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Art takes over the streets of Bad Ragaz

Seelenköpfe (soul heads) by Hedi-Katharina Ernst

(swissinfo.ch)

For the next five months, the spa resort of Bad Ragaz is playing host to Europe's largest outdoor sculpture exhibition.

The nearly 200 monumental works by some of Europe's leading and many lesser-known artists are dotted around the town's streets, parks and gardens.

"Bad RagARTz" is a show open to everyone with sculptures spread over six kilometres. The entire village has in effect become a sprawling open-air art gallery.

The centrepiece of the show is a giant sunbird by Niki de Saint Phalle. It is a mosaic of tiled mirrors perched on an arch in the spacious garden of the spa's grand hotel.

Sign of hope

Close by, a group of gagged and bound figures kneel silently before an imaginary torturer. This work by Carl Bucher - Sign of Hope - is eventually destined for the United Nations in New York.

"People should be stimulated by coming into contact with the art by walking through town," says Bad Ragartz organiser, Rolf Hohmeister.

Hohmeister is a local physician and a patron of the arts. He started collecting when he was still in his teens, and decided to bring his love of art to the public a few years ago when he was in his late 50s.

"I was in Munich on New Year's Eve and the celebrations included an impressive fireworks display," he recalls.

"The fireworks must have cost the city hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs and I was struck by how so much money could be spent on something so short-lived."

Gift to public

"I thought it should be possible to give a greater, longer lasting gift to the public for the same amount of money, and that's how I came up with the idea for the art exhibition."

Hohmeister inaugurated the first edition of Bad Ragartz in 2000, deciding to put together a similar exhibition every three years if it was successful. It was.

More than 400,000 people travelled to the resort to see that show.

Blue fish

Works by 68 artists were chosen for this year's Bad Ragartz, including Lilian Hasler's blue fish skeletons.

Made of oak, they lean against the trunks of mature trees which line the boulevard running past the golf course.

On the other side of the road, a quartet of comic figures tower over the trees.

They are the creations of Robert Indermaur and include "the conductor" and a trio of zany acrobats on stilts and poles.

Art meets reality

Art meets reality near the edge of a tranquil pond when a visitor to Bad Ragaz admiring some oversized wooden eggs (by Manuel Strässle) is chased away by a pair of real geese.

"Bad Ragaz is a village on the edge of the mountains that depends on tourism," says Hohmeister.

Tourism began in earnest in Bad Ragaz in the middle of the 19th century when travellers discovered the curative powers of the thermal waters springing from the nearby gorge.

As Hohmeister confirms, the village still lives from its reputation as a health resort.

"We hope this type of exhibition will make the resort known to a new public," he says, "giving people who would never think of coming here a reason to visit as well."

Continuo

One of Hohmeister's favourite works is a group of life-size bronze sculptures by the Italian artist, Roberto Barni.

"Continuo" is a ladder bent into the shape of a rocker, with a man on each end poised to walk towards the middle.

The observer realises that if their steps are not synchronised, the whole wooden sculpture will rock out of balance.

"Roberto Barni is a great philosopher," says Hohmeister, the art connoisseur and doctor.

"If we are to be healthy we have to find a balance between our, body, mind and soul."

The exhibition runs until November 2.

swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Bad Ragaz

Key facts

There are nearly 200 works from 68 artists included in this year's Bad Ragartz.
The exhibition covers six kilometres.
Part of the exhibition is on display in the streets of Vaduz, the nearby capital of Liechtenstein.
Guided tours can be arranged through the Bad Ragaz tourist office.

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In brief

Among the best known sculptors whose works are represented in the show are the French-American Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002), the Britons Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003), the Colombian Fernando Botero (1932-) and the Swiss artists, Hans Erni (1909-), Carl Bucher (1935-) and Daniel Spoerri (1930-).

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