7th Swiss Sculpture Exhibition Biel

Peter Killer

Farewell, Grand Gesture!

On late 1970s art-in-architecture
Public art is commissioned art, art of compromise. In contrast to freelance work, public art is directly affected by numerous alien impositions and constraints that have little or nothing to do with the artist's own concerns. Public art: to the artist himself this is a delicate balancing act between his own and his client's wishes and intentions.

Little surprise, then, that many professional artists have ceased to participate in contests for art-in-architecture, and refuse direct commissions even if they could well use the support they entail. It is because public art usually has little in common with the realisation of artistic intentions, but have much more to do with political diplomacy; with the desire for fashionable representation; with a fear of collisions and scandals. The times are long gone when works of art that represented their era were installed in city streets and placed on squares. These days, whoever wishes to conjoin art and the spirit of his day will focus his attention on exhibitions in art galleries and museums.

Nevertheless: given that very little, if any at all, of the mass media's emancipatory potential has fallen to the fine arts; given that the circle of art-lovers has barely expanded; given that artistic evolutions continue to occur behind the walls of studios, museums and art galleries; given that the chasm between art and the public realm has deepened rather than narrowed, public art remains one of the last points of friction, a place where the discussion of contemporary art may involve a wider audience. Public art – it means passive but nonetheless quite effective art education by way of familiarisation, and of creating a degree of naturalness. Contemporary art placed in a location easily accessible to the public provides new impulses to a society obsessed with security and conservation that may render uncertain the well-worn tracks of perception, feeling and thought, at least for a while.

Looking back at the art created over the five years since the previous Sculpture Exhibition in Biel, we can see new issues cropping up alongside those mentioned earlier. The current era began around 1973. Its impact only made itself felt much later owing to the delay inherent in public art. It is a period that may be considered a transitional one, for it lacks basic consensus; at the very least, its consensual ground keeps shifting. The fact that foundations have been crumbling in many areas of our lives has also affected art. And while art cannot provide solutions to the complexities of modern society it can, however, reflect or highlight the situation. It is striking, therefore, that the grand gesture, the statement that relies on unshakable certainties, has become more and more scarce in recent art. But it is precisely this grand gesture, the counterpart to the old monumental design, which is the dream of every committee that commissions or manages art-in-architecture projects.

If a retrospective of the past five years no longer yields extraordinary works of art such as the design of the Seminar Biel (Biel Teacher Training College), which was about to be completed in 1975, the material and spiritual impact of the "transitional period" has a great deal to answer for. The stagnation in construction and a fear of great projects in the aftermath of the 1973 economic recession has had a massive impact on art-in-architecture. However, it has not only been the budgets that were drastically reduced. Problems revealing themselves in the failed contest for art-in-architecture of the ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology); problems resulting from a far too restricted call for tenders concerning the design of public spaces at EPUL (ETH's sister in Lausanne); the public architectural contest for the new "Kantonsschule Glarus" (Glarus High School) that yielded not very pleasant results – these events not only demonstrate that it is very difficult for artists to be successful in their search for the valid expression of artistic content, but also show that the committees themselves may have a problematic concept of their missions. So it is farewell to the grand gesture, farewell to empty visual statements, and welcome to answers regarding the why and wherefore of art. It is noteworthy that numerous new public art projects have taken their audiences seriously in anything but a condescending manner. In the catalogue to the "6. Berner Kunstausstellung" (6th Bernese Art Exhibition; 18th January – 17th February, 1980), Meret Oppenheim expressed what has worried many other artists, often leading to similarly-motivated results: "I would suggest embarking on a road that is not new, but very old: let us place in front of people something that gives them pleasure. Be that new city quarters or old, slightly "stuffy" ones: everyone would be pleased with parks and gardens that were not designed on the drawing-board, or laid out in the conventional manner; everyone would take pleasure from a promenade, large or small, with or without plants, but perhaps with a sculpture that moves with the wind or the water that might also set off some "musical" sound patterns – some pleasant area that can bring back to our everyday lives something many of us secretly yearn for."

