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Stories Written

Zurich Art Prize Winners 2007–2023


The exhibition Stories Written – Zurich Art Prize Winners 2007–2023 honors the long-standing partnership between Museum Haus Konstruktiv and Zurich Insurance Company Ltd. This group show presents selected works by previous winners of the renowned Zurich Art Prize. Pieces by Carsten Nicolai, Ryan Gander, Mai-Thu Perret, Adrián Villar Rojas, Mariana Castillo Deball, Haroon Mirza, Latifa Echakhch, Nairy Baghramian, Robin Rhode, Leonor Antunes, Amalia Pica, Sonia Kacem, Kapwani Kiwanga and Damián Ortega will be on display.

Curated by Sabine Schaschl, Evelyne Bucher, Eliza Lips

Exhibition handout

The Zurich Art Prize was set up in 2007 by Haus Konstruktiv, together with Zurich Insurance Company Ltd, patron partner of the museum. Every year since, an independent artist has been honored, who operates at the interfaces where the cultural heritage of constructivist-concrete and conceptual art meets contemporary trends. Since 2018, the donated prize has consisted of an CHF 80,000 budget for the production of a solo exhibition and CHF 20,000 in prize money.

The exhibition Stories Written brings together 14 prize-winners* from the years 2007 to 2023, in a group show spanning the two uppermost floors of the museum. The selection of works, with a focus on more recent pieces, provides up-to-date insight into each respective artistic practice. Together, the exhibits offer a refreshing overview – not only of contemporary art in Switzerland and abroad, but also of approaches to incorporating the history of constructivist-concrete and conceptual art.

In the first exhibition room on the fifth floor, four large-format works by Robin Rhode (born in Cape Town, ZA, lives and works in Berlin) from the series Blues Vignette (2023) can be seen. This artist is known for combining street art, painting, drawing, performance and photography to create poetic visual short b stories. To this day, many of these are set in front of, and in dialog with, a wall in a public space in Johannesburg, where Rhode gets people to interact with everyday objects or geometric patterns that he has sketched. With poetic lightness and activist vehemence, themes such as racism, violence and repression are addressed, which concern Rhode, particularly with regard to the history of his home country. For Blues Vignette, Rhode was inspired by the poem Blues in Black and White, in which Afro-German poet and activist May Ayim (1960–1996) used musical metaphors to write about the reunification of Germany during ongoing social and cultural exclusion of the black population. Presented at Haus Konstruktiv, the black-and-white photographic works applied to canvas show a young couple posing like dancers in front of the aforementioned wall. The artist has embellished the photographs with blue spray-paint. The bodies are gently enveloped by delicate mountain formations or drops of water, creating moments of calm, hope and beauty in the midst of a city that, according to the artist, has been betrayed and abandoned.

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Ryan Gander, Something that 'is' versus something that 'occurs', 2023, installation view, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, 2024. Photo: Stefan Altenburger.

Something that ‘is’ versus something that ‘occurs’ (2023) is the title of the installation by Ryan Gander (born in 1976 in Chester, UK, lives and works in London) in the next room. It features a locker system made of transparent acrylic glass that reveals the objects enclosed within: backpacks, paper bags, sunglasses, coffee mugs, items of clothing, care products and much more. Each arrangement appears twice. Notions of singularity, randomness and privacy associated with depositing personal belongings in a locker are thoroughly undermined in this installation. To no small extent, the things on display invite observers to imagine the lives of their fictitious owners.

The piece Maintainers D (2018) is part of a larger series, in which Nairy Baghramian (born in 1971 in Isfahan, IR, lives and works in Berlin) explores the process of creating cast sculptures. The work exhibited here is made up of several closely related elements: a rough rectangle of cast aluminum, two organic forms in polished wax, and clamps made of metal and cork. The latter join the aluminum panel onto the matt-yellow wax body. The material used in Maintainers D, its degree of processing, and the combination and positioning of the individual components, all inherently suitable for forming a sculpture, evoke ideas of connection and dependence, as well as preservation and destruction.

