Text written on the occasion of 15 years Galerie Peter Kilchmann, 2007
Some companies hang up a world map tacked full of colored pins in their head offices. The pins mark their branch offices, joint ventures and other successful moves of expansion. Peter Kilchmann, our focus of attention how-ever, is not the head of a global affiliated group, but a gallery owner. His office is decorated with works of art, such as photographs, drawings and paintings. Yet if there would be a world map, it would be peppered with pins after 15 years of gallery activities. The blue and yellow ones would mark partnerships with other galleries as well as participations at art fairs and the locations of private and institutional art collectors. These are, unsurprisingly, scattered over the continents. Along with the pins representing the collectors and the gallery’s most significant brands, the most important pins would be the red ones: They stand for all the artists Peter Kilchmann works with. There would be a striking agglomeration in Latin America, especially in Mexico and self-evidently also in Switzerland, on the Balkans, in Germany and in the United States. And, something that is more interesting, there would always be single needles pinned into countries and cities off the beaten track. Take Derry, a town with 80,000 inhabitants in Northern Ireland.
Derry, Northern Ireland
This town is not a place where the art jetset would get astrayed to. Derry or, in the words of the protestant Unionists, Londonderry, had been one of the boiling points in the conflict of Northern Ireland. One date has remained a traumatic reminder: January 30th of 1972, when British soldiers fired into the demonstrating crowd and injured 26 unarmed civilians, mortally wounding 14. The whole world remembers this fatal Sunday as “Bloody Sunday”. Artist Willie Doherty, then 12 years old, had been the reason for Kilchmann’s trip to the most Northern point of Ireland. The work of this Irishman is essentially characterized by the situation in his home town. This is what makes his works – large format photographs and videos – engaging: Doherty’s questions about the possibilities of media representation are not only of aesthetic nature, but also of political explosiveness.
In 1990, two years before opening his own gallery, Peter Kilchmann came across Willie Doherty. Deeply impressed by the artist’s works, he wished to organise the first gallery exhibition with Doherty in the autumn of 1992. The fact that Willie Doherty, then largely unknown, was nominated only two years later for the re-nowned Turner Price, attests to the gallery owner’s acute sense which to date has been crucial.
Paris, New York, Zurich
Peter Kilchmann gained his professional know-how during his studies at the Institut des carrières artistiques (Icart) in Paris and by immersing himself into the New York art scene. After that Kilchmann worked in an auction house in Zurich, which – like many others – did not overcome the turbulences that hit the market during the time of the first Gulf war in 1991. The company went bankrupt and Kilchmann, not even 30 years old, lost his job. In hindsight, this turned out to be a godsend. The young man quickly realised that the only right way to go would be self-employment.
Zurich: Schoeller-Areal, Löwenbräu-Areal
The time was right: A new spirit of optimism prevailed in the Zurich art scene. In the Schoeller-Areal, former -industrial premises next to the Hardturm in the Western part of the city of Zurich, a young and internationally oriented art centre had been created. Besides the art and exhibition hall, there were artistic studios and a few consistently ambitious galleries. Although not all of them survived, the ones who still exist nowadays belong to the trend setters of the international art market. These young galleries have drawn the attention to themselves at an early stage: They founded the folder “Art in Zurich and Switzerland”. This trimestrial publication has meanwhile a printrun of 10,000 copies.
Retrospectively, many speak of the “Zurich art miracle”. For many years, Switzerland’s by-in-far most economically significant city suffered a backlog in terms of contemporary art. The majority of the city’s galleries were either too established or too local, while the Kunst-haus, the only large and internationally oriented institution set its main focus on the established. Young art requires new spaces. In this situation, the possibility of a temporary use of the Schoeller-Areal premises had been a stroke of luck. Four years later, the Löwenbräu-Areal also turned out to provide perfect conditions, which is why the gallery moved into this former brewery in spring 1996. Together with the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art, the Kunsthalle and some other galleries the power players of the Zurich art scene gather here down to the present day. Here a unique concentration of quality can be found.
