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Interviewed by Marco Arrigoni

Art as a Prize: the Zurich Art Prize Sabine Schaschl, Director of Museum Haus Konstruktiv

Marco Arrigoni: “The prize reflects an important link between the history of constructivist, concrete and conceptual approaches and their continuing impact, through to the present day.” How do you think this reflection around the themes of the award takes place?

Sabine Schaschl: Museum Haus Konstruktiv believes that one of its key tasks is to encourage contemporary art that addresses the content of the museum with a broadened understanding. Taking the thematic accomplishments of the Zurich Concretists (Max Bill, Richard Paul Lohse, Verena Loewensberg, and Camille Graeser) as a starting point, Museum Haus Konstruktiv occupies itself with the contentual continuation thereof, through to contemporary art. Thus, rather than honoring history in the traditional sense, the Zurich Art Prize honors an independent artist who operates at the interfaces where the cultural heritage of constructivist-concrete and conceptual art, on the one hand, meets contemporary art concepts and research on the other hand.

MA: What is the main feature of the exhibitions that arise from the Zurich Art Prize?

SS: The winning artist is free to conceptualize an exhibition at Museum Haus Konstruktiv and present his/her works to our audience. The artist presents his/her exhibition proposal in advance to me, and we discuss conceptual and practical topics. Most of the artists produce new works or integrate existing works within new ones, so that each Zurich Art Prize exhibition is a representation highlighting the newest concepts.

MA: Do you think it is important that a prize focuses on the place where it is located and on its history?

SS: Yes, I think so. The Zurich Art Prize was set up in 2007 by Museum Haus Konstruktiv together with Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., patron partner of the museum, and now has a strong international presence. Our partnership with Zurich Insurance Group Ltd. is based on a common understanding, in that both partners see the promotion of creative forces in our society as an important basis for social responsibility.

MA: What are the main criteria that lead to the nomination of the winner? And what are the parameters according to which the six nominated artists are chosen?

SS: Each year, as chairperson, I invite six curators, critics, and art experts to each nominate one artist who has already made an impression as a visible force on the international art scene, and who demonstrates an intellectual extrapolation of the constructivist-concrete and conceptual heritage within contemporary art. From the six nominated artists, a select jury of experts chooses the prize winner. As already mentioned above: the Zurich Art Prize honors an outstanding artistic position who operates at the interfaces where the cultural heritage of constructivist-concrete and conceptual art, on the one hand, meets contemporary discourses on the other hand.

In 2020, the Zurich Art Prize goes to Argentine artist Amalia Pica. The fact that Amalia Pica, with her constructivist and minimalist language of forms, shares the same substantial focus as Museum Haus Konstruktiv, was already established in the 2019 group exhibition Concrete Contemporary. She enthused the Zurich Art Prize jury by means of her precise engagement with political and sociological themes, based on scientific research and findings.

A ∩ B ∩ C (line), 2013. Installation with plexiglass forms and occasional performance. Courtesy of the artist and Herald St, London. Photo by: Andy Keate.

Sabine Schaschl, director of Museum Haus Konstruktiv in Zurich since 2013, is an art historian and curator of exhibitions on contemporary art and classical modernism, as well as an author and editor of academic publications and catalogs. From 2001 to 2013, she was director of Kunsthaus Baselland in Muttenz, Basel. Her work as a curator has encompassed exhibitions on socially relevant topics (e.g. Dada Differently, On the Metaphor of Growth and Cooling Out: On the Paradox of Feminism) as well as solo exhibitions on international artists, such as William Kentridge, Etel Adnan, Cerith Wyn Evans, Marlow Moss, Tomás Saraceno, Omer Fast, Javier Téllez, Laurent Grasso, Gal Weinstein and Sharon Ya’ari. Sabine Schaschl is a member of several art committees and juries, and was named Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic in 2010. In 2007, she received the Swiss Federal Award for Art and Art Mediation at the Swiss Art Awards.

Marco Arrigoni lives and works in Milan. He is an art consultant for Harper's Bazaar Italia, and writes about contemporary culture for Il Tascabile, Elle Decor Italia, and Capri Life. He won the Prada Foundation Degree Award in 2018. He studied literature and art history in Milan, Paris, and Zurich. He completed the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, CAS, ZHdK in 2020.

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