BY Quinn Latimer in Reviews | 01 MAR 11
Featured in
Issue 137

The Nose of Michelangelo

BY Quinn Latimer in Reviews | 01 MAR 11

As I moved among some 25 small, dusty and art-strewn rooms of two connected 14th-century houses in Zurich’s old town – Galerie Peter Kilchmann’s off-site space for the two-week-long December group show ‘Die Nase des Michelangelo’ (The Nose of Michelangelo) – I felt like an eager child ripping open the advent calendar all at once. Kilchmann’s enthusiastic assistants guided us up the narrow, creaking staircases, showing us into the low-ceilinged rooms that we would have missed without their help. Featuring an array of understated works by some 31 artists – both gallery stalwarts and invited artists, including Rita Ackermann, Christoph Büchel, Fischli/Weiss, and Claudia and Julia Müller, among others – the show was an inexplicable wonder. The sheer number of works made them seem even more beguiling, while the site itself – musty, medieval rooms filled with furnishings from the past 600 years, against which the newer art became oddly luminous – proved again that the white cube is not always the best context.
Galerie Peter Kilchmann’s own white cube in the city’s Löwenbräu Brewery Complex (the epicentre of Zurich’s blue-chip art scene) is currently being torn down, so this temporary show was mounted in two buildings with a long, intriguing history. Just off the Limmat River, Marktgasse 4 and 6, also known as ‘zum Judentempel’ and ‘zum goldenen Schild’ (Jewish Temple and Golden Shield), respectively, have been utilized in myriad ways (as a Jewish school, a restaurant and a 419-year-old apothecary that only closed in 1994) and have been partly rebuilt several times, culminating in labyrinthine interiors that include medieval, Baroque and Art Nouveau features.
The admixture of works on view profited from these charged atmospherics, while the leftover furnishings added a welcome counterpoint. Fabian Marti’s Contemplating the Now (2010), for example, a campy, Constructivist floor sculpture and a large Inkjet print, was accompanied by a crew of green velveteen chairs whose damaged wicker bottoms tufted out like sprays of bamboo. Another room, meanwhile, featured a salon-style spread of framed paintings and drawings that hovered above a modern fridge. The dark oil paintings of stiff-looking Swiss citizens were perhaps leftovers from the 19th-century – no one could say. The framed drawings on white paper beneath them were ever brighter and more recent: Raffi Kalenderian’s casual, Southern Californian-inflected illustrations, Mom (2008) and Jimmy (Red Shirt) (2010), offered more relaxed depictions of world citizenry. The titular mom was sketched sitting on a couch in a voluminous skirt, her elbows resting confidently on her knees, while ‘Jimmy’ stares opaquely from a riotously coloured rocking chair. What this wall’s casual timeline of portraiture said about human progress was somewhat veiled, but it does seem we have lightened up, to some degree.
Elsewhere, Bernd Ribbeck’s untitled 2010 diptych of acrylic and marker drawings impressed, as his works always do, though here he left the usual carnival tents and spiritualist visions behind and produced two colour wheels – one dark, one light. Also affecting was Jorge Macchi’s sculpture of piano keys laid out diagonally across a faded flooring of diamond-like shapes. The heavy, dark armoire and dusty couch that surrounded it gave the work an almost incalculable levity and sweetness. Pamela Rosenkranz’s freestanding acrylic glass sculpture streaked with tawny paint seemed made expressly for its petite room. With the wall’s faded floral wallpaper closing in, the yellowish tones echoing the work’s smeared paint, As One (2010) stood at the room’s centre like an evocation of past human presence with its handprint-like streaks and its warped, gestural contours.
Exactly its opposite in tone but equally in conversation with its surroundings was Zilla Leutenegger’s video installation Scala (2008). Looking through a glass window inserted in a door, viewers took in an industrial kitchen with a sink at its far wall, above which a small projection of a female figure (exactly as big as the soup ladles that hung nearby) inched along the tightrope-like pipes that led to the faucet. The work’s gimlet-eyed view of its environment – while being perfectly sized to it – broke the rhapsodic, yuletide trance the larger show and setting had set. The video’s cheekiness also seemed to hint at the exhibition’s – and the setting’s – less devout lineage: the show’s title was taken from a 1911 play by Hugo Ball, one of the founders of Dada and the Cabaret Voltaire, whose building was just around the corner. In the end, it was this particular Zurich history more than the houses themselves that the exhibition – with its many Swiss artists, and the often dark, absurdist tonalities of their works – seemed inspired by: the most irreverent of advent calendars, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the history lesson.

Quinn Latimer is a writer. Her most recent book is Like a Woman: Essays, Readings, Poems (Sternberg Press, 2017).