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

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