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Jean-Frédéric Schnyder

A key presence on the contemporary Swiss art scene, Jean-Frédéric Schnyder represented Switzerland at the 1993 Venice Biennial. Born in Basel in 1945, Schnyder begins his career with an apprenticeship in photography before going on to explore the art of assemblage. After a short digression into Pop Art, he focuses increasingly on conceptual art. In 1969, for example, he exhibits in “When Attitudes Become Forms”, the famous show mounted by Harald Szeemann in Bern.

The following year Schnyder is working in what is considered a dying medium, oil paint. From this point on, his exploration of materials and styles will never wane. Realism, symbolism, kitsch, abstraction; watercolour, photography, ceramics, a range of objects – constantly running counter to the avant-garde, he is open to every technique, every form of expression. This holistic approach harbours neither hierarchy nor value judgment.

In the early 1980s, he is crisscrossing and exploring contemporary Switzerland. Building on his travels by train, on foot or by bicycle, he produces series of small-format paintings that describe the banality of daily life through the depiction of the empty and anonymous landscapes of waiting rooms, motorways and quarries. Schnyder’s art goes beyond all the established categories to question the reality that exists on the fringes of the far vaster story of human history. He seems to be holding up a mirror to our own existences, exacerbating their ridiculous, trivial character. Possessing an utterly free spirit that is coupled with a conceptual approach, Schnyder has blazed a trail that runs thoroughly counter to expectations, moving towards a recognition of the non-spectacular, the insignificant and the unusual in art.

His influence within the Swiss art scene stretches well beyond his own generation and has made him a kind of benchmark since 1970. Twice shown at Documenta in Kassel (1972, 1982), Schnyder’s work has been exhibited in a range of prestigious international art centres since 1966, including Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfort, the Kunsthalle in Zurich and the Swiss Cultural Centre in Paris. In 2007 Basel’s Museum für Gegenwartkunst devoted a retrospective to him.