Artists Exhibitions Fairs Switzerland

Young curators focus on private collections

Fellowship programme encourages shows featuring works that have “disappeared from our eyes”

The Luma Foundation’s core group: (back row, left to right), Philippe Parreno, Hans Ulrich Obrist; (front row) Beatrix Ruf, Tom Eccles, Maja Hoffmann, Liam Gillick. Copyright Lionel Roux

A new fellowship programme for emerging curators involving Switzerland’s most high-profile private collectors has just launched in Zurich. The new “Pool” initiative allows young curators to organise shows at Luma Westbau in the Löwenbräu Art Complex, drawing pieces from the collections of international patrons. The first exhibition in the series (“Some a Little Sooner, Some a Little Later”, until 18 August) includes works from the holdings of the Swiss pharmaceutical heiress Maja Hoffmann and the Zurich-based media magnate Michael Ringier.

The project was devised by Beatrix Ruf, the director of the Kunsthalle Zurich. “Giving curators the opportunity to position private collecting within the context of contemporary exhibition practice, ‘Pool’ does not interpret private collections as merely the representation of individual preferences, but rather as a contemporary document,” Ruf says. “We hope to encourage dialogue… concerning themes of collecting, the private and public [sectors] and the role of the curator.”

The first curatorial fellow of “Pool” is Gabi Ngcobo, an independent curator based in Johannesburg. In 2010 she co-founded the Center for Historical Re-enactments, a Johannesburg-based collaborative art platform for research and discussion. She explains why the project is significant, emphasising that her “practice has thus gained a layer in that I have been in close contact with perhaps two of the most formidable collections of art primarily from the West”.

She says that the show will allow visitors to see works in private collections that have “disappeared from our eyes—from the horizon [of] history”, adding that “the works are given a platform to resurface and are brought back to public [view], and are therefore [exposed] to more current, political, historical, existential and social exigencies and questions.

“[The project team] continued to support me in various ways… without making me feel my ideas needed to be tamed or controlled in any way.” She adds: “I was pleasantly surprised by the dedication both collectors had and continue to have in investing in artistic aptitude beyond monetary value.” Indeed, whenever private collectors exhibit their works, they almost always face the charge that showcasing their works in a formal gallery setting may raise the value of their stock in both a critical and commercial sense.

The show provides an intriguing insight into the buying habits of both collectors. Ringier is keen on the work of both Rodney Graham and Wolfgang Tillmans with at least two pieces by each artist on display: Graham’s 1995 silkscreen Parsifal Studies is included along with Tillmans’s Gold (c), a 2002 c-print. Other artists represented in Ringier’s collection include Fiona Banner, Rosemarie Trockel, Mike Kelley and Sean Landers.

A striking installation from Hoffmann’s collection, Carsten Höller’s Giant Triple Mushroom, 2009, is an exhibition centrepiece. Urs Ficher’s abC, 2007, another key work, shows a fragile bird suspended on a rock, its head placed in a chain as if awaiting execution in a hangman’s noose. Other works in Hoffmann’s collection include the sculptural installation Camgun (Guns number 08 and 40), 2005-06, by Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Angel Toxqui, and the video War and Peace, 2002, by Keren Cytter.

Hoffmann’s non-profit cultural organisation, the Luma Foundation, is driving the “Pool” project, which she enthusiastically describes as a “win-win” initiative. “For the collector, it allows a discourse that does not place self-celebration in the middle but adds a potential dialogue…with an audience,” she says. Young curators benefit from a network of mentors, gaining “real access into the life of a collection. ‘Pool’ is based on the sharing of costs, and emphasises collaboration which is at the heart of Luma’s mission.” She adds that Luma aims to create a school for postgraduate artists in Arles, southern France, with the core group of the foundation acting as mentors (its members are Tom Eccles, the director of the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, Beatrix Ruf, the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and the artists Philippe Parreno and Liam Gillick).

Eccles proposed Ngcobo for the project (she is a graduate of Bard’s centre). “I like the sense of narrative that [she] brought to curating the exhibition. There’s a profound poetry to her approach…a really nice balance between works from both Hoffmann’s collection and that of Ringier,” he says.

Private patrons are increasingly setting the agenda in the curatorial field. The Turin-based collector Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo has founded her own Young Curators’ Residency Programme. The Demergon Curatorial Exchange and Award, inviting fledgling curators to draw from the collection of the Greek collector Dimitris Daskalopoulos, was co-founded last year by the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

“It is quite a thrill to see that Gabi found pieces from both collections fitting her purpose and ideas. It actually made me see my collection differently,” Hoffmann says. And what advice would Ngcobo give to the next participant? “The possibilities are endless. Be open and bring your own set of keys.”

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