Switzerland is a unique blend of alpine culture, cows, rustic tradition, cheese, and world-class expertise in such diverse domains as watchmaking, banking and contemporary art.
Every two years, in Gstaad, a show called Elevation 1049 perfectly incarnates these two apparently irreconcilable tendencies.
It takes place in a village known as the epicentre of ultra-chic skiing, and a favoured winter retreat for such famous and exceptional collectors as Germany’s Friedrich Flick (part of whose collection is displayed at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin), Austria’s Francesca Von Habsburg (daughter of Baron Thyssen who gave his name to a museum in Madrid, and who herself runs the TBA21 foundation in Vienna) as well as Switzerland’s Maja Hoffmann (behind an extremely ambitious project for contemporary art in Arles in the south of France LUMA, and who happens to be Elevation 1049’s main sponsor).
In Gstaad, in addition to filmmaker Roman Polanski, you’ll also find art dealers Hauser & Wirth who take over a large chalet for the season filled with works for sale by everyone from Picasso to Twombly, as well as Patricia Low’s gallery which is currently showing Maurizio Cattelan’s and Pierpaolo Ferrari trashy photos from Toilet Paper. It is in this favourable climate that the second edition of Elevation 1049, a unique show run by English curator Neville Wakefield and Olympia Scarry, an artist with strong connections to Gstaad, is taking place. The pair selected nine artists who, each in their own way, have seized hold of a specific reality about this Swiss village.
In Neville Wakefield’s own words:
The one thing the artists have in common is that they’re all on the international radar.
The chosen sites, on the other hand, choose to engage with alpine culture more often than not .
Elevation 1049’s principal charm is in the sumptuous locations where the show takes place.
Scottish artist Douglas Gordon has delivered the most impressive installation of the lot in tandem with France’s Morgane Tschiember.
At the summit of a snow-covered mountain, in an inaccessible location behind a piste, but visible from afar, is an immense ring of fire, completely surrounded by snow. It burns while the sound of wolves, or a recording of wolves to be more precise, bay for blood.Fire is traditionally used to deter wolves. This is the mountain at its most savage…
France’s Tatiana Trouve (showing at the Perrotin Gallery in Hong Kong in March) has created a map-artwork printed with iridescent Japanese inks which actually contains two superimposed outlines. Hers is a deeply personal guide to Gstaad accompanied by five short stories that lets you lose yourself in the artist’s imagination.
Tatiana explains her projet:
The American couple Allora & Calzadilla who in 2011 represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in most emphatic fashion, has taken over a wooden barn in the open countryside, surrounded by snow, to show a film inspired by this scenery featuring close-up shots of nature, accompanied by various references to mankind and morality.
Belgian artist Michael Borremans is one of the leading exponents of figurative painting. His canvases, which seem to be inspired by old masters, are always cloaked in a degree of mystery, with characters often shown from behind, or where you can’t see their heads. In Gstaad, in the middle of a snow-covered field, he’s planted one of such figure, only this time around in sculptural form. It is presented with its head lowered, legs in the air and a cagoule over its head. The shiny material used for the sculpture, however, lends a kitsch as opposed to an enigmatic aspect to this work.
To really make the most of the sublime scenery – while wrapped up warm – you should end this contemporary art tour with the little structure by Thomas Schütte, one of Germany’s best-known sculptors. Using wood and metal he has built a polygon meditation shelter. Inside it is a ceramic self-portrait. ‘Personally I have no reservations about leaving a work of art in a shelter,’ he comments.
Not every piece at Elevation 1049 holds equal interest, but each has the virtue of highlighting the exceptional natural assets of this white and gold corner of Switzerland.
Until 19 March. www.elevation1049.org