The Kunsthaus Zürich examines the contemporary relevance of Switzerland’s ‘national artist’, Ferdinand Hodler. ‘Apropos Hodler’ counters one-sided interpretations with the rich diversity of the painter’s formal, cultural and political impact, and sets out to view the old and familiar with new eyes. Works by more than 30 contemporary artists are juxtaposed with some 50 paintings by the Swiss icon.

Scandalous artist and national icon: forgotten and rediscovered


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The reception of Hodler’s work has ebbed and flowed. His ‘scandalous’ participation in the Secession exhibitions in Berlin and Vienna around 1900 marked him out as one of the most progressive artists of his time. Yet Hodler’s success was hard-earned, given his upbringing in a family with little money and time for education. That background, and his early preference for subjects drawn from the lives of craftspeople and workers, initially drew the approval of socialists such as Hans Mühlestein (1887–1969). When he died in 1918, Hodler was honoured as a great Swiss artist, yet his reputation faded after the Second World War. It was not until the 1980s that he came to be appreciated again in Switzerland. Although recognized by art historians as an innovator, Hodler has come to be seen by the public at large as symbolizing traditional values. For the Kunsthaus, that altering reception is an opportunity to present Ferdinand Hodler alongside and in conjunction with international contemporary artists. The exhibition concept was developed by Kunsthaus curators Sandra Gianfreda and Cathérine Hug as part of a collective, which also chose the 30 invited artists. This collective included artists Sabian Baumann (b. 1962), Ishita Chakraborty (b. 1989) and RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co; since 1983). They reacted to a list of Hodler paintings which was also drawn up collectively. The exhibition was designed in close collaboration with the artist Nicolas Party (b. 1980).

Ferdinand Hodler, Truth, 1903, Kunsthaus Zürich, permanent loan from the City of Zurich, 1930
David Hockney, Felled Trees on Woldgate, 2008, Würth Collection, Photo: Richard Schmidt, © 2023, David Hockney
Ferdinand Hodler, The Day, 1904 /1906, Kunsthaus Zürich, gift of Alfred Rütschi, 1919
Ferdinand Hodler, The Good Samaritan, around 1881, Kunsthaus Zürich, Gottfried Keller Foundation, Federal Office of Culture, Bern, 1920
Sabian Baumann, Anthurium, 2023, Courtesy Sabian Baumann, © Sabian Baumann
Ferdinand Hodler, Gymnasts’ Banquet, 1877/1878, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1916
Laura Aguilar, Grounded #107, 2006/2007, Courtesy of The Laura Aguilar Trust of 2016, © Estate of Laura Aguilar
RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co), I am a woman why aren’t you?, 1995–2001, Courtesy the artists, © RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co)

Landscapes, corporealities, belonging, enigma/transendance

Where is the exhibition located?

At the Moser-Building 1st floor, see our interactive visitor guide

Entitled ‘Apropos Hodler – Current perspectives on an icon’, this exhibition is the first to locate Hodler in the context of current discourses, bringing four themes of his work into the present day: landscapes; corporealities; belonging; and enigma/transcendence. Where did Hodler stand, and how do artists today position themselves in relation to these discourses? The topics covered include climate change, stewardship of resources, and the representation of human beings and their bodies against the backdrop of fluid identities. The presentation asks questions such as ‘what role do the need for belonging and an awareness of origin play in a globalized world?’

The Kunsthaus Zürich, which is home to the largest public collection of Hodler’s works next to the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva, is looking beyond its own holdings for this exhibition, and has secured the loan of key exhibits from other public and private collections in Switzerland. Some 60 pieces by Hodler are joined by the works of 30 contemporary artists from different cultural regions: Asim Abdulaziz, Laura Aguilar, Caroline Bachmann, Sabian Baumann, Denise Bertschi, Ishita Chakraborty, Andriu Deplazes, Latifa Echakhch, Eva Egermann & Cordula Thym, Marianne Flotron, Dani Gal, María Elena González, Hemauer/Keller, David Hockney, Sasha Huber, Roland Iselin, Frantiček Klossner, Nils Amadeus Lange, Izidora I LETHE, Urs Lüthi, André M’Bon, Uriel Orlow, Nicolas Party, RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co), Ugo Rondinone, Susan Schuppli, Selma Selman, Milva Stutz and Latefa Wiersch. Along with spectacular new productions by Nils Amadeus Lange, Izidora I LETHE, Nicolas Party and RELAX (chiarenza & hauser & co).

Supported by UBS, Partner Kunsthaus Zürich, the Ernst Göhner Foundation and Boston Consulting Group (BCG).



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Ill.: Exhibition view, Photo © Franca Candrian, Kunsthaus Zürich