ST. MORITZ TINGLES WITH FRAGRANT ALPINE AIR. EVERY COLOUR IS CRYSTALLISED INTO STARTLING CLARITY; THE GRASS IS NOT GREEN BUT LUMINOUS, THE SKY IS NOT BLUE BUT OCEANIC.
he sun turns the pages of my book golden as the plane veers and draws my gaze thousands of miles below. Streams of towns fringe the mountains, as if they have been shirked off, like the foamy slurry at the edge of an immaculate wave. In the distance, white peaks crack the sky.
It takes a one-hour flight and three hours of weaving trains to reach the high alpine town of St. Moritz, Switzerland, but it is a rewarding pilgrimage. As Zurich falls behind, mountains rise, moated by glacier-blue lakes, coated in fir and crowned with cloud. Church steeples punctuate each village, exclaiming the marvel of their existence despite their emphatic remoteness. I am captivated for so long, the pencil-sharp tips of the pines remain in my vision when I close my eyes.
St. Moritz tingles with fragrant alpine air. Every colour is crystallised into startling clarity; the grass is not green but luminous, the sky is not blue but oceanic. Presiding over it all is Badrutt’s Palace. Built in 1896 in Neo-Gothic style, its founders, Johannes and Caspar Badrutt, imbued the hotel with the grandeur they perceived in the surrounding landscape. Ornate wooden carvings and arches sweep the ceilings, framing views of Piz Rosatsch and Lake St. Moritz in almost every room, including the restaurants, spa and the majority of the 157 guestrooms.
I learn from the hotel’s resident archivist, Evelyne Lüthi-Graf, that sportspeople and artists have flocked here for centuries for extravagant parties and sporting events. She unveils trunks of fancy-dress clothes, furniture awaiting restoration, paintings awaiting authentication, trinkets and photographs. One such photograph shows a waiter skating across a frozen Lake St. Moritz while balancing a full tray of champagne glasses. Later, I float in the outdoor pool, watching paddleboarders skim over the same lake.
Just across from Badrutt’s Palace, the latest gallery from Hauser and Wirth beckons. Director Stefano Rabolli Pansera leads me through their current exhibition, Material Actions, a compilation of work by prominent female artists. Themes of intimacy, humour and pain blaze out from the striking colours and twisting shapes. Maria Lassnig’s visceral, semi-abstract sketches draw me in; Stefano explains that she would paint what she felt in her body, rather than what she saw. In a private living space upstairs, we sit and talk over coffee, and he reveals their next exhibition will be a solo presentation of works by Alexander Calder, as Badrutt’s Palace reopens for its winter season.
Forty minutes’ drive away, Muzeum Susch nestles between the river Inn and the Piz d’Arpiglias mountain. Formed from a brewery, monastery and natural caves, the art gallery’s atmosphere is charged with history. The design of the modern connecting spaces makes playful use of light, darkness and texture, with smooth white spaces giving way to craggy caverns where the walls drip with mountain water. The programme of founder, Grazyna Kulczyk, and director, Mareike Dittmer, features mainly permanent pieces, such as Monika Sosnowska’s black steel Stairs (2016-17), which clamber in warped shards to the ceiling three floors up, and Heidi Bucher’s Herrenzimmer (1977-79). Bucher created an impression of her parents’ study by covering it with latex-coated gauze and mother-of-pearl. The resulting ‘skins’ bear direct traces of the room’s architectural details and waver as they hang in the exhibition space. Due to its delicate nature, this work is only estimated to survive for another 40 years.
The current exhibition presents the work of Emma Kunz, a 20th century Swiss naturopath, visionary and healer, whose drawings were derived from her practice of radiesthesia – the detection of various unseen elements using a divining pendulum – which Kunz employed as a method to plot her complex compositions on graph paper. Intricately produced, these geometric works were not created as art but as functional visualisations of her research, as she attempted to untangle the complexities of the surrounding world, from physical ailments to politics. Work No. 190 is the show’s endpiece, a simple triangle with sparks of orange and yellow, where her research ended.
I cannot help but feel a deep sense of grounding amongst the cresting mountains and troughs of meadows here. The air is light. I find Lake Staz to swim. The water is clear and still and cool. I wave my arms to keep afloat. The mountain solemnly stares off. Like a child, I raise my head to meet its gaze, too high above me to reach.