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Swiss Grand Award for Art / Prix Meret Oppenheim 2021 for Georges Descombes, Esther Eppstein, and Vivian Suter
Vivian Suter. Photo: Flavio Karrer.

BASEL.- For the 21st time, the Federal Office of Culture is presenting the Swiss Grand Award for Art / Prix Meret Oppenheim to outstanding Swiss culture practitioners: In 2021 they are the architect Georges Descombes; curator Esther Eppstein; and artist Vivian Suter. Providing the pandemic situation allows, they will be honoured on 20 September 2021 in Basel along with the winners of the Swiss Art Awards.

Upon recommendation of the Federal Art Commission, the Swiss Grand Award for Art / Prix Meret Oppenheim is awarded to individuals in the fields of art, art education and architecture whose work is particularly topical and relevant to Swiss artistic and architectural production.

Georges Descombes

Georges Descombes (1939, Geneva) is an ‘architect of landscape‘. After formative years with Pier Luigi Nervi and Marc-Joseph Saugey in Geneva, Zurich, and London, Georges Descombes returned to Geneva in 1975 where his academic career began and he set up the CREX (Centre de Réalisation Expérimentale) at what was then the École d’Architecture de Genève. His teaching activities repeatedly drew him to the most prestigious universities of the world, as Harvard University, Graduate School of Design in Cambridge. Alongside his academic work, he executed projects in the landscape which were invariably guided by the history of the location. Among these projects, there are the Parc de Lancy, the Geneva section of the Swiss Path around Lake Lucerne and the Bijlmer Monument in Amsterdam. In 2000, he began working on the Confluence district of Lyon, Antwerp’s southern docks and the Quai de Matériaux in Brussels. During that time, he also began to study the renaturing of the River Aire landscape in the canton of Geneva, which over the course of its execution until it was completed in 2015 became one of the most emblematic projects. In doing so, he asked what it means to make a landscape in an urban environment today.

A believer in strong gestures, Georges Descombes invariably strove to arouse emotion, driven by his view of architecture as ‘par excellence an art of experience‘.

Esther Eppstein

With her art and exhibition space message salon, founded in 1996, Esther Eppstein (1967, Zurich) has helped to shape the perception of an entire neighbourhood – Zurich’s fourth district – removing the taboos surrounding it and making it the focus of public attention. Zurich is home, material for her work, and display. For Eppstein, urban development is and always has been closely bound up with subculture and established cultural life. As she moved from place to place, she invariably succeeded in combining art with a living community, with the aim of creating a network and a new scene, a kind of diverse art family as social sculpture, around the physical space that is message salon. Since the closure of the Perla-Mode exhibition space in 2015, she has been running the massage salon embassy art project – an artist-run residence that invites international artists to spend time in Zurich and practise their art there. She also published zines and souvenirs through message salon embassy.

Esther Eppstein has received numerous awards for her work as a curator and artist, notably from the City and Canton of Zurich and the Federal Office of Culture (2003 and 2006).

Vivian Suter

Vivian Suter (1949, Buenos Aires) comes from a family of women artists. Until she was 13, the family lived in Argentina. Thereafter, in Switzerland, she graduated from the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel and had her first exhibition in 1972, at the Galerie Stampa in Basel. In 1981, the same year in which she received a Federal Art Scolarship, she was invited to put on an exhibition by Jean-Christophe Ammann, director of the Kunsthalle Basel at the time. When Vivian Suter left Switzerland in 1983 following those initial successes, the art world was unable to comprehend why she had chosen to live her life in isolation, and more or less forgot about her. In 2014, at the invitation of curator Adam Szymczyk, she returned to the picture surface and the Kunsthalle Basel: in the solo exhibition ‘Vivian Suter intrépida featuring Elisabeth Wild Fantasías 2’, she presented works from the preceding thirty years, along with selected collages by Elisabeth Wild. It was also Adam Szymczyk who, 45 years after her first trip to Documenta, presented her at the 14th edition in Kassel and in Athens. Until then, Vivian Suter had been working and refining her artistic practice far away from the art world on a former coffee plantation in Guatemala. Freed from all those influences, she had developed her own distinctive language in which the moments of its creation are inscribed. The characteristic features of this specific production context can also be appreciated in her exhibitions, where the paintings mounted or suspended in space come together as pieces of a giant textile sculpture. Moving into it is an immersive experience that makes you feel as if you are travelling far away and experiencing the density of the rainforest.

Vivian Suter’s exceptional work is being honoured by two solo exhibitions this year: in June at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid and in November with ‘Vivian Suter Retrospective’ at the Kunstmuseum Luzern.

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