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Hauser & Wirth, group exhibition, titled ‘Chromophilia', in Zurich

In this interview, curator Tanya Barson at Hauser & Wirth, talks about her work for the gallery and the highly complex group exhibition, titled ‘Chromophilia', currently exhibiting various contemporary artists at gallery's space at Limmatstrasse, Zurich.

Images: Installation view, ‘Chromophilia’ at Hauser & Wirth Zurich, Limmatstrasse, until 12 March2021. The artists and estates. Courtesy the artists and estates. Photo: Jon Etter.

MM: What is your role at Hauser & Wirth?

Tanya Barson: My role is a curatorial one, which is my background, based in London but working as a Curator-at-Large where I’m needed across the Hauser & Wirth organisation. It’s a new role.

MM: What can you tell us about Hauser & Wirth's exhibition space at Limmatstrasse, Zurich?

T. B.: This is the first exhibition I have curated at the Hauser & Wirth gallery at Limmatstrasse. It’s a former brewery, so an adapted industrial building and it bears the traces of its past use, such as the tiled columns. Because of this history it is quite an idiosyncratic space, and more so that I expected since I was using the ground floor space which is large but does not follow a regular geometry. But it was fun to work with the idiosyncrasies.

MM: What characterises this exhibition space compared to Hauser & Wirth's new gallery at Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse?

T. B.: The new gallery at Bahnhofstrasse is very different. Its in a completely different part of the city, near the lake and on one of the most exclusive streets. It has glass walls so is quite challenging for showing some kinds of work. Having said that the exhibition I saw there, focusing on Max Bill and his circle, used the space beautifully.

MM: ow did you start planning the current 'Chromophilia' show? How did it come about?

T. B.: I’ve worked with colour as a theme before, mostly for collection presentations at Tate or MACBA. I’ve been interested in the cultural perception of colour for a long time however, particularly as I studied Matisse as a student. Though not in the show Matisse is another artist whose work addresses the use of colour in really inventive ways, he was the original fauvist, and was particularly influenced by visits to Morocco in his use of colour. I had read the book Chromophobia by David Batchelor some years ago and it seemed to me that the ideas that book addresses are still problematic in the art world and in wider culture today. Its an incredibly generous book, a great read and still very relevant. In Europe we still regard colour with suspicion – the chromophobia David identified - and its associations depend on our cultural conditioning. This exhibition was a further attempt to address and dismantle some of those ideas that denigrate colour or that aversion to colour and yet to do so in a joyful and generous way.

MM: What are the main themes in this exhibition?

T. B.: The central idea of the show is firstly to demonstrate how important colour has been to modern and contemporary artists, and to show how they have liberated or emancipated colour so that it is no longer secondary to line and form but is explored and celebrated in its own right. The other aspect was to address some of the cultural associations of colour that have resulted in its denigration in Western or European culture certainly since the Enlightenment. Colour is associated with other cultures, with childhood and with femininity and thus, as Batchelor explains, it has been othered. Vibrant colour particularly so. In contrast dark or muted colours, or the absence of colour has been associated with seriousness. All of this is down to a cultural construction or system that governs our lives and behaviours. We need to question and re-examine our relationship to colour, and the assumptions it is based on, and the artists and works in this exhibition help us to do so, they make us see the importance of colour in art and in the world anew. They make us see that there is a politics of colour that need to be addressed more fully.

MM: Does contemporary art enable the emancipation of colour and the study of colour as a subject of an artwork? And what methods do contemporary artists implement to expand our understanding of the colour's phenomenology and traditional perception of its symbolism?

T. B.: Colour has formed a huge area of investigation in the modern period, from the colour theory of Goethe to the colour exercises of the pedagogue Friedrich Froebel both of which were influences on the colour theory of the avant-garde particularly via the Bauhaus and Kandinsky, Klee and Albers. Later artists such as Yves Klein and Helio Oiticica explored colour as pigment for its scientific, phenomenological and cosmic properties. In many ways the philosophy of colour has been a huge part of the revolution in art that has taken place in the modern period. Contemporary artists inherit and continue that tradition.

MM: Is colour's phenomenology and its perceived meaning changed through the digitalization of communication and social interaction?

T. B.: Undoubtedly digital forms will change our relation to colour to some extent. All media or supports do so. But the cultural framework and ideas that govern our relationship to colour exist beyond any one media.


Tanya Barson is Senior Director (Curator-at-Large) at Hauser & Wirth. She was Chief Curator, MACBA, Barcelona 2016-2021; Curator of International Art, Tate Modern 2007-2016; Exhibitions and Collections Curator, Tate Liverpool 2004-2007; and Assistant Curator, Tate, Millbank, 1997-2004. She has curated important exhibitions of Felix Gonzalez-Torres (2021); Christian Marclay (2019); Rosemarie Castoro (2017); Georgia O’Keeffe (2016); Mira Schendel (2013); Ellen Gallagher (2007) and Frida Kahlo (2005) and the major thematic exhibition Afro Modern: Journeys Through the Black Atlantic (2010) among others. Her first exhibitions for Hauser & Wirth, Chromophilia in Zurich and Bodily Abstractions / Fragmented Anatomies in Monaco, opened in January 2022.

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