10 Swiss Contemporary Artists You Need to Know

Photo of Culture Trip
14 October 2016

Some of the biggest names in contemporary art have emerged from Switzerland in recent decades. The Swiss Art Awards and Zurich’s growing appetite for international artists have provided important platforms for national talent. Here are ten of the best-known Swiss contemporary artists and the European museums and galleries that host their works.

John M Armleder at Galerie Andrea Caratsch

Working in various media, John M Armleder was a key figure in the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and 1970s, when he utilized John Cage’s ideas on the role of chance in creation. As one of the founders of the Geneva-based Groupe Ecart, he was involved in performance art and publications bringing new artists to Switzerland. Armleder’s work blurs the boundaries between the avant-garde and the everyday, as well as questioning the medium of the exhibition itself. His ‘Furniture Sculptures’ famously introduce furniture into the spaces and compositions of abstract paintings.

Find John M Armleder’s work at Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Via Serlas 12, St. Moritz, Switzerland, +41 81 734 00 00

Roman Signer at Kunstmuseum St.Gallen

Represented by six international galleries, Roman Signer is one of Switzerland’s most renowned artists. Yet, it could be argued that he is equally a scientist or engineer, creating ambitious experiments that he documents through film or photography. One of many such experiments involved dropping a concrete-filled briefcase from a helicopter to witness the crater it made in a field below (Attaché Case, Aktenkoffer, 1989/2001). The public aren’t invited to watch these events because Signer is not an exhibitionist, preferring to keep the creative process private within his Swiss studio in the small town of St. Gallen. Despite their humorous nature, some of his works are also quietly personal, providing a window into a very individual way of thinking.

Find Roman Signer’s work at Kunstmuseum St.Gallen, Museumstrasse 32, St.Gallen, Switzerland, +41 71 242 06 71

Christoph Büchel at Hauser & Wirth, Zurich

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Pipilotti Rist at Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona
Pipilotti Rist at Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona | © Pere Pratdesaba,Fundació Joan Miró/WikiCommons
Creating new environments within galleries and other institutions, Christoph Büchel leads viewers into a space that often bears no resemblance to its host building. These installations are sometimes unsettling to experience, replicating extreme emotions or physically constricting the movement of people inside them. His work challenges present-day ideologies and social behaviors such as capitalism and consumerism. Büchel is also interested in the lives of the less privileged, choosing to portray their plight in great detail. His 2006/07 London-based project titled ‘Simply Botiful’ was a large-scale construction of an immigrant workers’ community in a disused East End building. It featured an over-crowded hostel, junkyard and tunnel leading to an illegal excavation site where the tusks of a mammoth were just visible.

Pipilotti Rist at Kunsthaus Zürich

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An expert at manipulating the senses, Pipilotti Rist mesmerizes viewers with her kaleidoscopic use of film, music, performance, installation and sculpture. Dream-like experiences are created through movement, sound bites and colorful psychedelic patterns. Simultaneously fun and serious, her works have feminist undertones, often grappling with issues concerning gender, sexuality and the human mind or body. Amongst peaceful images of flowers, water and the sky, the nude human body is exposed as part of nature. Beauty is celebrated more than absurdity with sculptures such as a chandelier made from underwear. In the past, Rist’s creations have been seen on a large-scale, across screens in New York’s Times Square, or projected onto the ceiling of the San Stae Church in Venice.

Valentin Carron at Galerie Eva Presenhuber

Working primarily with sculpture, Valentin Carron represented his home country at the Venice Biennale in 2013. His Swiss Pavilion featured re-conditioned Piaggio Ciao mopeds, crushed musical instruments cast in bronze, mosaics inspired by stained glass, and a long iron snake weaving throughout the rooms. With these works there is a sense that he has tried to preserve nostalgic items. At the same time he questions the authenticity of objects associated with the past – his 40-foot replica of a black wooden cross outside Art Basel in 2009 mimicked additions to the Swiss countryside that create an artificial rural heritage. Carron has even critiqued famous works, manufacturing his own versions of post-war modern art by artists like Alberto Giacometti.

