The hectic, breathless momentum of the Swiss art scene around 1980 marked a watershed in young and new Swiss art. In Basel the Kunsthalle, led by Jean-Christophe Ammann, specifically opened its doors to the latest currents; in Zurich, where young protesters set the agenda in the summer of 1980, the exhibition “Saus und Braus” captured the mood, with young art adding its voice to a highly charged situation.(1) Although the flamboyant painting of the Neue Wilde dominated the discourse, the art scene itself was very open-minded. Martin Disler and Miriam Cahn were as much part of it as Urs Lüthi, Fischli and Weiss, and Klaudia Schifferle, who was both a painter and a musician. Anselm Stalder, known as much for his drawings as his paintings, was one of the youngest protagonists. His work was shown alongside that of exponents of “new painting,” but his compositions had little in common with the demonstrative immediacy and rapid spontaneity of that trend. While the latter was described as neo-expressionism, Stalder’s work had more to do with objectivity.
In 1977, following two semesters as a student reading art history, ethnology, and philosophy at Basel University, Stalder embarked without further ado on a career as an artist. Soon he was producing sculptures as well as paintings, and in 1983 he commented on his own approach: “In the same way that I am not a painter, I am also not a sculptor. In the same way that I have to reflect on painting, I also have to reflect on sculpture, in order to be able to do my work.”(2) Stalder was soon very successful. In 1984 at the age of 28, when he already had various gallery exhibitions and group shows behind him as well as solo exhibitions at the Kunsthaus Zürich and the Kunstmuseum Basel, Stalder played out his ideas in the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.(3) The term “playing out” is used intentionally here, because Stalder’s exhibitions are always through-composed zones with interconnected individual works or groups of works (often with very complex titles) and precise mise-en-scènes that the public can move around in—as if in an enclosed pictorial space.
Stalder’s oeuvre of drawings and works on paper is vast. In his most important early exhibition, “Der Bergbau” at the Kunstmuseum Basel in 1982, he showed six paintings and over three hundred works on paper. The gouaches in the Baloise art collection date from that period. They take us into a very specific world of things. Even if its pictorial vocabulary and the things themselves are easy to read—possibly even reminiscent of figures in a child’s construction kit—this is by no means true of the “text” or the potential “texts” that arise from these constellations of figures. Much later on, Stalder chose the title As if for an extensive series of works (2000–12).(4) The individual works in this series are not merely executed using different techniques, the nature of their presentation is generally also a constitutive part of the work. Language, language theories, and specific semantics are key concepts in Stalder’s myriad, multifariously reflective body of artistic work. The drawings from 1980 and 1982 marked the evolutionary beginning of an oeuvre that is as diverse as it is extensive. For over 40 years Stalder—as open to new ideas as ever—has comprehensively engaged not only with the conditionalities and meaning of art, painting, and language, but also with the artistic reception of the world in its widest sense. His work, which, for all its “apparent simplicity” is “concentrated and complex,” revolves around “bodies and space, perception, and language,”(5) and in the context of recent Swiss art, poses a truly demanding challenge to the viewer.
(1) Saus und Braus. Stadtkunst, ed. Bice Curiger, exh. cat. Städtische Galerie zum Strauhof, Zurich 1980. Anselm Stalder’s work was not represented at this exhibition in Zurich.
(2) Anselm Stalder, “Provisorisches zu meinen Plastiken und Bildern,” in Anselm Stalder. Der Baumeister und sein Begleiter, der Zauberlehrling (Eine Doppelfigur), ed. Elisabeth Kaufmann, with texts by Anselm Stalder and Patrick Frey, exh. cat. Galerie Konrad Fischer, Zurich 1983, unpaginated.
(3) For more on this, see Anselm Stalder. Der Bergbau, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Basel 1982; see also Toni Stoos, “Anselm Stalder. Das 5. Rad der Trilogie,” in Mitteilungsblatt der Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft 5 (1982); Anselm Stalder. Il ricevitore e le 5 gambe del disertore, exh. cat. Swiss Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Bundesamt für Kulturpflege, Bern 1984.
(4) See Barbara von Flüe, “Working on a Vibrating Horizon. On Anselm Stalder’s As if Series,” trans. Fiona Elliott, in Anselm Stalder. Glimmende Peripherie, exh. cat. Kunstmuseum Solothurn, Zurich 2012, p. 119–27.
(5) Christoph Vögele, “Preface,” in Anselm Stalder. Glimmende Peripherie, p. 49–53, here p. 49.
Further works by Anselm Stalder in the Baloise art collection:
Inv. no. 0648–0650, each: Untitled, 1989–1990, Watercolor on molton, 97.3 x 77 cm
Inv. no. 0670, Untitled, 1981, Acrylic on cotton, 79 x 99.2 cm
Inv. no. 0671, Am Rand der Wüste, 1985, Acrylic on canvas, 140 x 140 cm
Inv. no. 0717, Untitled, 1975, Pencil and watercolor on paper, 17.5 x 25 cm
Inv. no. 0733, Doppelköpfe, 1978, Pencil and gouache on paper, 29.8 x 84 cm
Inv. no. 0734, Untitled, 1988, Pastel on paper, 34 x 24 cm
Inv. no. 0735, Untitled, 1982, Monotype on paper, 35.6 x 27 cm
Inv. no. 0736, Untitled, n. d., Watercolor on paper, 70 x 49.5 cm
Inv. no. 0737, Palazzo di vetro con quattro piani per la memoria, 1987, Pencil on paper, 41.7 x 29.7 cm
Inv. no. 0738, Der nicht vollendete Zylinder, 1986, Neocolor on paper, 42 x 29.6 cm
Inv. no. 0742, Untitled, 1986, Monotype with copper ink on paper, 27.8 x 35.3 cm
Inv. no. 0743, Mann mit Schlauch, 1981, Gouache on paper, 14.6 x 21 cm
Inv. no. 0744, Dreerlam, 1978, Gouache on paper, 31 x 46 cm
Inv. no. 0881, Untitled, 1982, Watercolor on paper, 47.9 x 33.9 cm
Inv. no. 0882, Untitled, 1982, Pencil, watercolor, gouache and collage on paper, 34.8 x 49.8 cm