Twenty years of Pop Art at Galerie ID

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of Galerie ID in Carouge, Geneve. To celebrate, Isabelle Dunkel is planning a sparkling retrospective from 23 September to 17 October. Beautiful stuff by all the major pop artists she has hosted here will be on display. A friend whom she admires greatly is Roger Pfund, creative giant and the only living artist whose work has been exhibited at Geneva’s Museum of Art and History. It’s a fitting tribute to Isabelle that he put together her invitation.

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I call in to see Isabelle. I get a warm welcome as usual. But this time, it is her I want to interview. She’s not keen to talk about herself. She obviously thinks the story of la galerie is more interesting than the story of ID. (This could be hard work!) So… Born in Paris (I didn’t ask the year.) Traveling childhood (11 different schools.) A year in England (loved it.) Trained in languages (four.) Married young (a banker from Geneva.) Grown children (two.) Why pop art? (A hint of enthusiasm for this conversation.) Always loved “art.” Went to the USA in 1992. Saw and fell for the work of James Rizzi. Started a small collection. Met the man himself and offered to represent him in Switzerland. The story of Galerie ID starts here.

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James Rizzi “Girls Like Flowers” 1997

Girls like flowers! So take some along to the birthday girl whose efforts to bring Rizzi’s work to this town were laughed at. “He’s too American!” “It’s just commercial!” And of course… “It’s not ART!” But she had the last laugh. In her first five years of business she sold more than one thousand pieces of Rizzi’s wonderful, whacky stuff. On the back of this success her rapidly expanding portfolio grew to include names such as Robert Indiana and Alex Katz. She now runs the only gallery in Geneva dedicated to Pop Art and is an ardent promoter of limited-edition prints as an art form to be valued.

I ask Isabelle what she sees as her greatest achievement. The answer is surprising and immediate with neither preparation nor pretension. She is proud of the accessibility of what she shows. Drawn by pop images, people who would never think of going into a gallery come in off the street. She wants her exhibitions to brighten the day of anyone and everyone. Popular art! Popular appeal! And now she has really warmed to her subject. I dare to ask what makes her heart sing. Do I see a blush? Pop music!! Beatles? Yes! Rolling Stones? Yes! Michael Jackson? Fabulous! Who else? Supertramp! Abba? Yes! Daft punk? Of course! Taylor swift? Not my cup of tea! Mrs Dunkel is just Miss Pop at heart.

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Last year I had the privilege of meeting Jeff Schaller at his second exhibition at Galerie ID. He pays tribute to Jasper Johns – one of the doyennes of Pop Art – who famously said “just take something and add to it.” Let’s acknowledge what Isabelle Dunkel has been doing with passion and success for the last twenty years. She’s taken James Rizzi and added accessible Pop Art. Enjoy!

James Rizzi: the merchandise!

Last year we discovered the fabulous 3D work by James Rizzi at Galerie ID. The interest has been phenomenal. He obviously has fans all round the world. We have now been shown his printed “merchandise.” But we’re not talking about posters and tee-shirts. This is quality beautiful stuff from limited-edition Rosenthal ceramics to totally collectable zippo lighters (and a really funky umbrella.) Enjoy our little video!!!

Discovering James Rizzi

I will never have the opportunity to meet James Rizzi. He died at the age of 61 in 2011. This saddens me. Having discovered some of his last remaining work in Europe at the Galerie I.D in Geneva and having done a little research, I  know I would have really liked the guy. His output was prodigious. On-line photos show a mischievous smile. His beautiful stuff makes me happy.

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“A Romantic Night on the Town” by James Rizzi, 1994. Image thanks to Galerie I.D Geneva.

It is said that during his Fine Arts studies in Florida he had classes in painting, printmaking and sculpture. He decided to combine the assignments for all three classes in one work. So he made a drawing and printed it twice. He then hand-coloured both prints and cut out parts of one, mounting the cut-outs on top of the corresponding parts of the other. By using glue and wires, he was able to leave a space between the two. Thus his trademark 3D style was born. (And he got good grades for all three assigments!)

I love the way the buildings in his jumbled cityscapes are colourful characters themselves who observe and find amusement in the mass of colourful human characters. And the detail! In “Living Near the Water,” little green men arrive by flying saucer as yet unnoticed by the heaving crowd. The buildings are happy. The people are happy. The sun is happy. The moon is happy. Humanity is crammed down by the water’s edge or into boats. But we’re left with the feeling that there’s something off-stage. What is the event that has brought such a crush of people and the simultaneous arrival of the aliens?

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“Living Near the Water” by James Rizzi, 1993. Image thanks to Galerie I.D Geneva.

A big green octopus guards a treasure chest on the sea bottom. You could look at this for hours and never discover all the little laugh-out-loud passages.

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Detail of “Living Near the Water” by James Rizzi, 1993. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

In 1997, Rizzi was appointed the official artist for the Montreux Jazz Festival. His poster for the event is a masterpiece.

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Poster for Montreux Jazz Festival 1997 by James Rizzi. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

I adore the three cat-back-up singers. You can almost hear them!

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Deatail of Poster for Montreux Jazz Festival, 1997 by James Rizzi. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

In his inimmitable style he painted a Lufthansa jet, a VW beetle and whole buildings. In 2008, he won a commission to design stamps for Germany. No problem guessing which one of these three gents is Rizzi!

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James Rizzi (on right) at the Inauguration of his German stamps in 2008. Image copyright: Peter Schmelzle.

But my favourite is “Visit My Friendly City.” It amuses and intrigues. Again, we have the characterful sky-scrapers and the little green men in space ships. But what is Rizzi’s humouristic off-stage story here? Why are the buildings all showing such anxiety (except the cool-cat-building)?  Do they know that the aliens will not, like tourists, find the city quite so friendly?

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“Visit My Friendly City” by James Rizzi, 1995. Image thanks to Galerie I.D, Geneva.

In 2006, Glenn O’Brien wrote about Rizzi: “His merry maximalism and delight in delirious detail and elaborate minutiae created a true art brand, a trademark style as recognizable as any in the world.” Although I’ll never discover James Rizzi in person, my visit to Galerie I.D was a delightful discovery of his so instantly recognisable beautiful stuff.