Zurich exists under a cloud of clichés so thick, from a distance it’s hard to get any real idea of Switzerland’s largest city. But once on the ground, it’s only too apparent that the city chicly nestled on its expansive namesake lake is a hotbed of contemporary culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the monolithic Löwenbräu Kunst, a shining example of how a rich, vibrant art community can be encouraged to grow, and a clear indication that Switzerland is about more than just metronomic clockwork.
The converted Löewenbräu brewery has been the go-to art destination since its initial conversion in 1996. But its more recent renovation two years ago, a collaboration between Gigon/Guyer and Aterlier ww has seen the sprawling 1897 building expand upwards with a startling black residence tower – a phoenix, rising in glory from the ashes. It now houses the Kunsthalle Zürich and the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, two of the most important museums for contemporary art in Zurich, as well as an impressive lineup of contemporary galleries including Westbau, Galerie Freymond-Guth and Hauser & Wirth. At this last, I saw an extraordinarily moving installation of works by Louise Bourgeois, L’araignée et les tapisseries. It was a continuation of her well known Spider series, exploring the spider as a mother figure, carefully and patiently working, waiting and caring. But extended with the introduction of figurative tapestry pieces which, for me introduced a much more haunted aspect. This part of the work appears to be dealing with deep pain and a need to purge and repair.
The architectural excellence of the Löenbrau conversion is indisputable; it’s totally fit for purpose, a best practice case study in adaptive reuse. But what really makes the Löwenbräu Kunst complex shine is the quality of the tenants – ranging from great galleries to interesting shops to creative offices. Clearly, there is a commitment on the part of the developer to not only revive, but to enrich this part of town with an almost ideal mix of businesses. Such visionaries are rare, and to be prized.