Pierre Keller (born 1945, died 2019) was a prominent Swiss artist, graphic designer, photographer and former ECAL director. He was a member of the Swiss Commission for Art and Design in Bern, member of the Board of the Montreux Jazz Festival and he received Officier des Arts et des Lettres from the French Government in 2000.
Miroslav Šutej (born 1936, died 2005) was a notable Croatian painter and graphic artist, known for his memorable mobile collages on paper. His artworks are in the museum collections of Tate, MOMA, Library of Congress, The Guggenheim Museum, etc. He was married to artist Marija Branka Košković.
LUCIJA ŠUTEJ: When and where did you meet Pierre Keller?
MARIJA BRANKA KOŠKOVIĆ: We met Pierre Keller in the late 60s, following my husband’s solo exhibition at Galerie Alice Pauli in Laussane, where he exhibited objects made of wood. We met again through Pierre’s association with the New Tendency movement in Zagreb and Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts. My husband Miroslav and Pierre shared similar views on the art situations and productions, which were at that time focused on serigraphy, works on paper and objects – multiples. Both artists also had similar educational background in print and they always discussed the various movements in visual arts of that period. I remember we also made a pact with Pierre at one exhibition opening, that whenever he visits us or we visit him, we explore the local special restaurants and wines.
Pierre’s eloquence, cheerfulness and his ease of communication, as well as his knowledge of the subject matter of the visual arts and his friendly approach to various artistic directions and expressions, were without exception close to Miroslav. As an artist and student of the Alliance française in Zagreb, I helped them in their discussions by translating from Croatian to French. Pierre was an exceptional figure, at a very young age he connected himself through his activities with numerous art galleries in Switzerland, such as the Galerie Historial in Nyon, where he offered his advice on the exhibition programmes.
LŠ: At the mentioned gallery in Nyon both Keller and Šutej exhibited in 1969.
MBK: Yes, Šutej exhibited a selection of mobile prints and collages. On Keller’s advice, that became a custom of the mentioned institution, Galerie Historial also published an exclusive limited edition of 100 individual serigraphic prints. Similarly, Pierre also published his serigraphs on the occasion of his solo exhibition at Galerie Historial. During the exhibition in Nyon, I remember, we were hosted by Keller’s friend Madame Dietrisch, whose late husband was important in discovering the medicine for tuberculosis.
LŠ: What are some of your most dear memories of spending time together in Switzerland?
MBK: Pierre was a very witty man and we spent interesting days with him not only in Switzerland but also in Zagreb. We always talked about the current art news, commenting on the local and international art scene and discussing the work of various galleries and museums that were the main arbiters of the fine arts at the time.
Pierre was a great interlocutor and guide in Switzerland, I recall us driving around the Lake Geneva and crossing to Thonon-les-Bains, where we spent afternoons swimming. The canton of Vaud is full of vineyards and Pierre’s family was engaged in viticulture. Pierre always joked that his father was unhappy that his son chose the vocation of an artist and not a winemaker. In our youth, we never want to be like our parents, but still in the end Pierre became the President of the Office des vins vaudois.
LŠ: You mentioned searching with Pierre for local restaurants and wines. Which was his favourite place in our region?
MBK: During one of Pierre’s many visits to Zagreb, we took him to Podgarič in the Moslavina Mountain. The latter’s area has been a notable wine region since the Romans. We all wanted to try the then recently opened fish restaurant next to the lake with fresh catfish, which went from the pond to the table. The area is interesting because it has many ruins of medieval towns and beautiful surrounding nature, both fascinated Pierre. On that occasion, Pierre tried Traminac and Frankovka for the first time. Pierre and Miroslav were interested in each other’s works and they had a habit of exchanging artworks. Pierre introduced us to his realised idea and art action of a measure for the arts, which he called Le Kilo – Art and he patented the art measurement in Bern with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property. Following Le Kilo – Art project, Pierre went to America and we continued to socialise more often again after his return to Europe and arrival at the head of the École cantonale d’art de Lausanne (ECAL).