Sylvie Fleury
Shoplifters from Venus

3 June – 20 August 2023 | Beim Stadthaus

Sylvie Fleury
Walking on Carl Andre, 1997
Kunst Museum Winterthur, purchase with funds from the Heinz Toggenburger donation, 2019

When the venerable halls of an art museum are transformed into a fashion show, then Sylvie Fleury is in attendance. For the first time in 15 years, the Kunst Museum Winterthur is presenting a comprehensive solo exhibition of Switzerland’s most important female artist. Alongside iconic early works, new works realised especially for the exhibition will be on show. 

Shoplifters from Venus, the seductive title of the summer exhibition at the Kunst Museum Winterthur, refers to an act of theft on the one hand, and on the other to the thief’s place of origin, Venus, both planet and Roman goddess of love. The title almost programmatically summarises the strategy of the artist Sylvie Fleury, born in Geneva in 1961, in that she literally steals the pictorial inventions of modernism in order to question them from a decidedly feminist perspective and reinterpret them in terms of content: “I don’t see my work as appropriation. I see it more as personalisation.” (Sylvie Fleury)

For around 25 years, the Geneva-based artist Sylvie Fleury has been playing ironically with gender clichés and stereotypes of consumer society. She became famous for her sophisticated stagings of glamour, fashion and lifestyle: her shopping bags caused a stir in the 1990s. Each of the bags, many of them from internationally renowned fashion labels, contained the object the artist had purchased with it. Combining art and commerce so uninhibitedly seemed disreputable at the time. Even more irritating was the fact that an artist devoted herself to the almost obsessive purchase of luxury goods, seemingly uncritically indulging in glamour and lifestyle. Meanwhile, the exchange between valorised archival culture and profane space has a long tradition in the visual arts since Marcel Duchamp.

Sylvie Fleury consistently combines this tradition with the deconstruction of over-delivered gender clichés – and does so as ironically as she does with relish, for example, when she has models in high heels strut across Carl Andre’s floor plates. The historical context of Shoplifters from Venus at the Kunst Museum Winterthur becomes particularly obvious in its reference to the important holdings of classical modernism and American post-war art. In Sylvie Fleury’s artistic practice, which encompasses sculpture, performance, installation and painting, she employs strategies that are also associated in particular with early Conceptualism, Pop Art and Minimalism and open up a critical view of the largely male-dominated history of art.

Sylvie Fleury’s work has been widely recognised internationally since her first institutional solo exhibition at the Migros Museum in Zurich in 1998. Numerous solo exhibitions followed, including in 2001 at the Centre for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe and at Le Magasin – Centre national d’art contemporain, Grenoble, in 2007 at the Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin, in 2008 at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain (MAMCO) in Geneva, and in 2016 at the Villa Stuck, Munich. In 2018, the artist was awarded the Swiss Grand Prix Art / Prix Meret Oppenheim.