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Swiss art in NY hits the ground, finally

More visitors have made it to the institute's new location

The Swiss Institute in SoHo has relocated to a 5,000 square foot (465 square metre) storefront building in a sign of success for the contemporary art gallery.

The institute is renting a freestanding building – originally a service centre for long haul trucks – which had been retrofitted specifically for the purpose of showing contemporary art by Jeffrey Deitch in 1997.

“We are proud to celebrate 25 years of Swiss Institute in New York and to continue the integral cultural dialogue between Switzerland, Europe and the United States,” said Fabienne Abrecht, Swiss Institute board chair, about the relocation.

The move means the Swiss Institute is now able to welcome visitors from the ground floor of a store front building, leaving behind their third floor gallery space further uptown, which made attracting visitors difficult.

The institute’s director and curator Gianni Jetzer said since the gallery opened in mid-September the number of visitors has already tripled.

“Before we only had the highly specialised art lovers and now that we are more accessible to visitors I think we can cater more to people who have general cultural awareness,” Jetzer told

Industrial cathedral

Jetzer is hoping to create a triangle of art with two other non-profit New York galleries – The Drawing Center and Artist’s Space – which are minutes away by foot.  The idea is to develop a destination for visitors who can experience three separate galleries in one trip to SoHo.

The new Swiss Institute gallery space is a late 19th century pre-fabricated building, with 24-foot-high  ceilings and skylights that bring in natural light.

“It opens up like a small industrial cathedral,” Jetzer said. A new problem is changing the light bulbs, which a recently purchased 18 foot ladder could not help achieve.

The move to a store front location was a “long time dream”, said Jetzer, who had scouted suitable and affordable spaces for over four years, with no luck.

But it was one of the gallery’s board members who came up with the idea of taking over Deitch’s famed gallery space, which became free when Deitch became the director of Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art in June last year.

“I knew that the space was empty,  but I never thought that it would have been possible for us to make this step. I am surprised by it, it’s a little miracle,” Jetzer said. 

Fund raising

The relocation was the result of a successful fundraising campaign, which includes support from Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, the LUMA Foundation, Swiss Re, UBS, and The Friends of Swiss Institute.

For the past three years, the institute has also received funding from the NY City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, in what the institute sees as a sign of recognition of its mission to foster dialogue between the NY arts scene and Switzerland.

“Other non-profits have been hurt by the financial crisis and we have not, we have still been able to grow,” said Jetzer. 

With a five-year lease signed for the new location, Jetzer is hoping that the institute will grow from being a “hidden gem”, as the New York Times once called it, to a more prominent showcase for contemporary art.

Swiss Institute opened its new space with This Is Not My Color/The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a joint exhibition by Swiss artist Pamela Rosenkranz and German-born Nikolas Gambaroff, which runs until October 30.

Swiss Institute was founded in 1986, originally occupying two modest-sized living rooms at the Swiss Townhouse on 67th Street, and run entirely by volunteers.

Between 1992 and 1995, corporate contributions more than doubled.

In 1994 increased funding allowed the institute to move to a large loft space in SoHo on Broadway, where they remained until moving earlier this month.

In 2001 the institute decided to focus its efforts on contemporary art.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR