Monday, 7 February 2011

Far right petition scuppers Thomas Demand public art project in Zurich

The Art Newspaper published an article by Clemens Bomsdorf towards the end of last year which reported that the Nagelhaus [Nail House], a €4.3m public artwork planned for Zurich by German artist Thomas Demand in collaboration with architects Caruso St John was rejected after the far right Swiss People's Party (SVP) launched a petition against it, claiming it was a waste of taxpayer's money. 

A referendum was called and 51% of voters rejecting the proposal. Turnout was 35%. The Nagelhaus was a Chinese-style pavilion due to be turned into a Chinese restaurant in Escher Wyss Platz in Zurich, Switzerland. The design won a 2008 competition to re-design the square, in a run down part of the city, and is based on the 'nail house' (or 'stubborn nail') in Chongqing, China, which became famous after its owner refused to move out when the surrounding buildings were demolished to build a shopping mall.  The house was finally demolished in 2007 after the owner had held out for 3 years. Demand's proposal had already been shown at Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010 and was popular with visitors. 


The SVP said in a statement, “The people of Zurich are fed up with the absurd waste of money by the city council”. The SVP's campaign included a poster depicting a golden toilet, stating “5.9m für e Schiissi! Nagelhaus Nein” [SFr5.9m for a toilet bowl! No to Nail House]. The motif referred to the fact that a public toilet was part of the proposal. The SVP suggested a police station would be a better alternative for an area with a high crime rate. 

The artwork was only part of a wider €300m restructure of the whole area. The artist claimed the original cost was half the current estimate, but was pushed up owing to regulations. The restaurant was designed so that the road passing over the square was used as a roof.

Demand told the Art Newspaper, “Nowadays it is more and more difficult for artists to realise projects in public spaces....The aim is to do something for everybody, but this is hard to communicate through public debate.”

The Caruso St John website states:
"The project proposed to locate two modest buildings under the road viaduct. They appear as archaeological fragments of a street that stood there previously, or as structures carefully tailored to fit the precise topography of the heavy concrete structure of the Hardbrücke. The image for these buildings refers to the ‘Stubborn Nail’, a story from Chongqing of private owners who held out against all odds in their small house while developers demolished the city around them."

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