Preconceptions of Zurich Contemporary Art Weekend probably include an atmosphere of tram-swift efficiency, glitzy vernissages and Alp-white cubes adorned with blue-chip work chosen to tempt but not overly trouble well-heeled buyers en route to Basel.
This is not wide of the mark. Long known as an open-house weekend, in the last few years the galleries have organised themselves into a more formal coalition: the weekend encompasses 29 institutions and galleries, including Hauser & Wirth and the Kunsthaus Zurich, which mount their best shows and stay open late and on Sunday. Visitors last weekend included the US video connoisseurs Richard and Pam Kramlich, renowned 20th-century curator Carmen Gimenez and British artist Phyllida Barlow, not to mention Swiss heavy-hitters such as Thomas Koerfer, whose father’s Van Gogh was sold for $71.5m in 1998.
The art fulfilled the most illustrious expectations. A trend for coupling up was set by the exchange between Kazimir Malevich and Donald Judd at Galerie Gmurzynska (to September 15). Hauser & Wirth rivalled it with a museum-quality encounter between the US sculptors Alexander Calder and David Smith (to September 16). Meanwhile, at impressive younger showcase BolteLang, intriguing wall grids by the Swiss sculptor Athene Galiciadis made elegant counterpoints to mosaic-style, geometric portraits by the American artist Ruby Sky Stiler (to July 15).
“It’s worth putting on a special show because Art Weekend is the only time we have a truly international crowd,” observed the gallery co-owner Chaja Lang. The weekend’s epicentre is Lowenbrau, the former brewery on Limmatstrasse which now houses around 20 spaces, including three Hauser & Wirth showrooms (one is a pop-up), two spaces for Galerie Eva Presenhuber and public institutions including Zurich Kunsthalle, currently home to a dizzying, two-floor homage to the conceptual artist Michael Riedel (to August 13).
Nevertheless, there are vital appointments elsewhere. Galerie Mai 36, an intimate old-school vitrine on Rämistrasse, has a magnetic display of recent photographs by Thomas Ruff (to July 29). At a packed talk on Saturday afternoon between Ruff and the photography curator Urs Stahel, the mix of guests — from Gucci-loafered gents to tattooed, theory-loaded youngsters — hinted at a Berlin-cool vibe lurking beneath Zurich’s Rolex-sleek façade.
That grittier edge enjoyed a Californian spin at Karma International, who also have an LA space. Opened in 2009 in a Brutalist-style shopping mall across the river from Löwenbräu, the stunning diamond-shaped space hosted a spine-chilling show, Sugaring Off, by 25-year-old LA-based Flannery Silva. Through custom-made pushchairs and lightbox self-portraits as a kinky nursemaid, Silva reveals herself as a dystopian dreamer destined to disturb us for decades to come.
Karma say that Art Weekend is evermore fruitful. “Originally, collectors dropped in for a couple of hours and just visited a few spaces en route to Basel,” said co-owner Marina Olsen. “But now they’re starting to . . . stay overnight so they get to us.”
In truth soaring temperatures saw many connoisseurs interrupt their peregrinations for a dip in the Limmat river. Rather than “What have you seen that’s good?” it was “Have you got your swimsuit?” that was the question on everybody’s lips at cocktail hour this year.