Center for Art + Environment Blog

January 2, 2015   |   William L. Fox

Dispatches from the Alps, 6

Swiss Alps

Meeting with Jean-Maurice Verone. From left to right: Julian Myers-Szupinska, Eric Philippoz, Benoit Antille, Jean-Maurice Verone, and Bill Fox. Photo by Sara Frantz.

Felice Varini, Cercle et suite d’éclats, 2009. All images by Robert Hofer, courtesy of R&ART.

Felice Varini, Cercle et suite d’éclats, 2009. All images by Robert Hofer, courtesy of R&ART.

This morning we start our second visit to public site-specific art installations by meeting with Jean-Maurice Verone, the organizer of two public art programs in the Valais. Jean-Maurice is a Swiss designer working in Milan, and we gather in his jam-packed work space in a contemporary high-tech business park in Martigny.

Jean-Maurice started R&ART in 2008, an annual and juried site-specific commissioning program in the nearby town of Vercorin. Each year he selects an artist to create interventions using the entire scale of the town so that the art becomes part of the place itself. The first work in 2009 was by Felice Varini, a Swiss artist living in Paris, who is well known for making geometrical perspective paintings in rooms and on buildings. In Vercorin he painted what looked like more than a hundred separate arcs on almost as many buildings; once you assumed the single privileged point of view chosen by the artist, however, the anamorphic artwork snapped into focus as a series of circles unifying the old part of the town.

de Lang/Baumann, Street Painting #5, 2010.

de Lang/Baumann, Street Painting #5, 2010.

In 2010 the Swiss-American team Lang-Baumann made one of their signature street paintings emanating from the central town square that alluded to traffic patterns and maps. A virtue of Vercorin for Jean-Maurice is the fact you can see the town from so many angles, including an aerial one from a ski tram passing overhead. Another is the compact topography of the town that allows artists to make unifying gestures. Riccardo Blumer took advantage of both aspects when he stretched a cable across the town in 2011, a line wrapped in LEDs so that it traced a highly visible aerial line at night as well as by day.

Riccardo Blumer, Progettare il limite, 2011.

Riccardo Blumer, Progettare il limite, 2011.

For the final project in the first series of four, Jean-Maurice commissioned the Capuisat brothers from Geneva to execute a project with a house condemned for a resort. Their seemingly random construction of lumber enveloping the outside of the house and roof was in actuality an organic but functional structure in which they lived for two months while working on it. They invited in community members for conversation and coffee, thus creating a social practice work. Titling the work “La résidence secondaire” was a comment on the rapid proliferation of holiday homes in the Valais, a development that is completely changing the character of the region’s picturesque small villages—both for better and for worse.

Des Frères Chapuisat, La résidence secondaire, 2012.

Des Frères Chapuisat, La résidence secondaire, 2012.

You can see an arc of evolution in the first series of the R&Art program as Jean-Maurice goes from selecting easily assimilated and handsome gestures done in a traditional medium such as street art in the first two works, then a more modern 3D work with LEDs to one that is based at least in part on process. Vercorin is a traditional town of only 500 year-round residents, but one that expands to 5,000 in winter for skiing. Jean-Maurice planned R&Art from the beginning to start by installing easily understood works until the town developed both trust in and knowledge about contemporary art, then to move into more challenging works as time went on. But it is in his other program, AIR&Art, that he has made the boldest move so far.