"Elevation 1049: Between Heaven and Hell" Brings Surreal, Open-Air Art to the Swiss Alps

A sprawling open-air group show in the Swiss alps gives new meaning to high art.

Photograph: Olaf Bruening/Courtesy Metro Pictures.

The Swiss resort village of Gstaad has long been associated with opulent ski chalets and bygone part-time residents like Elizabeth Taylor and the Aga Khan. But between January 27 and March 8, it's the home of "Elevation 1049: Between Heaven and Hell," a surreal free art exhibition featuring more than 25 commissioned pieces installed throughout the town as well as in the surrounding Alps.

All the artists included are Swiss, but "Elevation" is less about national pride than it is about taking full advantage of the unique, wintry setting. The sculptor Urs Fischer has erected a bronze-cast sculpture of a man standing on a chair, ice water pouring from his eyes on the town's see-and-be-seen promenade, while Olaf Breuning, a mixed-media prankster, uses toboggans as brushes to paint vibrant abstract patterns on Eggli mountain. Even the town's public transportation has evolved into a canvas of sorts—playing in a loop in a glacier-bound cable car is footage spliced together by Christian Marclay of Bollywood song-and-dance numbers shot in Gstaad as cinematic homages to The Sound of Music.

It took more than two years for New York City–based curator Neville Wakefield and his girlfriend, artist Olympia Scarry, to organize "Elevation," which Wakefield describes as an "antidote to the white-walled hegemony" of the art-fair circuit. Scarry, who was born in Switzerland and grew up visiting her grandfather, the late children's-book author Richard Scarry, in Gstaad, has also contributed a piece—an installation of "profile poles," normally used to demarcate the height of proposed structures in the village (and invariably greeted with trepidation by preservation-minded residents)—on the idyllic, iced-over Lake Lauenen. "Once the lake melts, the piece will collapse on itself," Scarry says. In other words, get it while it's cold.

—Laurence Lowe, senior editor

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