Geneva, 24 November 2011, Art Media Agency (AMA).
For the better understanding of the Swiss art market, Art Media Agency met the lawyer Mr. Pirker, an important actor in different fields of the Swiss art market. This meeting had for a goal to achieve an overview of the various artistic activities and specificities of this country standing so different in Europe as well as in the world.
Can you describe your various activities concerning art and the art market?
I am a business lawyer and art historian, I studied at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris. The double degree course allowed me to launch my research on lawyers in the field of internet, very trendy at the time. So I followed various start-ups working in the field of art and its market. In addition, I have what I call “law hobbies” that connect my education in law with the art. For example, I am an expert in intellectual and artistic property issue related to contemporary art, design, visual art and architecture. Since 2002 I have participated in auctions as an auctioneer with the Swiss auction house Koller. I started with photograph auctions, then furniture ones and today wine auctions. Finally, three years ago I created a publisher firm for art works with Simon Lamunière, the former curator of the Art Unlimited at Art Basel.
What are the specificities of this publishing house and how do you find artists?
The firm is not widely known yet (www.interversion.org, ardeis). It was created three years ago with Simon Lamunière; ARDEIS chose to publish fewer art works in order to concentrate on the quality of the final product. Every object has to be exceptional and demands a lot of upstream work, different prototypes and a lot of time. It is all necessary if we wish to achieve producing a superb and unique work. We have published three contemporary foreign artists. We choose brilliant artists with future ahead of them or already established ones, which we cannot find on the secondary market. The creations are sold straight to collectors. We intend to share our favourite works first of all for the artists and we are preparing a project to present published works to the public directly in the street, in rupture with all the publicity codes. Our objective with the “Galerie 1 m2” is to present art works to the public thanks to neon publicity signs following the example of Neon in Geneva, which changed the publicity codes in order to put the art in the street.
You have also organised a photography exhibition in Lausanne, can you tell us a few words about it?
In fact I have also organised, along with Daniel Girardin, a photography exhibition three years ago entitled “Controverses” associated with the book “Histoire juridique et éthique de la photographie” (“Legal and ethical history of photography”), published by Actes sud. The exhibition took place at the Musée de L’Élysée in Lausanne and then made a tour in Europe, at the Paris BNF (National Library of France), in Brussels, in Vienna, in Luxembourg, in Florence and in Prague. At the moment we discuss with two new venues in Europe to exhibit the original photography show. The exhibition highlights famous or unknown photographs that were the centre of polemics, from the beginnings of photography to contemporary art. The ensemble thus allows to better understand the way societies and cultures look at the images of their time, and to contemplate contemporary debates with a critical eye.
As a very active person in the field of Swiss art what do you think of the place of this country with regard to the European and intentional art market?
As everybody knows Switzerland is a stable country, secure and with a very strong currency at the moment. It has excellent infrastructure, a working bank system and a network of competent art market participants. Associated with a different tax system – Switzerland is not a part of the European Union – with strong market liquidity, with the free harbours and with Art Basel, this country has a well determined, unique place on the art market. There is also a very strong culture of secrecy, bank or lawyer, that is quite present in Switzerland and that reassures the participants on the art market, who are often looking for a certain confidentiality. It is for these reasons that Switzerland has its international influence.
When it comes to institutions, where is Switzerland positioned?
I have to remind that our country does not have an artistic history or tradition in cultural heritage such as France’s or England’s, but has also big public (MAMCO of Geneva or Kunsthaus Museum of Zurich) as well as private institutions (Fondation Beyeler and Paul Klee, Barbier-Mueller to name a few). Besides, we should not forget that the Swiss cities do not have the same scale as foreign cities such as Paris, London or New York and that their international impact is naturally different. Switzerland’s importance today is not concentrated in its institutions, since they are scattered on its territory and are often dependant of the canton politics. Even me, I am not aware of everything that happens on artistic level in Switzerland!
According to you does a Swiss art market exist or are there just different participants that work in an independent manner?
Switzerland is a very fragmented country because its historical organisation is based on the cantons’ existence. Today we can see important art poles such as Geneva and Lausanne, but they do not necessarily influence the German-speaking part of the country. Everything depends on the opportunities and the regions. In Switzerland the art market is not centralised and is defined by the conjunction of different independent participants. For example, Geneva and Zurich are two big financial and auction poles. Basel is a lesser pole but it has influence because of the fair.
Does Switzerland has a certain specificity, does it strive to concentrate on certain art fields?
Historically and economically Switzerland is highly present in the jewellery and in the watch making fields. For the rest it also has a secure place for the simple reason that the country welcomes numerous collectors and has a central place in Europe. Its free harbours are equally a type of “specificity” for Switzerland because this allows a big number of works to transit and to be sold on its territory. These zones are equipped with exhibition and restoration galleries, a type of museum if we make a relation to the joke that speaks of Geneva’s free harbour as the biggest museum of the world!
What dynamics do you see in the Swiss art market?
Switzerland like all other capitalistic countries is dependant of the international economic reality. Today the crisis has not really reached this country even if the strength of the Swiss Franc has weakened the economics, but we should not think that the crisis will not affect Switzerland. At the moment it remains one of the strong and very interesting countries for financial and artistic transactions, but its art market will probably follow, deferred as always, the state of its economics. Thus Switzerland stays strong, but its art market is not self-sufficient, it is dependant of international buyers.
Interview with Mr. Pirker, lawyer, curator and co-founder of Ardeïs in Switzerland.