The phenomenon is familiar. SoHo in New York, London's East End, Mitte in Berlin, to name a few: urban areas where low rents and generous space lured enterprising artists, designers and art galleries into parts of town considered unsavoury. They took root, even flourished, and before long the upgrading process had begun with the opening of trendy shops and restaurants, the renovation of neglected buildings and the construction of new ones.
Is something similar happening in Swiss cities?
"I'm here because I wouldn't be anywhere else," declares Jean-Claude Freymond-Guth. His contemporary art gallery, Freymond-Guth & Co. Fine Arts, occupies a former garage in the multi-cultural sector of Zurich commonly known as Kreis 4, denoting its postal code, or Langstrasse, after its principal thoroughfare.
"This is the only place in German-speaking Switzerland with so many realities living alongside each other: illegal immigrants, prostitutes, drug dealers on one hand; young people, artists, students on the other. It might be rough but it's realistic. It's enriching; it gives one freedom to try things out."
Asked whether the arrival of artists and art galleries has sparked the gentrification that has taken place in other cities, he cites this example: "A German investor who bought the building on Langstrasse where I used to have my gallery is said to be planning to convert it to up-market residential lofts--even a spa, the metaphor for gentrification. But it's happening slowly. That's the Swiss way."
Silvio Baviera, a multi-faceted artist, writer, publisher and gallerist who was born in the neighbourhood and the first to open an art gallery there in 1975, has watched it change over the years, particularly in the last five.
"It used to be a lot crazier," he says. "Today we still have drugs and prostitution, but also artists, about 15 art galleries, designers, fashion boutiques and chic restaurants ... and more policemen."
Baviera stages periodic exhibitions and other 'happenings' in his combination gallery/contemporary art museum, which was dramatically expanded in 1990 with the addition of a multi-level exhibition space behind its modest storefront on Zwinglistrasse.
Zurich gallery hopping
A few steps down a sort of alleyway from Zwinglistrasse is one of the more recent arrivals: Groeflin Maag Galerie, which opened in 2007. Partners Claudia Groeflin and Davia Maag, both natives of Basel, met in London, where...