, which is closer to the economic world and in favor of the new museum.

The fact that the opponents operate with different agendas is electrifying the debate. A sample of expressed concerns are, in no particular order, the need to rehabilitate the Riponne perimeter (Lausanne’s urban nightmare), the inviolability of the lakeside, the preservation of Luna Park, the dangers of private financing (half of the CHF 70 million budget is to be covered by philanthropic foundations and sponsoring), the lack of public transportation and, the most potent argument of all, the monolithic aspect of the chosen design.

When the design by the young Zurich-based architects, Berrel & Kräutler, was chosen out of the 249 entries from twelve different countries in 2005, the reactions were of puzzlement, but there was certainly no outcry. At that time, the canton had other economic priorities and did not step up the project again until 2007. As if to prove that poor PR is often the antechamber to Swiss referendums, the authorities did not communicate in a way to appease the predictable fears.

It will now be up to the pro-lobby to lead a counter attack. Generally more homogenous and convinced by the social and economic impact of cultural investments, they will need to demonstrate that museums do not always require celebrity architects, nor should they serve as urban alibis. They must also explain that the “Yin Yang” concept of the Bellerive design was chosen because it apparently offers an appealing dialogue between the rich painting heritage of the canton and the spaces dedicated to exhibitions by contemporary artists. As for the exterior of the building, it has been reworked by the artist, Carmen Perrin, in order to introduce a lightness absent from the campaign imagery. But the personalities, who defend the project, including prominent politicians, will also have to convince the voters that they need a new museum in the first place and that part of the funding will come from their own pockets. Fibicher, however, sees the vote as a wonderful opportunity for the Vaudois “to show how proud they are in their culture.” Referendums seem to be a good test for PR


Musée des Beaux Arts

nMBA (nouveau Musée des Beaux Arts):

Visuals on You Tube (before reworking by Carmen Perrin)

Referendum committee against the Bellerive project

Committee in favor of the Bellerive project

Sunday, 6 July 2008


All images courtesy & © écal

High octane creativity and innovative partnerships

When Pierre Keller was appointed Director of the Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne in 1995, he was given three goals to attain: compete for university status, increase the school’s reputation in Switzerland and build its profile abroad. But his nomination was not well received, so the first thing he did, says Keller, was “to get rid of those who got in the way.”

In thirteen years, the school has grown from 150 to 450 students (of which a quarter are foreign), has become a university and continues to obtain star ratings, here and abroad. Along the way, it has also acquired spectacular new premises, a textile factory converted and restyled by Bernard Tschumi, the world famous architect of Swiss origin. “L’écal’s contribution to the inventiveness and future of design is now universally recognized” acknowledges Yvette Jaggi, the former President of Pro Helvetia, the branch of the federal government that promotes Swiss culture abroad, as well as former Mayor of Lausanne.

Pierre Keller requires of his students that they be “curious, curious and more curious”. When he travels the world, he remains on the look-out for talented designers whom he attracts to Lausanne by “paying and dining them well”. Nevertheless, the average age of the teaching staff is no more than 33 years. A former écal student, Sophie Dépery, a partner of the up-and-coming Life Goods design team, says that the influence of foreign professors, many of them famous in their own right, has not only given the students a comprehensive knowledge of contemporary design, but has also helped them develop their own artistic personalities.

One of the keys to the écal’s success is innovative partnerships. Frédéric Bernardeau, the director of the eponymous fine Limoges porcelain manufacturer, was so delighted with the écal collaboration this spring for the Milan Furniture Fair that he has become a strong advocate for industry to invest in art education (and not just technology). He fears however that the over-structured system in France cannot allow for the freedom that generates so much creativity in écal students and which he feels is vital to maintain many trades, including industrial ones, alive.

The same thought process appears to have motivated the creation of an EPFL + ECAL Lab, although a Keller-perpetrated myth indicates that it was initially devised to ward off the undesired occupation of free space by the social services of Renens, the suburban town where l’écal is newly installed. Be that as it may, Keller contacted Patrick Aebischer, the Director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (known locally as EPFL) to suggest a collaboration between designers, architects and engineers. The resulting Lab has been entrusted to Nicolas Henchoz, whose mission, no less, is to prove that innovation is capable of “reinventing links between research and society”.

Initiating new projects is definitely what excites the Director of the écal most and the most recent to date is the launch of a Masters in Luxury and Design which, unusually for Switzerland, will be entirely financed by sponsors, including Hublot and Nestlé. No longer a school dedicated only to industrial design, écal is a place where ideas are allowed to happen.

Itzik Galili at the Lausanne Festival de la CIté

One of the sure signs that a place is gaining in urban sophistication is when an audience queues up hours beforehand to be sure to catch the work of the choreographic Wunderkid, Itzik Galili. How did they know?

I first read about Galili in The Economist more than a year ago in an article that promised: "Renowned for his confrontational artistic style, Israeli-born Itzik Galili is rapidly becoming one of Europe's most interesting and unusual choreographers".