However, back to the year when the gallery was founded and to the owner’s original visions. With his first exhibition had he not only demonstrated his international orientation, but he also determined a direction towards certain contents, which only years later became a general trend. In 1992, photography had not been generally accepted in the world of art, but was rather treated as a highly demanded insider tip. Especially among those interested in young artists with new perspectives and promising futures. In this sense, Kilchmann deliberately presented Doherty‘s artwork which mainly focuses on photography and video art. The specialisation on the so-called new media started off as a programme, but was soon cancelled as it was considered too “narrow”. What has lasted to date is a fondness for new media, a dedication to socially and politically committed artists as well as art that find its origins aloof of the common centres, such as Mexico.
When Peter Kilchmann first exhibited the works of the Belgian Francis Alÿs in August 1999 at his Zurich gallery, for most people the artist’s adopted country Mexico had been uncharted territory on the art map. Meanwhile, the situation has changed: Mexico City has experienced a boom in terms of art. With Alÿs, England born artist Melanie Smith and Teresa Margolles, the gallery has taken a whole bunch of Mexican residents under its wing. This fondness has its origins in 1998, when Kilchmann’s curiosity drove him to accept an invitation to Expoarte, a fair in Guadalajara. In a collector’s house he came across Francis Alÿs’ paintings from his “sign painting” series. Kilchmann was fascinated and immediately contacted the artist, who likes to stylize himself as a flaneur. One week later they met in New York, where Alÿs coincidently stayed and arranged an exhibition which was finally held in late summer in 1999.
Mexico, Venezuela, Buenos Aires
Kilchmann could pin two more needles into Latin America: one for Jorge Macchi in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and another one for Javier Téllez who now lives in New York, but originally comes from Venezuela. Once again, an artist who was born in Spain has chosen to live in Mexico. Santiago Sierra who became well-known not least due to his profound creation of the Spanish Pavilion at the 50th -Biennale of Venice in 2003. At the artist’s behest, the front entrance had been walled up and the word SPAGNA above the door lintel had been covered with a rubbish bag. Only people with a Spanish passport were allowed to enter the pavilion – through the back-door. With this positioning he deprived the usual privileges of the art public and confronted them with mechanisms of exclusion and ridicule. To date, Sierra’s statement in Venice is one of the highlights in the career of this Spaniard with his critical position towards power. Before 2003 had this artist performed and exhibited several times at Galerie Peter Kilchmann.
Zurich, Cologne, Ludwigsburg
Peter Kilchmann has always set value on quality while being ready to take a considerable amount of risks at all times. This combination quickly turned into accounts. In 1993, the second year of his gallery activity, he was admitted to Art Basel. His kudos grew and was not only acknowledged by art journals, but also by the national mass media. In June 1999 the Swiss financial journal Cash put Kilchmann on a marvellous second place on their list of the most important galleries in Switzerland. He was celebrated as the discoverer of young talents. Today, several rankings and ratings later, Kilchmann ranks among leading international galleries on a sensational 49th place in the art journal Flash Art. This proves that the gallery has established itself with their artists and had been able to grow on a personal and on a spatial level. In 2006 Kilchmann enlargened the gallery space and an additional expansion is planned.
Nevertheless, the curiosity for the unknown and the new, which Kilchmann has let himself guide from the -beginning, has remained decisive. In the first years the artists logically came from his own generation, while nowadays newcomers tend to be considerably younger. In the year 2007 new artists joined in, such as young Swiss artist Fabian Marti, Michael Bauer from Germany and Duncan Marquiss from Scotland. Yet the question of age dispenses with the dogmatic: German artist Jochen Kuhn from Ludwigsburg, who’s first solo exhibition took place in January of 2007 at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, was born in 1954.