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Exhibition view with works by Mariana Castillo Deball, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, 2024. Photo: Stefan Altenburger

Driven by her interest in historical facts, in traditional myths, and in experiences and methods pertaining to time’s measurability, Mariana Castillo Deball (born in 1975 in Mexico City, lives and works in Berlin) has realized numerous immersive art projects, including Calendar Fall Away (2022), her contribution to the 59th Biennale di Venezia. In Venice, this artist transformed the entire floor of the Mexican Pavilion into a walk-through picture, with a series of woodcuts. The depictions carved into the wood tell of the colonization of America from the early 16th century onward, incorporating a multitude of historical references. Allusions to the Spanish colonizers’ belief systems, and their notions of time and space, are just as present here as symbols or other traces of pre-Columbian civilizations. Three large-format woodcuts from the multi-part series are now on display at Museum Haus Konstruktiv. As fragments, they provide access to the former overall composition and make it possible to experience the dense web that Castillo Deball spun, even in this smaller space. Calendar Fall Away 85, for example, shows an illustration of the letter ‘N’ from Diego de Valadés’s mnemonic alphabet, which played an important role in the Christianization of the population. There is also an element from a handbook for Franciscan missionaries, which itself harks back to a Valadés copperplate engraving from 1579. The section is rounded off with decorative features that the artist remembers from her grandparents’ home.

Adrián Villar Rojas (born in Rosario, AR, lives and works nomadically) conceives long term projects, collectively and collaboratively produced, that take the shape of large-scale and site-specific installations, both imposing and fragile. Within his research, which mixes sculpture, drawing, video, literature and performative traces, the artist explores the conditions of a humanity at risk, on the verge of extinction or already extinct, tracing the multi-species boundaries of a post-anthropocene time folded in on itself, in which past, present and future converge. In Stories Written, Villar Rojas presents three sculptures rooted in the series Brick Farm, inspired by the Argentinian hornero bird, which makes its nests from mud, straw, and rubble, adapting them to human-built surroundings. In the new work, however, there is a shift from the organic ephemeral sculptures inspired by the hornero to a more artificial, yet still more-than-human, mode of materiality. Using an amalgamation of software systems collectively described as the Time Engine, Villar Rojas generated a series of intensely detailed virtual worlds and placed sculptures within them. Simulating conditions – ranging from environmental to socio-political across timespans ranging from hours to millennia – the Time Engine has allowed him to develop his already experimental sculptural practice to create work in places and times that surpass our tangible realities. As the extreme conditions of each world bore down on the sculptures, they became ever more complex and harrowed. Fires scorched them, altered gravity distorted them. Unrest toppled them, wars wounded them. Other life forms sheltered within or bloomed upon them. The artist modeled worlds, which in turn modeled the sculptures.

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Exhibition view with works by Leonor Antunes, Damiàn Ortega und Mai-Thu Perret, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, 2024. Photo: Stefan Altenburger

In the columned hall on the fourth floor of the museum, the wall-sized textile work Les étangs (The Ponds) by Mai-Thu Perret (born in 1976 in Geneva, where she also lives and works) invites visitors to immerse themselves and linger. This work was part of a solo exhibition in Le Havre, France, for which Perret playfully engaged with the city’s architecture, and with integration thereof into the history of modernism and tropícalismo. The inspiration for textile’s design, with its organic amoeba-like forms, came from a 1938 gouache by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. He is considered the father of tropical garden design and, influenced by modern artists such as Jean Arp and by the fauna of his home country, he designed and realized countless distinctive gardens. The first of these, for which the aforementioned design drawing was produced, he installed on the roof of the Ministry of Health in Rio de Janeiro. The language of forms in Burle Marx’s ‘living pictures’ was inspired by the plant world. By transferring this language to an art venue, Perret cultivates it for a second time. The theatrical dimension of this process is emphasized by the fact that the artist has based her textile on a stage curtain.

