This weekend 10 of Bern's contemporary art galleries will be opening their doors to the public from 11 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday, showing works by 16 very different artists.
Although the event has no official theme, a delight in playfulness and storytelling comes through in many of the pieces on display.
Jean Tinguely's whimsical graphics at Kornfeld, M.S. Bastian's cartoon paintings at Krebs, and Philippe Winninger's fragile plastic constructions at the Kunstkeller all show a love of fantasy.
Hans Thomann's installation at the Brügger gallery plays on the word "sight", while Silvia Gertsch's photos, taken at night through the window of a moving car, play with quality of sight itself.
Jupp Linssen's playfulness reveals itself at Haldemann in a painting that wraps itself around a corner, and at Henze and Ketterer, the Kubach-Wilmsen couple tease visitors with their sculptures of books carved from stone.
Ernst Ramseier's woodcuts at Art and Vision tell straightforward stories, as do Dänu Boemle's cold-eyed women at Ramseyer & Kaelin; for more tongue-in-cheek communication, there are Kaeseberg's dadaesque constructions at Rigassi.
All in all, the weekend, sponsored by the Verein Berner Galerien (Bernese Gallery Association), offers an interesting juxtaposition of contemporary talent.
Held this year for the 12th time, the annual gallery weekend has become a very popular winter tradition. "More people come into in my gallery during the open-house weekend than over a period of six months," says Martin Krebs, one of the founding members of the association.
The event serves to let people know that the galleries welcome them even when they have no intention of buying. Naturally, the proprietors want to sell paintings and sculptures, but they are also eager to familiarise the public with contemporary artworks.
"The weekend is a huge amount of work," says gallery owner Margrit Haldemann. "But it's worth it because it brings in such a mixed public. There are people who come faithfully every year who would never otherwise set foot in a gallery."
Later this year the association will sponsor joint openings on the evenings of April 28th and August 23rd. Also, the association's 1999 sculpture show at Muri's Villa Mettlen was so successful that members plan to repeat the event in 2002, and Krebs hopes that it will become a triennial tradition.
Another tradition that is already entering its fifth year is the evening of public discussion and debate held during the gallery weekend. This year it will take place at 6 p.m. on January 20 in the university's Auditorium Maximum and will feature an exchange of ideas among eight art experts with very different perspectives on the business of selling art.
The evening of discussion will be introduced by gallery owner Wolfgang Henze, president of the Bernese Gallery Association. For Henze, the association is important not only because of the events it sponsors but also as a vehicle for representing the gallery owners' interests and educating people about galleries' role in the art world.
"Art only lives when it is shown, and contemporary art can only be shown when there are galleries," says Henze. "Galleries provide hundreds more square feet of space for modern art than museums do - and galleries are free. So they offer art lovers a real service."
In order for successful galleries to exist, however, people must trust gallery owners. "Our association works to increase respect for the profession by holding its members to a set of rules and expecting them to sell works of a certain quality," explains Henze.
The Bernese group belongs to an association of Swiss art galleries that publishes a magazine and maintains a website (address below).
by Kim Hays