Opening: Friday, 10 June 2022, 7 –10 pm
Meyer Riegger is pleased to present the first solo exhibition of the Swiss artist and winner of the Swiss Grand Award for Art | Prix Meret Oppenheim 2022, Caroline Bachmann, in Karlsruhe.
Bachmann’s work spans diverse forms of expression, of which painting is one. For her exhibition at Meyer Riegger, Bachmann presents a single, large-scale painting entitled Le matin, 2022. A twelve-panel panorama that depicts a 360 degree view from a mountain at daybreak. In the east, the sun rises, while in the west, a sliver of crescent moon remains visible in the dawn sky. The peak is the Napf, a strange mountain, in some ways, as it stands alone, isolated, in a plateau before the alps – a geographical idiosyncrasy that allows for a perfect view across the landscape, with the Jungfrau, Stockhorn and other celebrated Swiss peaks visible on a clear day. The painting also depicts a particular moment: a morning in March 2020. Having fulfilled the long-term goal of hiking the mountain to spend the night in a hut with her partner Stefan Banz, Bachmann woke at 3 am to go outside to capture the vista between in the early hours of le matin (the morning).
Bachmann’s choice of subject matter – the scenery of Switzerland – can, in a certain sense, be seen as testament to the country’s ongoing concern with its own topography in its visual culture. From Giovanni Segantini and Ferdinand Hodler’s symbolist landscape paintings at the turn of the twentieth century to present-day tourism campaigns or adverts for chocolate and cheese, images of the Swiss landscape, in Switzerland, are inescapable. But while this visual context cannot be denied, Bachmann’s work can and should not be reduced to a simple continuation of what has come before. Her approach to the subject matter is intrinsically different, both visually and conceptually. Bachmann has no interest in reproducing material reality; mountains, to Bachmann, are a symbol of something to go beyond. They are a barrier that you can throw your spirit behind, she says. Mountains allow you to imagine what is on the other side and give you the possibility to go further. This mountain, the Napf, in particular, can be seen as a liminal space, a point of meeting and confrontation. It is the place between two cantons, Bern and Lucerne, one protestant the other catholic. Two worlds, where people live different lives, with different customs, a fact that can somehow be exemplified, according to Bachmann, by their use of distinct playing card decks. Here, the mountain is the dividing point between separate places and ways of living.
And while many of her esteemed Swiss artistic forebears, like Segantini, dragged heavy canvases up mountains to paint in nature, believing that en plein air painting was the only way to capture the world around them – a practise which ultimately lead to Segantini’s demise on the Schafberg while working on his Alpine Tryptic – Bachmann’s process differs inherently. To a certain extent, her approach is more akin to a scientist or naturalist; Bachmann observes, sketches and takes notes, recording geological arrangements, cloud formations, colours and weather patterns, and, having gathered this material, she returns to her studio where she slowly, over the course of months – or two years in the case of Le matin – turns these details into paintings. However, it is not a case of transforming these notes into some kind of larger-scale, paint-by-numbers rendering of her sketches, Bachmann doesn’t create a simple representation of the landscape, and accuracy is not the aim. What Bachmann is capturing with her sketches and notes is the essence of those experienced moments, and the paintings that she creates in turn capture the essence of the mountains and this landscape. Her paintings are moments of reality and life, and a recognition of our existence.
There is a further element to Bachmann’s work within the context of what has come before that is important to draw out. Bachmann, in her choice of subjects and materials, makes a conscious decision to call into question historic attitudes that saw the most prestigious subjects for paintings – according to the hierarchy of genres – including history, portrait and landscape painting, reserved for men. Typically painted in oil, and given the necessary size of the works and gravitas of the subject matters, these were genres seen as being suitable only Meyer Riegger for male painters, with female artists, often denied academic training, instead being pushed towards techniques and subjects historically considered simpler and less grand, such as watercolour or flower painting. Bachmann’s paintings and practice are a choice to take the activity of female painting away from a small, discrete, nice application. Everything from her choice of subjects, to her decision to work with oils and to have a large atelier in which to paint large canvases, is a feminist rewriting of art history. And what greater statement of female artists’ ability to triumphantly tackle the grand genres and subjects of art history than a polyptych panorama of the sublime view of the Swiss landscape.
The award ceremony of the Prix Meret Oppenheim 2022 will take place on 13 June 2022 at Art Basel, where Caroline Bachmann will receive the award.
Text: Lincoln Dexter
Photos: Heinz Pelz