On the opposite wall, a multi-part work by Latifa Echakhch (born in 1974 in Morocco, lives and works in Vevey) is presented. The four large-format paintings titled Last Black (2024) were created using a décollage technique. This involved applying a thin layer of concrete to the canvases, then painting over them with black acrylic paint. By means of a palette knife, the artist gradually removed parts of the hardened monochrome coating, thus exposing more and more of the (now gray) canvas from picture to picture. The dark patterns that remain are astonishingly delicate and of an almost organic quality. They have a fascinating relationship with the act of forceful removal, which has inscribed itself into the fabric as signs of scratching and scraping. Somewhat unlike other works from the same series, in which figurative fragments of painted subjects based on photographs can be recognized, Last Black brings the material and the procedure itself to the fore. In four parts, the presence and absence, or visibility and invisibility, of canvas, concrete and paint tell of the process of creation and destruction, which plays a central role in Latifa Echakhch’s artwork, both technically and thematically.

The leather structure hanging from the ceiling is by Leonor Antunes (born in 1972 in Lisbon, lives and works in Berlin). Part of her random intersections series, which began in 2007 and is still ongoing, this work is a modification of leather ropes used for horses. It is based on collages by the Italian architect, designer and photographer Carlo Mollino (1905–1973), which he produced as preliminary studies for the construction of Società Ippica Torinese, a riding school in Turin, built in the late 1930s but already demolished in 1960. As is the case for most of her works, Antunes collaborated with artisans (in this instance, experts in traditional leather processing techniques) to produce her objects with the utmost care. The artfully intertwined leather straps are connected to the exhibition space by a hemp rope. In the interplay of light and shadow, they develop a haunting presence, while the title of the series draws attention to literal and metaphorical ‘intersections’ – where not only lines and surfaces, but also art history (or art stories) and contemporary art meet.

In the same half of the room, two works by Damián Ortega can be seen. These are based on Theo van Doesburg’s spatial studies for the 1920s project Maison Particulière. Ortega has transferred Van Doesburg’s floating structures (in primary colors, white and black) to thin wooden floor panels. While Ortega largely retains the unity of the isometric drawing for Deconstructing Theo, he goes a step further in Sinnlos Theo (Meaningless Theo). By shifting individual panels after the aforementioned transfer, the artist disrupts the sobriety and coherence of the historical model. The title of this artwork refers to the impaired legibility that taking apart the visual structure entails. It also refers to Ortega’s time in Berlin, to ‘slips’ and misunderstandings that occur in communication using an unfamiliar language.

Amalia Pica (born in 1978 in Neuquén, AR, lives and works in London) is represented in the exhibition by a number of small-format collages and two objects. All of the works belong to her series Catachresis (ongoing since 2011), which revolves around the eponymous rhetorical device, in which several semantically incongruous or even contradictory verbal images are combined to form a textual unit: ‘legs of the chair’ or ‘tongue of the shoe’ for example. Pica generates her linguistic imagery from fragments of magazines or other found material, which she assembles as witty structures with anthropomorphic or animal-like features. With this series of works, Pica looks into the mixing of these word creations and takes them to the point of absurdity in a dadaist manner. Catachresis is typical of this artist’s oeuvre, which is characterized by astute and playful exploration of language, imagination and communication.

500 ft. by Kapwani Kiwanga (born in 1978 in Hamilton, CA, lives and works in Paris), in the cabinet behind, has been shown once before at Museum Haus Konstruktiv: as part of this artist’s solo exhibition in connection with the 2022 Zurich Art Prize. In this sound piece, Kiwanga can be heard speaking in a matter-of-fact way about the architecture of specific institutions such as prisons or hospitals, about the social hygiene movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe, and about color theory and color experiments. Played in a loop, anecdotes and quotes combine to form a meandering narrative that highlights the connecting lines between stories of surveillance and exclusion – stories that are disparate in terms of both time and space. This is accompanied by the mural Linear Painting #15: Birren Beach Sand – Light Gray (U.S. Coast Guard’s Shore Establishments). Its color change at a height of 160 centimeters is a reference to a proposal made at the 1905 International Congress on Tuberculosis, held in Paris: As a means of curbing this bacterial infectious disease, it was suggested that hospital walls should be coated with a washable paint, up to this exact height – an episode that Kiwanga also mentions in 500 ft. As the title of the mural suggests, the color combination harks back to color theorist Faber Birren of the USA. He worked as an industrial color consultant in the 1930s and also advised the US military on the design of various facilities, with the aim of improving aspects such as workplace morale and staff safety. This presentation of work demonstrates Kiwanga’s interest in historical and contemporary power imbalances, and the institutionalization thereof.

