Contemporary Art Market: Wool factory is hub of scene that puts fun first

A NEW contemporary art scene is burgeoning in converted factory space close to the centre of Zurich. It holds more than an echo of New York's SoHo where old warehouses were turned into galleries. The atmosphere is young, irreverent and efficient; a week- long celebration of pornography and art in January combined shows and discos to bring 'connoisseurs' pouring in.

The focus round which the scene is developing is the Kunst halle which opened in January 1990 in a converted wool factory on the Hardturmstrasse; part of the old factory survives next door, refining wool. The Kunsthalle was founded by a group of art lovers, but the building is paid for by the city council. It exists to exhibit and sell contemporary art without the profit motive of an ordinary commercial gallery.

Commercial galleries have opened in other factory spaces close to the Kunsthalle, a total of five new galleries over a period which has seen a momentous collapse in the contemporary art market. The pragmatic Swiss seem to have found a way to package and sell trend-setting, avant-garde art in a recession.

The Kunsthalle itself is showing a post-modern linguistic artist from Germany called Thomas Locher, who has had shows at the Karsten Schubert Gallery in London. The Kunsthalle's big space, roughly equivalent to the Saatchi Gallery in London, gives him a chance to show off. All his work is about classification: he plays with grammar, numbers, catalogues, language . . . highlighting the gap between structured thought and reality.

The main exhibits are priced between pounds 10,000 and pounds 50,000 but Locher has made a group of small works, coloured squares arranged in various shapes and numbered, at 900 Swiss francs ( pounds 450) which sold out immediately.

Up a fire escape two factories down the road is the Mark Mueller Gallery which concentrates on young international artists, mostly sculptors, working in minimal-constructivist styles. This month he has Francois Perrodin, a 36-year-old French artist. On the wall, Perrodin has hung very simple geometric forms, each painted the same colour all over; on the floor are white towers of rectangular box forms piled on each other. They are priced around pounds 2,500.

Directly below Mueller is the Bob van Orsouw Gallery, with a photographic installation by a Swiss artist called Annelies Strba. Aged 43 and a mother of four, she had her first exhibition at the Kunsthalle in 1990 and was 'discovered' overnight.

She has now had exhibitions in Germany, Austria, Holland, Australia and the Canary Islands. She turns family snaps of her children into misty, black and white images printed directly on canvas; she does the same with architectural studies. A wall installation incorporating 144 portraits of her children is priced at pounds 35,000.

The latest arrival is the Marc Jancou Gallery which opened across the road in September. Its 25-year-old proprietor concentrates on young or little known American artists.

He currently has an exhibition of the American Pop Artist John Wesley, who is just emerging from 30 years of oblivion. The sexy gouaches of bits of girls that Jancou is showing hold some echoes of Wesselman but are more openly erotic - a snip at pounds 2,250.

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