In reference to the address of Cabaret Voltaire – the birthplace of Dada in Zurich, Switzerland, Hauser & Wirth’s current exhibition Spiegelgasse (Mirror Alley), takes the landmark avant-garde movement as a starting point, and dives into the history of modern and contemporary Swiss art. Curated by Gianni Jetzer, Mirror Alley presents a range of works from the 1930s to the present day.
The show is a fascinatingly rich series of plays on time and language, whorls of reference systems and ideas that first sprung from the era of the Dadaists and have pervaded so much of the modern Swiss sentiment in contemporary practice. Work by Jean Arp, for instance, presents the movement’s sculptural abstraction and fascination with modern mechanics of his forebears into play with a winding, motorized beaded curtain, filling the space with a gentle, clattering sound as it ripples against itself. Urs Fischer’s One More Carrot Before I Brush My Teeth, by contrast, poses a surreal combination of a human skeleton with a washing machine, equally lifeless materials defined by their relationship to humankind and human utility. By contrast, hung paintings by Vivian Suter and Jill Mulleady explore various systems of understanding space and perception, moving between imaginative figuration and colorful abstraction in their own signature styles.
In each case, the history of the city’s artistic movements enters into striking dialogues with the idea of practice. Throughout, the artist’s surroundings and iconographies are broken down and reassembled as a new sort of language, one which relies in equal measure on familiarity with the modern landscape, with the notions of the historical movements in conversation with the artist’s work, and perhaps even their own internal subjective landscape. This combinatory meaning-making takes place in each of the elements in turn, yet rarely settles on a single element for too long, pressing the viewer to rebuild the scene of the work by themselves.
The exhibition name, then, is a particularly cunning play on words, one that presents history itself not so much as an evolutionary process or linear progression, but rather as a hall of mirrors in which artists’ practices encounter, reflect, fragment, and recombine through time. For a show harking back to a group of artists interested in the disjunctions of time, language and form, the name is a particularly intriguing one, highlighting the processes and ideas that have since echoed out from the original movement to today, and which continue to reverberate through the halls of history.
The show closes July 28th.
— D. Creahan
Spiegelgasse (Mirror Alley) [Hauser & Wirth]