When you're down in Zurich, there is a few fascinating places you should visit. Among them – Kunsthaus Zurich, housing an impressive collection of Swiss and international art. I bet you would benefit from such local cultural experiences as the name of the city probably evokes dollar signs in your eyes. You've got it wrong! Not every man is a banker, not everyone's wallet is ripped open by chunks of notes.
The art scene beams with all the colours of life revealing individual and collective intent to go beyond commodity culture.There have always been people eternalising Swiss way of life through bold colours, expressing their own identity through art, sometimes escaping from dull landscapes and discovering the power of individual voice. If you dive deeper, you'll see that Swiss art scene is far from dull. With the aim to entice you to pay a visit the Kunsthaus, I'm sharing my favourite discoveries from the collection of Swiss paintings.
Augusto Giacometti (1877 – 1947)
As you go up the stairs at the Kunsthaus, an outstanding piece of Art Nouveau will emerge right in front of you. Don't just rush for the next gallery, stop for a minute to observe the story of Adam and Eve, narrated by Augusto Giacometti, one of the most prominent Swiss painters who, yes, was indeed a relative of the famous sculptor Alberto Giacometti.
Helplessly seduced by the serpent, Adam seems to have found comfort. It's difficult to tell whether his eyes are transmitting fear, guilt or are mildly asking the serpent to back off. In the pair, Eve is the dominant figure, whose goddess-like naked body conveys shameless strength in spite of being captured in the rhythmic circles of the evil power. We are all well aware how the sweet couple paid for the guilty pleasure of eating the forbidden fruit.
The forest of knowledge is dark and dense, there's no way back to Eden and they've got to get back up and fight the battle of survival. Yes, accepting responsibility for your own actions and getting back on your feet sometimes might seem like a huge price to pay if your self-loathing mind is pushing you into the waters of self-pity, if you primarily see yourself as a victim of the serpent.
But hey, yellow is an optimistic colour! So is Art Nouveau. At first glance its decorative style, monotony of the colour palette and rhythm distracted my attention from the topic of sinful scene. However, the same rhythm lured me right into the centre of the composition.
Ferdinand Hodler (1853 – 1918)
Another praiseworthy Art Nouveau masterpiece – "Youth Admired by Women" (1903) by one of the most famous Swiss painters Ferdinand Hodler. Enormous in size, harmonious in composition and moderate in colours, the piece is a show stopper at the museum. Mind you, Hodler's art also falls within the field of Symbolism, so you probably should rethink what sort of youth is admired here – human flesh or the sublime idea of having the whole life ahead of you.
The latter is certainly an illusion: no one has ever promised you there's an abundance of time in your hands. And when my mind gets periodically battered by the memory of two last year's deaths of old and young in my family, I can't help but wonder, where does the end lurk for the rest of us? Are we today taking the roads worth dying for?
Well, I'd most certainly die for a piece of Hodler's art! Whenever I stroll through the galleries of the Swiss art museums, a question pops in my head: why is this artist overlooked by the international museums?! His expressively portrayed compositions caused scandals in the dawn of 20th century Switzerland. In spite of them, artistic talent eventually brought him fame, even everyone's favourite Klimt looked up to him.
Albert Welti (1862 – 1912)
Not my usual artistic choice, but the upside down world by the Swiss Symbolist Albert Welti swept me along. The painting has certainly got its elements of magic, mystery and youthful fling. So I wonder, what exactly is that "Walpurgis Night"?
Celebrated on the night of the 30th of April, for Christians it's a feast of Saint Walpurga, one of the most popular saints in Germany. For pagans, it's a wild attempt to drive the witches and winter spirits away.
It's evident, Welti depicted the latter. The scene might look like a dream, but indeed it's a nightmare: the evel powers are the strongest that night. The folk tale (and Wikipedia) goes, Walpurgis Night is the night of a witches' meeting on the Brocken, the highest peak in the Harz Mountains, a range of wooded hills in central Germany.
For the sake of protection, people used to light bonfires around the hills. Isn't it ironical? Lighting fires to scare the devils away! Doesn't sound like the opposite of hell at all. However, Welti was more interested in the subject of the fantastic world rather than people's response to the tales that evoke their irrational attempts to protect earthy lives. Here I'd ask, why depict what we merely see if we can paint what we wildly imagine?! As long as the result makes you, the art lover, observe and shake your thoughts a little, the purpose of art is fulfilled.
Whether Swiss or not, art might save the world. At least your world, if you are ever willing to stop and stare for a few minutes. Then there's a chance to go beyond the surface of this earthy show and discover meaningful, truthful answers that lie embedded within you or in the Swiss masterpieces for that matter.
Heimplatz 1, 8001 Zürich, Switzerland