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Aesthetica Magazine - The Kunsthalle Zürich Re-Opens: Interview with Director, Beatrix Ruf

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The Kunsthalle Zürich Re-Opens: Interview with Director, Beatrix Ruf

Switzerland’s leading contemporary art organisation, the Kunsthalle Zürich will officially open to the public this weekend in its new permanent home within the Löwenbräukunst for a special preview week between 10 – 17 June.

Aesthetica spoke to Beatrix Ruf, Director of Kunsthalle Zürich ahead of the opening.

A: What has the process of renovating the Kunsthalle Zürich been like for you?

BR: Exciting and full of surprises. It was beyond anything I could imagine as it involved 8 years of planning, politics and negotiations with real estate. We were lucky to persuade the former owner and developer of the site to initiate an international architectural contest, which was won by Gigon / Guyer and Atelier ww. On top of this, we also had to deal with the simple fact that it would have been more profitable for the real estate group not to have sold to our owner group. Being involved in the process of securing this building for the arts and planning its future use with the architects was hugely exciting – and challenging. Of course, planning the new space of Kunsthalle Zürich was the fun part. It also involved thinking about the format of an institution for the future. We had a very good working process with the architects; we are happy that the new Kunsthalle Zürich is as architecturally beautiful and practical as the “old” spaces, which we took as the role model for proportions, aesthetics, and a kind of ‘zero architecture’ attitude for flexibility to the exhibitions and visions of the artists. We also applied this model to the new structure on top of the historical Löwenbräu building, the significant white cube, hallmarking the art complex and the Kunsthalle Zürich.

A: Could you tell me a bit more about the history of the Löwenbräu Art Complex?

BR: The Kunsthalle Zürich initiated the move into the former brewery of Löwenbräu in 1996 and was lucky to find the Migros Museum and commercial galleries as partners to share the building. The Kunsthalle Zürich moved into the transformed bottling hall on the top floor which has the highest rooms, Galleries Peter Kilchmann and Hauser&Wirth joined on the same floor, the Migros Museum rented the 1st floor together with Gallery Bob van Orsouw. The Bookshop Kunstgriff was established on the ground floor, and in the following years many more organisations moved in: the Daros Collections, Gallery Eva Presenhuber, Philipps & de Pury, as well as workshops in the backyard. At the end of 2001, the Kunsthalle Zürich remodeled its interior spaces for the first time in an exhibition by Elmgreen & Dragset. In 2002, the Kunsthalle Zürich initiated the architectural contest for the complex with the former owners, Real Estate Group. In 2004 the white cube on top of the west building was proposed, and the city was approached for collaboration with the securing of the Löwenbräu as an art centre. The architectural proposals were approved in, and the City of Zurich agreed to participate in buying the building. The original structures were partially taken down in 2010, with construction starting in 2011. 2011 was also the birth of the shareholder group, after approval from the City of Zurich. Since June 2012 the cultural section of the Löwenbräu building has been owned by the share holder group LKAG (City of Zurich, Kunsthalle Zürich Foundation and Migros cooperative alliance). The programme of exhibitions starts at the end of August.

A: The Löwenbräu Art Complex is home to commercial, private and public galleries. How does this impact upon the demographic of your visitors?

BR: We hope that it might be more diverse. For me, the most interesting thing is the way that the building enables and challenges the continuous discussion about those “players” and their role in developing the public’s impression.

A: Would you be able to tell us a bit more about the design of the new gallery?

BR: The Kunsthalle Zürich was in need of more space; for offices, workshops, storage and meeting rooms and the public library. Above all, the exhibition spaces were in urgent need of refurbishment, and a restructuring that would allow separate shows, in dialogue with one another. The space has now increased from 1000m2 to 1600m2, plus 500m2 of storage, with innovative and impressive architectural qualities. The whole building has been renovated and redesigned – as the lease held since 1996 was previously on a temporary basis, new additions such as a proper elevator system had been restricted; all that has now changed.

A: How do you feel the building responds to the landscape of the region?

BR: It responds very much to the industrial landscape of the neighbourhood. Gigon&Guyer and Atelier ww’s plan fo the complex also includes one of the rare high rises in Zürich. They identified the complex with colours: White for the arts, Black for living and red for working.

A: Have you commissioned any new work for the gallery?

BR: We are an institution without a collection – so all our commissions are shows. But we are bringing back the Jenny Holzer installation, which was commissioned for the Löwenbräu complex in 1996 and has become one of its landmarks since then.

A: How has this project been funded?

BR: The project has had a long history of several funding possibilities, which in the end turned into a share holder group comprising of the Kunsthalle Zürich Foundation, the City of Zürich and the Migros Cooperative Alliance with its real estate department. Kunsthalle Zürich finances amount to 13 Million CHF; 9 Million for the shares and 4 Million for the internal construction of its own spaces. The overall amount covered by the LKAG share holder group is 65 Million.

A: Are you still on the cultural advisory board of CERN (home to Europe’s Large Hadron Collider)? What does this role entail?

BR: Yes I am one of the board members, and I like it a lot. The project is well on its way now, involving residencies in Geneva for artists from different media and artistic fields, and a collaboration on a prize award with Ars Electronica. Ariane Koek, who is running the programm at CERN, has put together an exciting board; we have regular discussions planning the future program, initiating dialogue and encounters between artists and scientists and discussing how this dialogue can influence real existing works.

A: The recent exhibition programme at the Kunsthalle (housed at the Museum Bärengasse) has included figures such as Bruce Conner and Walid Raad. What have you got planned for the first year in the new building?

BR: We had a wonderful time at the Museum Bärengasse and at the moment our last show there is Olivier Mosset. He also invited several artists that he’s collaborated with since 1968, in film, music and performance. It was exceptional to be able to use this extraordinary spaces, made possible by the City of Zürich.

Because it had been a museum before, it didn’t feel like working in a temporary space – rather, an unusual museum for a Kunsthalle. All shows were as if at the Kunsthalle Zürich, just in a more idiosyncratic space. Heimo Zobernig, Lucy McKenzie and friends, Kerstin Brätsch, Adele Roeder and Yüksel Arslan all realized special exhibitions there in line with our regular program. At the end of August we will continue with a show of new works by Wolfgang Tillmans and the first institutional show by Helen Marten, followed by Sturtevant, Tobias Madison and Uri Aran, Yang Fundong, Cameron Jamie, Wade Guyton and Lutz Bacher. That’s the plan for 2013 so far…

To celebrate the re-opening of the gallery, on 28 June there will be a benefit auction of works by leading artists who have exhibited at the museum since its founding in 1985. The auction will take place at Christie’s in London, with artists including Fischli and Weiss, Thomas Demand, Sarah Lucas, Elmgreen and Dragset, Thomas Ruff, Gabriel Orozco and Doug Aitken. Prior to the auction, the works will be on display during the preview week at the Kunsthalle Zürich in its inaugural exhibition, Looking Back for the Future.

For more information on the 2012 programme please visit: www.kunsthallezurich.ch

Photography: Thies Wachter

Text: Bethany Rex