It is not the notion of park or garden design that in my opinion seems to be at the core of this piece of writing, but the notion of creating designs for people. It is this attitude that has informed Albert Siegenthaler's combination of sculptures and landscape design at the back of Baden's new Cantonal Hospital, which pleases the art connoisseurs as much as the users, the hospital patients and the visitors. I think that – over the past five years – this has been one of the most important achievements in art-in-architecture. Less spectacular, but more intense, more dense is Otto Müller's design for a square in the transformed Old Botanical Gardens in Zürich: it conveys the message of our era in an unspectacular manner. Similarly-informed projects by Lenz Klotz for the Cantonal Hospital in Basel, and by Max Matter and Ernst Häusermann for the Aargauische Sprachheilschule Rombach (Argovian School for Children with Language-based Learning Disabilities) are rather more controversial. Designing for people, designing with people: Peter Travaglini – Bau- und Wirtefachschule in Unterentfelden (Vocational School for the Construction and Catering Trades at Unterentfelden) – and the team of Peter Hächler/Charly Moser – Berufsschulzentrum Weinfelden (Weinfelden Vocational School Centre) – have been particularly successful in actively involving their partners.

Peter Killer

© Translation from German, August 2008: Margret Powell-Joss

  • Sans titre, Bonnot François, expo 1980
    Sans titre
  • Entelechie 1 + 2, Stocker Ludwig, expo 1980
    Entelechie 1 + 2
  • Projekt Zeitraum, Sigrist Kurt, expo 1980
    Projekt Zeitraum
  • Sculpture 77 D, Wiggli Oskar, expo 1980
    Sculpture 77 D
  • Phönix, Moser René, expo 1980
  • Stahl-Konstruktion XIIX, Altherr Jürg, expo 1980
    Stahl-Konstruktion XIIX
  • Vitrine mit 10 Zinkblechmodellen, Burger Walter, expo 1980
    Vitrine mit 10 Zinkblechmodellen
  • Werk Nr. 04.07.79 B. 1979, Mattes Rudolf, expo 1980
    Werk Nr. 04.07.79 B. 1979
  • Ferienlandschaft, Buchli Rudolf, expo 1980
  • Windrad Esche, Küng René, expo 1980
    Windrad Esche
  • Elch, Weiss Max, expo 1980
  • La fleur du mal, Gerstner Karl, expo 1980
    La fleur du mal
  • Fût no 793, Delieutraz Edouard, expo 1980
    Fût no 793
  • Profil eines Fluges, Egloff Anton, expo 1980
    Profil eines Fluges
  • La concièrge, Polliand Daniel, expo 1980
    La concièrge
  • Mère et enfant, Ferrario Aldo, expo 1980
    Mère et enfant
  • Die Baumfee und ihre Tänzerin, Balmer Hans, expo 1980
    Die Baumfee und ihre Tänzerin
  • Teatraedre, Ischi Pierre, expo 1980
  • Scheiterhaufen, Hächler Peter, expo 1980
  • Chromstahl, Talman Paul, expo 1980
  • Sky-Lab II: ein Environnement, Etcetera Ateliergemeinschaft, expo 1980
    Sky-Lab II: ein Environnement
  • Wiesenfloss (3 Aufnahmen), Stocker Norbert, expo 1980
    Wiesenfloss (3 Aufnahmen)
  • Rostiges Eisen um Farbkreuz, Bürkler David, expo 1980
    Rostiges Eisen um Farbkreuz
  • Ouverture sur rencontre, Torres Manuel, expo 1980
    Ouverture sur rencontre
  • Der Papalagi, Seibt Dieter, expo 1980
    Der Papalagi
  • Schwebendes Ringpendel, Witschi Werner, expo 1980
    Schwebendes Ringpendel
  • Autoportrait, Berthoud Francis, expo 1980
  • Die Weisen, Weber Bruno, expo 1980
    Die Weisen
  • Ein Schatten zwischen Sein und Schein, Schwarz Martin, expo 1980
    Ein Schatten zwischen Sein und Schein
  • Eisenplastik geschmiedet, Odermatt Josef Maria, expo 1980
    Eisenplastik geschmiedet
  • Schiff, Sigrist Richard, expo 1980
  • PARADISE LOST, Siegenthaler Albert, expo 1980
  • La Perception visuelle en tant qu’art, Fischer Walter, expo 1980
    La Perception visuelle en tant qu’art
