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Artgenève bridges Switzerland's language divide

Eighth edition of fair attracts more blue-chip and German-speaking Swiss galleries keen to meet Geneva's Francophone collectors

The Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj's work with Taymour Grahne at Artgenève. Two works, Alo Wala and Marc Hare, have been sold to an American museum Courtesy of the artist and Taymour Grahne, London.

The eighth edition of Artgenève (until 3 February) in French-speaking Geneva has gained the participation of more heavyweight and German-speaking Swiss galleries, whilst cementing its reputation as a small, quality “salon d'art” fair.

Held at Palexpo convention centre, its 95 exhibiting galleries this year include first-time participants such as Hauser & Wirth, Eva Presenhuber (Zurich), Capitain Petzel (Berlin), Kamel Mennour (Paris and London) and Raffaella Cortese (Milan).

“With the emphasis of our St Moritz space [which opened in December] and Swiss artists like Pipilotti Rist, the timing felt right to present our DNA to Geneva's Swiss audience,” says Zoe Sperling, a director at Hauser & Wirth. The gallery is showing only female artists, in a booth entitled Femmes, and early sales include a painting by Jenny Holzer ($150,000) and a 1968 sculpture by Alina Szapocznikow (€120,000).

The fair’s chief appeal for Eva Presenhuber, whose gallery is in German-speaking Zurich (a three hour drive away), is that it offers the chance to get to know Geneva's collectors. “We're hoping to introduce our programme, based on fantastic Swiss artists, to great collections in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, which we don't know yet,” Presenhuber says. “People [here] should buy art once a year from Artgenève rather than New York and Paris.”

Meanwhile, Marie-Sophie Eiché-Demester, a director at Kamel Mennour which has sold works by Neil Beloufa (€50,000), Valentin Carron (€18,000) and Robin Rhode (€60,000), says: “I visited last year and we decided to join because of the fair's good energy.”

Neil Beloufa's Big Cars A (2019), sold at Artgenève © archives kamel mennour. Courtesy the artist, and kamel mennour, Paris/London

Thomas Hug, Artgenève's director, believes the new participation reflects interest from Swiss-German visitors: “The Zurich audience was the last group of visitors, following Paris, Italy and London, and it breaks down the Röstigraben, or cultural barrier, between French and German-speaking Switzerland.” Presentations of Michael Ringier's collection and African photography from Jean Pigozzi's collection, plus the ongoing inclusion of PAD Genève, the art and design fair, helps maintain a sense of quality and selectivity, he believes.

According to Karin Handlbauer, director of Galerie Mezzanin (Geneva), which has sold two paintings by Martha Jungwirth (CHF21,000 and CHF22,000), the fair's growing success is due to its location and timing: “Artgenève works as a small, good quality fair because it's in Switzerland; it wouldn't work in another country. Collectors can come here and then go skiing with friends in Gstaad.”

Among the highlights area a presentation of sculptures by Joana Vasconcelos at Gowen Contemporary (Geneva); textile works by the Romanian artist Marion Baruch with the Geneva-based gallery Laurence Bernard, winner of the best stand, and Hassan Hajjaj's solo show at Taymour Grahne (London), where two of the Moroccan artist's staged photographic portraits, framed in tin food cans and priced between £11,000-£13,500, have been bought by an American museum.

Mamco, the contemporary art museum of Geneva, is also showing an evolving display of acquisitions from Artgenève, made with a budget of CHF100,000 donated by Switzerland’s Mirabaud banking group, starting with Natalie Czech's appropriated Poems of Repetition (€10,000 from Capitain Petzel) and Hessie's typed 1978 Machine à Ecrire (€13,000 from Arnaud Lefebvre, Paris).