Find Valentin Carron’s work at Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Maag Areal, Zahnradstrasse 21, Zurich, Switzerland, +41 43 444 70 50

Thomas Hirschhorn at Stephen Friedman Gallery

The installations for which Thomas Hirschhorn is renowned are invitations for viewers to reflect on the world. Often politically motivated, they focus on highly contentious issues like recent wars or the values of democracy. Perhaps making a statement about elitism in art, his constructions use mass-produced materials and objects that are available to all. Hirschhorn’s interest in social and cultural theories has remained a part of his work since the 1980s when he produced graphics with a creative communist group called Grapus. Located in New York’s Bronx neighborhood, his 2013 public art project Gramsci Monument is one of an international series that pay homage to philosophers he admires, such as Baruch Spinoza, Gilles Deleuze, Georges Bataille and Antonio Gramsci.

Find Thomas Hirschhorn’s work at Stephen Friedman, 25-28 Old Burlington Street, London, United Kingdom, +44 20 7494 1434

Ugo Rondinone at Galerie Eva Presenhuber

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From rainbow-colored neon signs to 20-foot rock figures, Ugo Rondinone works in a wide range of media. Since 2007, his work was limited to natural colors stemming from the earthy or metallic materials used. Of particular note were his series of nine stone giants titled Human Nature, which stood along the length of New York’s Rockefeller Plaza in 2013. Made from roughly cut blocks of bluestone stacked on top of each other, they exerted a beguiling primeval power over passers-by. Recently Rondinone has returned to a more colorful palette with his exhibition at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum. Here clowns patrol in bright costumes alongside vibrant circle and horizon wall paintings that mesmerize viewers, creating a trademark Rondinone fantasy world.

Urs Fischer at Gagosian Gallery, Geneva

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Marc Bauer, 'The Collector - Residual Images', Museum Folkwang, 2014
Marc Bauer, 'The Collector - Residual Images', Museum Folkwang, 2014 | Courtesy of Freymond-Guth Fine Arts Ltd
Often associated with Neo-Dada, Urs Fischer has developed an international reputation for his playful sculptures and installations. His trademark large-scale pieces include a Swiss chalet made from bread and a series of three brightly colored 20-tonne bears. Not afraid of causing a stir, in 2007 Fischer dug an eight-foot deep hole in the ground of Gavin Brown’s Manhattan gallery and called the work You. The deliberately inane titles of his work express feelings about the absurdity of the world around him. Fischer sometimes uses perishable materials, such as soft wax that has symbolically melted away to show the passing of time. This destructive element of his work demonstrates Fischer’s preoccupation with the mysteries of life and death.

Marc Bauer at Freymond-Guth Fine Arts Ltd

Cinema, Museum
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Drawing is the main medium for Marc Bauer’s works, which present historical figures, personal memories and invented characters in a narrative style. Working mostly in black and white his works can have a somber atmosphere or a darkly harrowing feeling. Bauer also repeatedly rubs away the graphite or lithographic chalk with an eraser, creating a smeared effect that mirrors the blurry nature of memories. Sometimes he includes text, historical photographs and cinema stills, which provoke the subconscious of viewers, influencing the narrative they create for themselves. Bauer’s large-scale 2014 charcoal wall drawing for the Museum Folkwang in Essen draws visitors into a story based on the seizure of artworks from the Folkwang collection during the Nazi period.

Pamela Rosenkranz at Kunsthaus Zürich

Drawing upon contemporary culture, the multidisciplinary approach of Pamela Rosenkranz explores themes such as modern technology, globalization and environmentalism. Her sculptures and installations sometimes feature objects from current global visual culture, such as bottles from soft drinks manufacturers. Rosenkranz’s 2014 exhibition, ‘My Sexuality’, featured paintings where skin pigments dripped down aluminum surfaces in a gallery wrapped in transparent plastic. The artist took the drug Viagra before she painted them as a creative experiment. She also projected blue and red lights onto works and diffused synthetic cat pheromones into the room to influence the sensual response of visitors. Rosenkranz was chosen to represent Switzerland at the 2015 Venice Biennale following a string of participation in several international biennials of recent years.

Find Pamela Rosenkranz’s work at Kunsthaus Zürich, Heimplatz 1, Zurich, Switzerland, +41 44 253 84 84

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