In a fantastic demonstration of physical prowess, the dancers tell us stories, pound the stage into music or simply exude the exhiliration of playing before a festival crowd. The company is being dissolved, so we were the lucky last viewers of this particular group of dancers that Galili formed in Groningen in the north of Holland. He is now moving to Amsterdam to start a new group there. The entire audience made as if they wanted to follow him.


24 June 2008

Director of the Lausanne University of Art & Design

« An irresistible force in the world of design »

Photo © ECAL-Sami Benhadj

Recognized by Business Week as one of the best design schools in the world, the Lausanne University of Art & Design, known as écal, owes its meteoric rise to a Director who is variably described as intimidating, irreverent, daring, or just plain charismatic. Pierre Keller has probably done as much to revitalize the image of Swiss design as the invention of the Swatch.

“Design schools are the most important centers for the production of ideas”, states Paola Antonelli, the legendary Architecture & Design curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, who says of Keller that he “is a tornado of ideas, an irresistible force in the world of design”. Not bad, for a boy who grew up in Gimel, a small village between Geneva and Lausanne.

A little known fact about Pierre Keller is that he wanted to become an orchestra conductor had his love for the visual arts not dominated his talent for the trumpet. At the age of 20, when he obtained his diploma as graphic designer, he headed off first to Italy, then to the UK and the USA, the beginning of a peripatetic life that has shaped Keller and, later, contributed to shaping his school.

Despite his global network, Keller remains profoundly attached to the region of Lake Leman. Jean-Claude Biver, the man who has built Hublot into one of the most successful brands in the watch business, attributes the accomplishments of his friend to an unlikely paradox: “Pierre Keller embodies what Switzerland stands for today: a Switzerland out to conquer the future, but with its roots still firmly planted in the soil of the land and in the strength of its past.” Keller, he adds, is “instinctively innovative, creative, different and not a little provocative.”

It takes no small dose of provocation to circumvent the normal protocols when hiring staff from abroad, planning a milking stool exhibition (a 2002 project that continues to travel, delight and sometimes shock) or building a new school. But Keller is a man in a hurry. When asked how he gets things done in a country known for the lethargy of its administrative procedures, Keller answers “I keep pushing, and when things don’t get done, I blow my top”. He then adds with a twinkle in his eye “The secret is: Don’t take yourself seriously, but do everything as if your life depended on it.”

Outspoken, convincing and sometimes outrageous, many believe that Pierre Keller would make the perfect politician, particularly since he is a man who needs a cause. There was even talk, during the last Federal elections that the centre right Radical party, to which he belongs, was going to appoint him as their political locomotive. “But I prefer to give orders”, says Keller “Not make laws”.

Friday, 4 July 2008

New Media China & Switzerland

3 July, 2008

To usher in the Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese authorities are playing a wild card. Media art, in a spectacular exhibition at the NAMOC (National Art Museum of China) in Beijing is one of the signature cultural events leading up to the Games. It lasted three weeks and closed yesterday, on 3rd July. Synthetic Times - Media Art China 2008, included works from 30 countries - including Switzerland, the USA, Canada, Australia and just about every European country – and was designed to make a statement. More than 3’000 visitors attended daily, with numbers peaking at 5’000 on week-ends.

In a country that censors Google, the celebration of an art form based on new technologies may seem odd. But, Zhang Ga, the Artistic Director and former dissident artist, was able to put together an exhibition which is hailed by the cult on-line art magazine We make money, not art as “a brave, meaningful, edgy and inspiring art event”.

According to China Daily, Swiss media artists made quite an impression. Newsconoons, pulsating furniture by wife and husband team, Muriel Waldvogel and Jeffrey Huang (which will be shown in Lausanne at the Gallery Lucy Mackintosh in spring 2009), was considered “One of the most eye-catching items” of the event. Mission Eternity, an after-life exploration by the net art pioneers, Etoy, “hit a new cultural dimension”. The enthusiasm of the mostly Chinese visitors for interactive participation took some of the artists by surprise. The inflatable zeppelin from the popular Naked Bandits by the Swiss group Knowbotic Research had to be manoeuvred to cope with the crowds.

Synthetic Times marks the beginning of an important two year intercultural programme between Switzerland and China. Angela Wettstein, who heads the programme "Swiss Chinese Cultural Explorations" for Pro Helvetia, the Arts Council of Switzerland, pays tribute to the director of the NAMOC, Fan Di'an, who believed and fought for the project. She was impressed by the innovation and daring of the official venture, which, she believes, produces the kind of cultural impact that Pro Helvetia defends and is proud to support. If it is renewed in three years, she predicts that it will be “a very exciting platform, a market place for future artistic projects.”

In the meantime, leading up to the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, where Switzerland intends to be a star performer – with possibly TWO pavilions – Pro Helvetia is developing strong partnerships in China based on artistic collaborations and coproductions. It has appointed several “bridging” correspondents, as well as launched a website. “China, when it moves, it moves fast.” says Ms. Wettstein. It looks like Switzerland is keeping up.