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by Aoife Rosenmeyer
Despite its modest size, Zürich has an art scene that would make a much larger city jealous, which no doubt counts toward it’s coming in at the top of the list for quality of life year after year. For more than a decade, the city has had one lodestone for contemporary art, the Löwenbräu Areal. This former brewery (hence the Löwenbräu in the title), a long brick building on Limmatstrasse, became a gallery center in 1996, part of a municipal scheme to improve the area.

It certainly worked. Among the tenants are Hauser + Wirth, Peter Kilchmann, Galerie Bob van Orsouw, Eva Presenhuber and the Migros Museum, a private foundation funded by the Swiss supermarket chain. Other residents include the bookshop Kunstgriff, and the Kunsthalle Zürich and Daros Exhibitions. De Pury and Luxembourg also operated there, though Simon de Pury closed up shop in 2009, as he was preoccupied with other projects across the pond.

(A string of galleries also popped up in the shadow of the brewery building, major and emerging, including Galerie Nicola von Senger; BolteLang, opened by Anna Bolte and Chaja Lang in 2008; Lullin + Ferrari, which bowed right next door at the same time; and Mitterand + Sanz, the sister gallery of Geneva design specialists Mitterand + Cramer.)

But the Löwenbräu Areal era comes to an end this summer, as developers PSP Swiss Property take over the august structure, finally, after years of planning, prevaricating and permission-seeking, to convert it into a mixed-use commercial and residential building, with a design by architects Gigon & Guyer and Atelier WW.

About a third of the new footprint, a generous 9,400 square meters, is reserved for culture -- and after a brisk 18-or-24-month conversion (depending on who you ask), the galleries are supposed to return in 2013.

In the meantime, Zurich city authorities have made significant efforts to keep the scene focused, facilitating a temporary home for H+W, Kunstgriff, Migros and van Orsouw at Hubertus Exhibitions, yet another spacious pile, this one a bit westward on Albisriederstrasse. The builders are in there at the moment.

Though further from the city center, the building is close to the independent F+F School of Art and Media and this move to the west echoes the trend in a city otherwise hemmed in by mountains and lake. The new site offers high ceilings and space in abundance (though a little less should prove a relief for the Migros curators, who struggled with cavernous spaces at the Löwenbräu Areal.

Galleries are making a concerted effort to collaborate. "The challenge will be to bring our audience there," says H+W’s Florian Berktold. "By branding the entire location as Hubertus Exhibitions, however, we are confident that we can quickly establish it with both local and international visitors."

On tap is a program of panel discussions, film screenings and the like, to complement the art offerings. One highlight should be the Daros Latinamerica Collection, which is making a guest appearance at the Migros Museum.

The launch date for Hubertus is Sept. 24, 2010, and the featured attractions include Subodh Gupta at H+W, Walter Pfeiffer and Paul Morrison at van Orsouw, and a group show at the Migros Museum that brings together Ai Weiwei, Regina José Galindo, Teresa Margolles, Gianni Motti, Eftihis Patsourakis, Pamela Rosenkranz, Martin Soto Climent, Loredana Sperini and Alina Szapocznikow.

But for the Kunsthalle Zürich, a change seems as good as a rest; though it moves offices to the Hubertus building, its (as-yet-unannounced) exhibition program from January to June 2011 is scheduled for the Museum Bärengasse building in downtown Zürich. 

Not every dealer was thrilled by the prospect of two moves in as many years. Eva Presenhuber and Peter Kilchmann seem to be forsaking Limmatstrasse for good, and opening permanent new spaces in spring 2011 in the Maag-Areal at the foot of the city’s tallest building. Neighbours there include K3, a project space run by Clare Goodwin, Sandi Paucic and Oliver Kielmayer (when it’s not being used as artists’ studios), and Raeber von Stenglin gallery, cannily set up by Beat Raeber and Matthias von Stenglin round the corner in early 2010.

Worry not, even without a party on the loading bay of the Löwenbräu Areal, plenty of fun can be had at the end of the summer. Galleries in the city run the gamut from alternative to secondary market blue chip, and it’s all to be experienced during the staggered (and staggering) season opening of more than 60 galleries over three evenings from Wednesday, Aug. 25, to Friday, Aug. 27, 2010.

The city is divvied up into sectors so that each one can have the limelight for one evening: first up on Wednesday is the Aussersihl quarter, west of the station around the notorious Langstrasse. Here you’ll find the alternative institutions of Perla Moda and Les Complices; in the commercial sector Mark Müller is one not to miss, opening in August with Christine Streuli’s stunning paintings.

Thursday night it’s the turn of central galleries -- the likes of Gmurzynska, which is positioned to snap up wandering bankers at its location in banking central, Paradeplatz -- and Kashya Hildebrand, now based solely in Zurich, who is showing Meeson Pae Yang’s "Ephemeral Phenomena."

Anne Mosseri-Marlio, who originally comes from the U.S., is currently presenting Wallace Berman’s Verifax images and is bringing over two other U.S. artists, Michelle Grabner and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe. At Katz Contemporary, where Frédérique Hutter is at the helm, the star is Swiss intervention artist Peter Regli.

Openings are also slated on the other side of the Limmat river, including the august Mai 36 and Annemarie Verna galleries. The night will end at the most hip of the lakeside bathing spots, the Seebad Enge.

On Friday, the cluster of galleries around the Löwenbräu Areal start their season -- and quite a few remain, still. Lullin + Ferrari features paintings by Uwe Wittwer, who till now has received more recognition abroad (a recent show at Haunch of Venison in London for example) than in his native Zurich, while on the other side of the street Nicola von Senger unveils the monstrous machines of Arcangelo Sassolino. There are going to be parties over the weekend as well -- but you’ll have to beg, borrow or steal an invitation.

Rendez-view, instigated by the youngbloods on the Zurich scene -- BolteLang, Freymond-Guth & Co., Claudio Groeflin, Karma International and Rotwand -- is an invitation-only event that lasts from Friday night till Sunday, and firmly positions the city as a matrix of today’s contemporary art.

The weekend event kicks off with private views at participating galleries (of particular note is an overdue retrospective of paintings by Sylvia Sleigh at Freymond-Guth) and an opening event at the very new space Darsa Comfort, which has been launched by a group of students -- Lorenzo Bernet, Fredi Fischli and Carmen Tobler.

For Rendez-view, up-and-coming curator Fischli (yes, he is related to that other Fischli) has put together an exhibition called "Issued." Packing in all the Rendez-view galleries plus the senior colleagues (Grieder Contemporary, H+W, Peter Hilchmann, van Orsouw, Francesca Pia, Presenhuber and von Senger -- all galleries to be found "in original" in Zürich), "Issued" is a non-commercial display of the paraphernalia of commercial dealers, be that invitations, posters, books, fliers, packaging or documentation.

Whatever happens next art season in Switzerland, the absence of the Löwenbräu Areal should not leave a gaping hole, it’s fair to say.

AOIFE ROSENMEYER is a writer and curator based in Zurich.