  • Totenschlitten, Sigrist Kurt, expo 1980
  • Euphorium, Kocher Lis, expo 1980
  • Eisenplastik geschmiedet, Odermatt Josef Maria, expo 1980
    Eisenplastik geschmiedet
  • Béatrice, Schwarz Heinz, expo 1980
  • Figur II, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Figur II
  • F. Y 3 – 1976, Bolomey Roger, expo 1980
    F. Y 3 – 1976
  • Komposition, Teucher Otto, expo 1980
  • Figur III, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Figur III
  • Aktionsplastik, Lüchinger Roland, expo 1980
  • Borg, Bucher Heidi, expo 1980
  • Modell für eine Plastik, Megert Christian, expo 1980
    Modell für eine Plastik
  • Wandplastik, Mattioli Silvio, expo 1980
  • Ohne Titel, Blättler Rudolf, expo 1980
    Ohne Titel
  • Sculpture 76 J, Wiggli Oskar, expo 1980
    Sculpture 76 J
  • „Laa mi nöd gheiä“, Arbi (Bechtler Ruedi), expo 1980
    „Laa mi nöd gheiä“
  • L’Ile aux oiseaux, Camesi Gianfredo, expo 1980
    L’Ile aux oiseaux
  • Baalbek, Bucher Carl, expo 1980
  • Poisson femme, Polliand Daniel, expo 1980
    Poisson femme
  • Weiblicher Toso, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Weiblicher Toso
  • 79/30, Mauboulès Jean, expo 1980
  • Flugkörper, Pedretti Erica, expo 1980
  • Licht – Bild – Raum, Fricker Hansruedi, expo 1980
    Licht – Bild – Raum
  • Der Rezipient als Bestandteil, Eberle Urs, expo 1980
    Der Rezipient als Bestandteil
  • Agression, Mariotti Yves, expo 1980
  • Standortbestimmung, Brand Heinz, expo 1980
  • Reflexion über die Gegen-Stände, Grossert Michaël, expo 1980
    Reflexion über die Gegen-Stände
  • Figur I, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Figur I
  • F. Y. 26 – 1979, Bolomey Roger, expo 1980
    F. Y. 26 – 1979
  • JURA, Berger Ueli, expo 1980
  • Boden – Raum – Schnittpunkt I, Haldemann Walter, expo 1980
    Boden – Raum – Schnittpunkt I
  • Nombre 58 = Esther, Hess Esther, expo 1980
    Nombre 58 = Esther
  • Figur I, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Figur I
  • Arbre, Candolfi Serge, expo 1980
  • Rasterteppich, Bauer Heiner, expo 1980
  • Figur I, Wimpheimer Willy, expo 1980
    Figur I
  • Fanfan II, Schwarz Heinz, expo 1980
    Fanfan II
  • Elément en 3 pièces, Emile Angéloz, expo 1980
    Elément en 3 pièces
  • Figure debout, Ferrario Aldo, expo 1980
    Figure debout
  • Grab, Brodwolf Jürgen, expo 1980
  • Allee, Häckel Wolfgang, expo 1980
  • Grosse Mondleiter, Küng René, expo 1980
    Grosse Mondleiter
  • Lächelnd sah er aufs Meer hinaus, Meier Dieter, expo 1980
    Lächelnd sah er aufs Meer hinaus
  • 2 Trees, Gruber-Stieger Jaqueline, expo 1980
    2 Trees
  • Drei Obeliske aus dem Pentagondodekaëder, Storrer Peter, expo 1980
    Drei Obeliske aus dem Pentagondodekaëder
  • Schlafwandler, Pfenninger Kaspar, expo 1980
  • Don Quichotte III, Zeller André-Paul, expo 1980
    Don Quichotte III
  • Feuer, Wiedmer Paul, expo 1980
  • Annabello, Kohlbrenner Beat, expo 1980
  • 5 Bielerrugel, Benazzi Raffael, expo 1980
    5 Bielerrugel
  • 10/78, Niederer Heinz, expo 1980
  • Déméter, Perrin Fred, expo 1980
  • Pavillonskulptur aus 6 Rundhölzern, Bill Max, expo 1980
    Pavillonskulptur aus 6 Rundhölzern
  • Wasserspiel 37, Fontana Annemie, expo 1980
    Wasserspiel 37
  • L’Uomo nel Tempo, Paolucci Flavio, expo 1980
    L’Uomo nel Tempo
  • Explosion, Wirz Tobias, expo 1980
  • Der leere Raum, Blättler Rudolf, expo 1980
    Der leere Raum
  • Figur II, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Figur II
  • see, Weber Willy, expo 1980
  • Objekt III, Streiff Matthias, expo 1980
    Objekt III
  • Venus de Six-Fours, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Venus de Six-Fours
  • Weibliches Idol, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Weibliches Idol
