A breathtaking new commission

A new painting by John Armleder is among the highlights of a new display at UBS’s Global headquarters, celebrating some of the most exciting names in 20th and 21st century art

“I feel privileged to be an artist; we have a freedom that no one has in society,” says John Armleder. The Swiss artist is internationally renowned for his Pour Paintings and Puddle Paintings — canvases featuring layers of paint, powder and glitter, which are spilt, thrown and allowed to coalesce. Commissioned by the UBS Art Collection, Agenda (2018) forms part of the Pour Painting series, and is a highlight of a new artwork display at UBS’s headquarters and branch at Bahnhofstrasse 45 in Zurich.

“It took my breath away when I saw it,” says Mary Rozell, the Global Head of the UBS Art Collection, recalling her first encounter with Agenda. The new commission in Zurich continues a longstanding collaboration between the Collection and Armleder, who Rozell describes as an “icon of the Swiss and international art landscape”. Still “incredibly active” today, the artist began his practice in the 1960s, creating his first Pour Painting in the late 1970s against a backdrop of growing critical acclaim. 

“The early reactions take place immediately,” says Armleder, explaining the creative process behind the series. As each Pour Painting dries, it “crackles” and shifts, developing a surface the artist likens to a “skin”. These reactions across the canvas are unplanned – a key element of the series, which intends to “snub” the idea of authorship by removing the painter from the creative process. The resulting image is “rich” in detail; “it’s a painting you can really get lost in,” says Rozell.

Alongside Agenda, Bahnhofstrasse 45 features some of the most exceptional works in the UBS Art Collection, many of which share the firm’s Swiss heritage. Among them is Stockhornkette im Winter (1912), by Ferdinand Holder – a composition inspired by the artist’s fascination with the imposing grandeur of the Alps. Other highlights include works by Max Bill, David Weiss, Roman Signer and Mai-Thu Perret, who are some of Switzerland’s “most interesting and engaging” artists .

New acquisitions are also showcased, including Etel Adnan’s Untitled (2017) – a vibrant depiction of a Californian mountain scene, which expresses the artist’s longing for, and love of nature. Other artists represented by works on view are recognized internationally for their exploration of photography and film:

Herança or Heritage (2007), by Brazilian artist Thiago Rocha Pitta, depicts a small boat planted with two trees, which moves further from view, commenting on themes of departure and disappearance, and the treatment of our natural heritage.

“Part of what we are trying to do with the UBS Art Collection is collect the best art of our time,” says Mary Rozell. The new display at Bahnhofstrasse 45 celebrates the Collection’s engagement with leading artists of the 20th and 21st century, while bringing artworks to a wider audience.