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Kunsthaus Zürich presents ‘Franz Gertsch. Seasons. Works 1983 to 2011’

The exhibition, entitled ‘Seasons’, brings together in the large exhibition gallery his realistic works from the period between 1983 and 2011, culminating in his recently completed ‘Four Seasons Cycle’.

Franz Gertsch (*1930) is one of the most important Swiss artists of the present day. He rose to international fame in the 1970s with his hyper-realist paintings, and works from this period have fetched top prices at recent auctions. Yet his outstanding reputation stems equally from his woodcuts, unique both technically and in format. The opening of the current exhibition coincides with the completion of his masterful ‘Four Seasons Cycle’, which runs like a thread through the presentation. The show, however, goes far beyond Gertsch’s latest work to offer a retrospective of his production since 1983. The 30 pieces selected by curator Tobia Bezzola working together with Gertsch are displayed to full effect in the large exhibition gallery of the Kunsthaus: a prologue is followed by ‘Autumn’, ‘Winter’, ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’, each shown in a separate room with its own atmospheric ambiance. The four seasons images are juxtaposed with all the paintings created since the 1980s as well as one example of each woodcut – nature and landscape studies as well as portraits of women.

‘Spring’ (2011) completes the ‘Four Seasons Cycle’ which began with ‘Autumn’ (finished in 2008) and continued with ‘Summer’ and ‘Winter’, both from 2009. Gertsch worked on ‘Spring’ for up to five hours a day, yet sometimes covered a surface of no more than 20 x 25 cm. It took him fully 16 months to complete the 3.25 x 4.80-metre canvas. ‘It was a constant process of observation and densification’, as art historian Jean-Christophe Ammann writes in the accompanying publication. Gertsch lovingly fills his models with life, viewing the experience as an act of creation. The autonomous density of the parts – as Ammann writes – is breathtaking.
The catalogue and audioguide offer further insights into the artist’s work and are also an aid to its interpretation: the naturalistic seasons, for example, were not painted in the open air, a few metres behind the artist’s house where the botanical originals on which they are based are to be found, but rather in the studio, using photographs as models. From a distance the images may appear naturalistic; yet many observers will be surprised, on examining them in detail, to discover an almost impressionistic technique in play.

Gertsch relishes the challenge, both visual and conceptual. Although he works from photographs, his pictures follow their own internal logic in their quest for absolute harmony of all elements. His watchword is purity of material: from the paints themselves, often comprised of minerals such as lapis lazuli, azurite and malachite, to bonding agents, canvas and handmade Japanese paper, all is carefully selected with an eye to the project in question. For their part, Gertsch’s woodcuts may fairly be called one of a kind. With heretofore unknown precision of execution – in both engraving and printing – and in monumental formats that push the edge of the envelope (literally) when it comes to papermaking, Gertsch has lent a traditional medium new dimensions.

Born in 1930 at Möringen in the canton of Bern, Franz Gertsch achieved his international breakthrough at ‘documenta 5′ in Kassel in 1972. Since then he has produced a rich variety of paintings and graphic works and has shown at the Venice Biennales in 1999 and 2003. The last 15 years have seen exhibitions in Berlin, Munich, Paris, Vienna, Nagoya and New York. Gertsch has also received the coveted ‘Kaiserring’ Award for Modern Art from the city of Goslar, and was granted an Honorary Citizenship by the Christian Albrecht University in Kiel in 2005.

There will be a discussion on the art of Franz Gertsch as part of the ‘Meet the Artist Day’ at the Zurich Festival. On 25 June at 1 p.m. art historian Jean-Christophe Ammann will be joined by Philip Ursprung (Professor of the History of Art and Architecture at the gta Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich) in the Restaurant Metropol, Zurich. Admission free.

Public guided tours of the exhibition: Sundays at 11 a.m., Wednesdays at 6 p.m. (CHF 6). Private guided tours can be booked now by calling 044 253 84 84.

Supported by Swiss Re – Partner for contemporary art.


Kunsthaus Zürich, Heimplatz 1, CH-8001 Zurich
Open: Sat, Sun, Tues 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Wed, Thurs, Fri 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
For public holiday opening, see www.kunsthaus.ch.
Admission including audioguide (in English, German and French) free of charge for visitors 16 and younger. Adults CHF 18 / 12 (concessions) / CHF 14 per head for groups of 20 or more. Registration required for schools and groups.

Franz Gertsch
Spring, 2011
Acrylic on unprimed cotton, 325 x 480 cm
Collection Franz Gertsch & Maria Gertsch-Meer
© 2011 Franz Gertsch