Sonia Kacem (born in 1985 in Geneva, where she also lives and works) operates in the domains of sculpture and installation. Drawing inspiration from movements such as minimal art, as well as from Arab Islamic art, Kacem is interested in various forms of abstraction, in transitions between surface and volume, and in questions of scale. The two-part wall-mounted object Bruxelles (2020/21), exhibited in the second cabinet, is emblematic of this artist’s engagement with these themes. Kacem has harmonized the scale and volume of the two objects, which were originally created as independent works for a solo show in Brussels. The colorfulness of the structures covered in awning fabric (one gleaming in red and blue, the other in red and orange) is such that they almost seem to want to provoke dialog with the public, and at the same time, protruding far into the confined space, they keep observers at a distance.

In the smaller exhibition space on the fourth floor, works made with light by Haroon Mirza and a floor piece in glass by Carsten Nicolai are presented. Mirza (born in 1977 in London, where he also lives and works) operates in an installation-based, experimental manner. By means of light, sound and/or video, he creates unusual perceptual experiences, for which he uses older technical equipment, such as cassette recorders or record players,as well as solar cells or state-of-the-art computer systems. He is represented at Haus Konstruktiv by two wall-mounted pieces from the series Light Works (2012–2023). These are drawings made using red, green and blue LED strips, whose electromagnetic waves combine within the space to form white light. The lengths of the strips are derived from their respective radiance, or the ratio between the RGB colors’ intensities. The drawings in red, green and blue are arranged here with a size ratio of 1:3:6. Cables and copper bands interconnect the individual strips and create a closed circuit, in a deliberately reduced language of forms. Inspired by works of minimal art from the 1960s, such as Fred Sandback’s spatial sculptures in yarn and Dan Flavin’s light works, Mirza investigates the presence of light and its interaction with the space – in systematic line drawings made using electricity and the RGB color system.

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Carsten Nicolai, Perfect Square, 2004, installation view, Museum Haus Konstruktiv, 2024. Photo: Stefan Altenburger.

In the second half of the room, the work Perfect Square (2004) by Carsten Nicolai (born 1965 in Chemnitz, formerly Karl-Marx-Stadt, DE, lives and works in Berlin and Chemnitz) is on display. Nicolai, best known for his sound and light installations, addresses scientific phenomena in his oeuvre, as well as the visualization of hidden systems of order. This floor piece visualizes a mathematical principle via layered mirrored glass surfaces: A ‘simple perfect squared square’ is one made up entirely of unequally sized individual squares. The fact that this requires at least 21 individual squares was mathematically proven in 1978.

Carsten Nicolai became the very first winner of the Zurich Art Prize in 2007 and Perfect Square was part of his solo exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv. After that show, this artwork was added to the museum’s in-house collection. With its renewed presentation, it thus provides symbolic parentheses for the story of the Zurich Art Prize to date – and for the many stories that have already been written in connection with this award.

Would you like to know more about the Zurich Art Prize winners’ past solo exhibitions at Haus Konstruktiv? Here you you can browse through our digital exhibition archive and revisit all the prize winners’ presentations in images and texts.

*The winners of the Zurich Art Prize in 2008 and 2017, Tino Sehgal and Marguerite Humeau, are not represented in this group exhibition due to organizational reasons.

The Zurich Art Prize is part of Zurich Insurance Company Ltd’s commitment to culture

Museum Haus Konstruktiv is supported by its patrons, members and

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