The Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst presents the first comprehensive retrospective of the oeuvre of the Swiss artist Alexander “Xanti” Schawinsky (born Basel, 1904–died Locarno, 1979). In his lifetime, Schawinsky was mainly known for his work in the theater department at the Bauhaus. In the 1930s, while teaching at Black Mountain College, a legendary art college in North Carolina that provided refuge for many European emigrants during the Nazi era, Schawinsky, building on his Bauhaus work, developed his dramatic theory known as “Spectodrama.” Involving multimedia productions, it represents an early form of the “happening,” which would later be made famous by another affiliate of the same institution, John Cage. Schawinsky’s work as a painter also addresses the dissolution of the medium’s boundaries and focuses on the process, for instance in his Track series, which he “painted” with the aid of a car.
Beyond the avant-garde utopias of the Bauhaus and his proto-happening art, Schawinsky’s oeuvre is linked in many ways to the majory tendencies in European as well as American prewar and postwar 20th-century modernism. His work may thus also be seen as representative of the transatlantic exchange of artistic ideas that was induced by the political situation and had a lasting impact on art history. This exhibition is the first to present the full breadth of Schawinsky’s outstanding oeuvre (which was inaccessible to the public for several decades) and positions it both within a historical context and in relation to its continuing effect on the present.