Magazine article Artforum International

Space Explorer

Magazine article Artforum International

Space Explorer

Article excerpt

In Switzerland, architectural debate - particularly around the question of how to conceive spaces appropriate for the presentation of art - has become especially intense in recent years, fueled by a string of noteworthy projects by internationally recognized Swiss architects such as Herzog & de Meuron (the Goetz collection near Munich and the future Tate Gallery in London), Gigon/Guyer (Kirchner Museum in Davos and the Annex of the Museum of Fine Arts, Winterthur), Mario Botta (San Francisco MoMA), and Luigi Snozzi (his reconstruction of the village of Monte Carasso). With the recent completion of his building for the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Peter Zumthor has moved to the center of the debate. After apprenticing as a cabinetmaker in Basel, he went on to study architecture at New York's Pratt institute in the mid-'60s, which led to an appointment back home as architect for the Department for the Care and Preservation of Monuments in the canton of Graubunden (1968-78). In 1979, Zumthor started his own practice in Haldenstein, near Chur, and it was here that he made a name for himself, realizing a series of significant projects throughout the region. The following conversation took place in late February at Zumthor's studio.

HANS RUDOLF REUST: Kunsthaus Bregenz opened at the end of July 1997 with a light installation by James Turrell. At the moment it's showing painting and sculpture by Per Kirkeby. Have you consciously created an exhibition setting for your generation of artists?

PETER ZUMTHOR: The mandate of Kunsthaus Bregenz is to function like a Kunsthalle, an exhibition space without a collection, a place to house contemporary art. Perhaps I do see it as a space for the art I grew up with, the Minimal and Conceptual work of the '60s and '70s. The structure is a neutral vessel; it's really reduced to the absolute minimum, to the essential, but through specific resonances of material and moods of lighting, the architecture emanates something precise, strong, sensual. It has a material presence, like the works themselves.

HRR: In the case of Kirkeby, at least, a certain tension is set up between the sleek concrete walls and the open landscapes in the paintings.

PZ: The art vies with strong architecture, has to define itself against it, and gains in the process. I'm interested in music, literature, art, and philosophy, but ultimately I'm a passionate architect. My goal for the Kunsthaus was to make a neutral but very strong space, and I'm thrilled that artists like Turrell, Kirkeby, or Pistoletto think it's great.

HRR: How do you view the light cube of Kunsthaus Bregenz in relation to other museums, for instance, Renzo Plano's newly opened Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, outside of Basel?

PZ: I can trace the origins of the Fondation Beyeler quite clearly, from the de Menil in Texas to Basel. As for myself, I always try to work without precedents. I just let the site take hold of me. In Bregenz it was the town's lakeside setting, particularly the play of light on the water, that I wanted to carry over into the building. The idea of a proudly radiant body was there almost from the start. We only chose glass as a material later; I wanted to make use of it like a bird's plumage, We essentially reconceived the idea of natural lighting within a museum, and we did so by actually separating the exhibition tower or cube from the administration building. …

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