Contemporary art from Switzerland

[05 Oct 2006]


The “new Swiss artistic scene” started to appear in museums and the major auction houses towards the end of 1990s.
Switzerland has been the breeding ground of major contemporary artists like Jean TINGUELY, BEN, Niele TORONI and Felice VARINI. Collectively these artists experimented with new materials, produced interesting results from mixing art with life (and vice-versa), and generally broadened our fields of perception. Since then, other artists have caught our attention by using video and creating protean and uninhibited installations.
Sylvie FLEURY, John ARMLEDER and Thomas HIRSCHHORN re-deploy each of the images and objects encountered in our daily lives, while the artistic universes of Pipilotti RIST, Ugo RONDINONE and of the duo Peter & David FISCHLI & WEISS have as their common ground a taste for unusual situations, an autobiographical element and poetical images that are often humorous or ironical.

Success of video art
The appearance of video and of multimedia installations on the art market reflects a corresponding change in the attitudes of art collectors to such media of expression. Indeed, today, the prices of multimedia works – such as those produced by the Swiss – and particularly by Pipilotti Rist – are beginning to accelerate at auctions. In fact, Rist’s major works – involving distorted sounds and images – are now selling for between 10 and 30 thousand euros on average. For example, on 23 June of this year, at Christie’s London, her video installation, produced in 3 editions, entitled My Boy, my Horse, My Dog went under the hammer for GBP 18,000 (EUR 26,206). Her unique edition works go for over EUR 50,000 whereas her multiple-editions (80 copies) can be acquired for between 1 and 3 thousand euros. Ugo Rondinone is also enjoying the recent appetite for multimedia works: on 12 May 2006 his Still smoking II sold for USD 50,000 (EUR 39,170) at Phillips, De Pury & Company NY. On 12 November 2004, the same auction house sold – for the first time – a similar installation signed by Peter Fischli and David Weiss: The work, entitled Son et lumière (le rayon vert) sold for USD 26,000 (EUR 20,150), i.e. EUR 6,000 above its high estimate.

From sculpture to installation
The three dimensional works of Fleury, Hirschhorn, Armleder, Peter Fischli/David Weiss, Rist and Rondinone oscillate between references to classical sculpture and installations. Sylvie Fleury for example takes all kinds of accessories, objects, cosmetics and brand-name packaging from the world of fashion and advertising and transposes them into an artistic context. Passionate about motor cars, she created a chromed bronze cast of a tyre in 1999. The piece, entitled Eagle Good Year and produced in 8 editions, has more than doubled in price in only 2 years! Selling for USD 11,000 (EUR 8,525) on 12 November 2004 at Phillips, de Pury & Company, N.Y.), the same work went under the hammer for EUR 21,000 on 4 April of this year at Cornette de Saint-Cyr in Paris.

In contrast to Sylvie Fleury’s luxurious universe, Thomas Hirschhorn achieves outstanding results making installations out of basic materials such as cardboard, sticking tape, paper and aluminium. His, Die fünf Kontinente (Ozeanien) sold for GBP 42,000 (EUR 63,113) on 23 June 2005 at Christie’s London, and his multiple edition works are still affordable at around EUR 5,000.

John Armleder also works with everyday objects which he exhibits alongside abstract paintings in his Furniture sculpture. These unusual combinations can be acquired at auctions for between 2 and 5 thousand euros on average; for example Untitled, a set containing 2 chairs and a painting sold for USD 3,250 (EUR 2,762) on 3 December 2005 at Stair Galleria in Claverack N.Y. Armleder’s highest auction price was generated by another untitled work, an enormous installation with 12 rotating disco balls suspended from the ceiling. This work, after being exhibited at the New York MOMA in 2000, sold for USD 60,000 (EUR 50,772) on 14 May 2004 at Phillips, de Pury & Company N.Y.

Ugo Rondinone first appeared on the auction market in 2000. While his enormous acrylic paintings usually go for between EUR 50,000 and 80,000, only one of his 3-dimensional works has ever come up for sale: a clown, the artists alter-ego. The fibre-glass work entitled If there were anywhere but Desert, Thursday, sold on 11 May 2006 at Phillips, De Pury & Company in New York for USD 260,000 (EUR 203,502), thus becoming the artists new personal auction record, and that of the new Swiss artistic scene in general.