  • Arbeit III, Baviera Michael, expo 1980
    Arbeit III
  • Seelenführer Anubis, Conne Louis, expo 1980
    Seelenführer Anubis
  • Accumulation no 792, Delieutraz Edouard, expo 1980
    Accumulation no 792
  • E 1 P, Duarte Angel, expo 1980
    E 1 P
  • Stille Stelle, Fischli Hans, expo 1980
    Stille Stelle
  • Rencontre XXX, Torres Manuel, expo 1980
    Rencontre XXX
  • Komposition, Teucher Otto, expo 1980
  • Gruppenbild, Engel Michel, expo 1980
  • Diagonale Faltung, Staub Josef, expo 1980
    Diagonale Faltung
  • Homo-Sapiens, Hotz Roland, expo 1980
  • Poetree, Buchwalder Ernst, expo 1980
  • PARADISE LOST, Siegenthaler Albert, expo 1980
  • Mondaffe, Eggenschwiler Franz, expo 1980
  • Fils, Winteler Anna, expo 1980
  • Baum und Welt, Aeberli Matthias, expo 1980
    Baum und Welt
  • Projet Dimension Uniques, Transmutation Forme et Terre, Camesi Gianfredo, expo 1980
    Projet Dimension Uniques, Transmutation Forme et Terre
  • Les 12 signes du zodiaque, Aeppli Eva, expo 1980
    Les 12 signes du zodiaque
  • Biel Luminis, Fucktory Biel, expo 1980
    Biel Luminis
  • Projet Bienne II 1980, Huber Hans Rudolf, expo 1980
    Projet Bienne II 1980
  • Licht/Schatten Objekte, Nyffenegger Samuel, expo 1980
    Licht/Schatten Objekte
  • Liber, Werro Roland, expo 1980
  • Espace Nord-Sud, Fontana Dominique, expo 1980
    Espace Nord-Sud
  • Kreis-Stele I, Engler Jakob, expo 1980
    Kreis-Stele I
  • Ohne Titel, Raboud André, expo 1980
    Ohne Titel
  • Kelch symmetrisch, Schneider Jimmy Fred, expo 1980
    Kelch symmetrisch
  • Microcosme New York IV B, De Montaigu Charles, expo 1980
    Microcosme New York IV B
  • Kopf aus Hauterive, Kunz Peter, expo 1980
    Kopf aus Hauterive
  • Zeichen, Büchi René, expo 1980
  • Traktor und div. Materialien, Tinguely Jean, expo 1980
    Traktor und div. Materialien
  • Venus Asylstrasse 21, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Venus Asylstrasse 21
  • Kardinal, Luginbühl Bernhard, expo 1980
  • Figur I, Aeschbacher Hans, expo 1980
    Figur I
  • Wiesenfloss (Projektskizze), Stocker Norbert, expo 1980
    Wiesenfloss (Projektskizze)
  • Vertschaupet, Hutter Schang, expo 1980
  • Olymp, Metzler Kurt Laurenz, expo 1980
  • Zentrum, Büchi René, expo 1980
  • Microcosme New York III, De Montaigu Charles, expo 1980
    Microcosme New York III
  • See Stück, Ruenzi Fritz, expo 1980
    See Stück
  • Fig. XIX A, Presset Henri, expo 1980
    Fig. XIX A
  • Biel Luminis, Fucktory Biel, expo 1980
    Biel Luminis
  • Licht/Schatten Objekte, Nyffenegger Samuel, expo 1980
    Licht/Schatten Objekte
  • Kleines Bronzerelief VI – 1976, Rehmann Erwin, expo 1980
    Kleines Bronzerelief VI – 1976
  • Quebec, Ischi Pierre, expo 1980
  • Environnement mit Performance, Gfeller Reinhard, expo 1980
    Environnement mit Performance
  • Sans titre, Bonnot François, expo 1980
    Sans titre
  • 9/78, Niederer Heinz, expo 1980
  • Entwicklungsreihe (6 Steine), Grunder Mariann, expo 1980
    Entwicklungsreihe (6 Steine)
  • Objekt II, Streiff Matthias, expo 1980
    Objekt II
  • Zusammenarbeit Urs Suter, Vögeli Walter, expo 1980
    Zusammenarbeit Urs Suter
  • Video blind piece, Minkoff Gérald, expo 1980
    Video blind piece
  • Paravent, Suter Hugo, expo 1980
  • Kunstauktion im Marzilibad Bern, Jordi Ernst Kretz Walter Schneider Jimmy Fred Vögeli Walter Suter Urs, expo 1980
    Kunstauktion im Marzilibad Bern
  • Objekt I, Streiff Matthias, expo 1980
    Objekt I
  • Objekt in der Schüss, Signer Roman, expo 1980
    Objekt in der Schüss
  • Rutschbahn, Weber Bruno, expo 1980
  • Raumplastik, Mattioli Silvio, expo 1980
  • Marmor-Block, Meister Peter, expo 1980