His ontological approach is entirely focused on a reflection on art and his preferred means of expression is language. His works contain neither fiction nor illusionist pictorial representation. Adopting a minimalist aesthetic (the industrial look of the colours, the use of prefabricated elements and silk-screened typography), he nevertheless distances himself from the movement through his desire to lead the viewer beyond the visible in an existential reflection.
Zaugg’s encounter with Barnett Newman’s Day Before One has the effect of a trigger, setting off his interest in the phenomenon of vision. Studying Paul Cézanne’s painting then leads him to redefine his relationship to motifs and their representation.
After absorbing the teachings at Basel’s Allgemeine Gewerbeschule, Zaugg, dissatisfied, will continue his intellectual and artistic training on his own. His interests push him as much towards mathematics and physics as towards archaeology and semiology. Possessing an analytical spirit, he draws on this erudition to construct a dialectic between the real and the fictional, the visible, the legible and the imaginary. Zaugg proposes a status of equivalence for the author, the viewer and the work of art.
His approach, moreover, isn’t limited to painting alone but is likewise articulated around mounting shows and producing theoretical texts. Since his first museum show at Basel’s Kunstmuseum in 1972, his solo exhibitions have followed in a steady stream, held in Europe’s most committed venues. But he has also taken part in important group shows like the 1982 Documenta in Kassel or the Skulptur Projekte Münster in 1987. Many of his pieces are displayed in public settings. In 1991 the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris turned to Zaugg to put together a show on Alberto Giacometti and in 1995 he took on the same role for the Herzog & de Meuron exhibition at the Georges-Pompidou Centre.