Georgia, Poland, Albania, Sarajewo
Peter Kilchmann experienced one of his greatest unexpected successes with Andro Wekua. When the gallery owner presented an installation of the young Georgian in June 2004 at Art Basel, he was overwhelmed with collectors. The international career of this young talent, which only months earlier had commenced with a small yet precise exhibition in the project room of the gallery, rocketed upward. Wekua, who emigrated as a teenager from Georgia into Switzerland, creates artworks that find their origins in his autobiography. They rotate, at times in a narrower, at times in a broader radius around his youth behind the Iron Curtain.
This fits perfectly into the gallery’s programme which includes Pole Arthur mijewski, Albanian Adrian Paci and Bosnian Maja Bajevi´c three artists from the Balkans, respectively Central Europe. It deals with the social changes and ideological crises in their particular home countries. Peter Kilchmann’s interest in the so-called “side scenes” corresponds to a trend in the world of art towards the margins and is typical for their generation: While for decades Swiss art promotion is preferably geared to the axis of Switzerland and USA, the minor importance of traditional art centres within the programme and within Kilchmann’s work appears to be programmatic. Being a representative of a mobile generation of global thinkers, the gallery owner moves around the globe with a striking easiness. He travels all over the continents and is even on the move when he actually is in Zurich. As a matter of fact, it is the permanent contact he keeps with his artists, no matter where they are, that implies a kind of freedom for him that is neither tangible nor measurable: the internal adventure of art, hard work and a life with a lot of very different concomitances.
Budapest, New York
The needle for Rita Ackermann cannot clearly be pinned into New York. The artist who has been a part of Kilchmann’s programme since 1995, originally comes from Hungary. A curious and adventurous Rita Ackermann arrived to the North American metropolis in 1992, after the Fall of the Wall. At the outset her works were given the formerly hip label “Girlie Art”. They tell stories about complex searches of identity within an environment which‘s topography is rutted by clichéd role models, ambiguous myths of freedom and misleading fantasies about escape.
The second New York pin corresponds to an artist who plays a special role in every respect. His name is John -Coplans. The former chief editor of the art journal -Artforum, who photographed his aging body with pe-cul-iar obstinacy, has been considered a legend since the beginning of the nineties. It was a huge success that young Kilchmann had managed to enlist the 1920’s born photographer for an exhibition shortly after the inauguration of his gallery. They built up a fruitful collaboration until Coplan passed away in 2003.
However, the quantity of pins on the world map is not supposed to belie the fact that gallery Peter Kilchmann is a Swiss gallery. Switzerland has traditionally been an important hub for art. With Art Basel, the country hosts one of the wold’s biggest art fairs. Yet at the beginning of the nineties this fair had become very saturated and stagnant: Together with his gallery colleagues Peter Kilchmann optioned for an adaptation of the structures of the fair to the fastly expanding art market, but unfortunately without success. Therefore, Kilchmann and his colleague Eva Presenhuber compiled a list of the best and most exciting young galleries of the world. They rented rooms in an old beer brewery and created the first “Liste” in 1996.
Today, the “Liste” has not only made a name for itself as a young art fair, but also serves as a model for parallel art fairs. The “Liste” influenced Art Basel. The jurors of the admittance committee for the Art Basel were younger of age. They created the so-called “statements”, a less expensive section for succeeding galleries. Altogether, the Art Basel became younger and more attractive, which expectedly did not only go well with her, but also secured the leading position it holds today amongst the art fairs, which become more and more each day, Zurich, Basel, New York If you speak about Galerie Peter Kilchmann, above all you speak about its male and female artists. The long-term professional relations within the Swiss art scene form the backbone of the gallery. Some of the artists who have been working with the gallery since the early stages are Zurich artist Stefan Altenburger, the sisters Claudia and Julia Müller from Basel, as well as Zilla Leutenegger and Bruno Jakob, who originally comes from Switzerland but lives in New York. It is impossible to name all of the artists here, yet they have been present in the gallery for longer or shorter terms, but have always contributed inspiring statements.
This is the way it should be: Even after 15 years -Galerie Peter Kilchmann with its team who has been working there for many years, has remained an important hub for ideas and a lively interface between production and art reception. Guided by a man who likes to experiment, who is curious and ready to take risks – in one word: -a real art lover.