There can hardly be a more iconic motif of Switzerland than its mountains, and this is no less true in the art world. Lofty peaks, precipices, mountain slopes and glaciers would seem to hold a never-ending fascination. The current exhibition «Gipfeltreffen» (summit meeting) in the Helvetia Art Foyer interrogates this fascination with a selection of works from the company’s collection.
On entering the exhibition, most visitors will straightaway be drawn to Miriam Cahn’s charcoal drawing entitled «Berge» (1985, «Mountains»). Very dark and sombre, the picture facing the entrance immediately grabs one’s attention. It depicts an imaginary aerial view of a mountain range. The artist did the drawing kneeling and lying down. On closer inspection, you can even see her footprints on the work. The subject-matter is indeed very dark. According to Miriam Cahn, the drawing is «from the perspective of a military pilot and bomber». However, a second work with the title «Hier wohne ich, 2.5.2014» («I live here, 2/5/2014») shows that the mountains can also produce an entirely different mood in the artist too. In complete contrast to the prominent charcoal study, this coloured pen drawing is peaceful, still and serene.
If you stand in front of Cahn’s «Berge» («Mountains») and look back over your shoulder, you will see another picture above the entrance: «Bergstation 2» («Top Station 2») by the Studer/van den Berg artist duo. The work depicts a fictitious, digitally constructed alpine panorama. In keeping with the spatial location, the top station of a gondola lift is in the middle of the computer-generated printout. The picture was not created with reference to a specific place, but constructed from collected memories of various tourist resorts in the Swiss mountains.
Visitors who would like to engage in a spot of climbing themselves will discover more works of art in the gallery on the first floor. The three images in Michel Grillets’ series «Montagnes-Ciel» (2006, «Mountains-Sky») open the gaze into the infinite. The dark mountain ranges in the foreground of the watercolour give way to lighter colours in the distance, until the silhouettes seem almost to dissolve. The mountain massif is transformed into a transparent, floating on air scene that radiates a timeless, almost meditative serenity.
One reason why the different mountain motifs may be so popular is their sheer variety. It is no wonder that peaks, rock faces and glaciers have been such inspiring subjects for so many years. The «Gipfeltreffen» (Summit meeting) exhibition includes works spanning over a century. The oldest picture is Giovanni Giacometti’s «Piz Duan» dating from 1908, while the most recent artworks are the three paintings by Thomas Moor from 2019 named after the «EVIAN», «Elmer» and «VALSER» mineral water brands. The artist plays around with fragments of these well-known mineral water labels, making subtle additions or slight changes. Here mountains symbolize values such as purity, naturalness and freshness. The artist thus thematizes the use of images of mountains for advertising and marketing purposes.
While the paintings of Giovanni Giacometti or Carl Liner («Flüela», 1985) depict mountains that actually exist, the exhibition also includes works that are only transformed into mountain images through the viewer’s imagination. The purely abstract work «Komplementär-Struktur» (1977, «Complementary Structure») by Andreas Christen, for example, consists of multiple white pyramids. The relief creates an interplay of light and shadow that draws the viewer in. Manifold planes with finely nuanced grey tones are visible depending on where one is standing. If one allows oneself to be drawn in, the pure abstraction of this playful piece can be seen as a snowy, sunlit «summit meeting».
13 February to 30 July 2020
Every Thursday, 4 pm to 8 pm
Helvetia Art Foyer, Steinengraben 25, 4051 Basel
The Helvetia Art Foyer is part of the company’s support for art. Artworks from Helvetia’s own collection are presented to a wide-ranging audience in monographic, dialogic and thematic exhibitions. The approximately 1,800 works by around 400 artists owned by the multinational insurance group count as one of the most important collections of contemporary Swiss art. Artists also have the opportunity to showcase their work to a wide audience in the Art Foyer. Three or four exhibitions are staged here each year. Helvetia, which also insures artworks, supports the art world in a variety of ways. These include the Helvetia Art Prize aimed at young artists starting out in their careers, and digitalization projects at selected Swiss museums.