CAN, a not-for-profit association, first took shape in 1995 at the instigation of impassioned, energetic personalities like Jean-Pierre Huguet, Joël von Allmen, Marc-Olivier Wahler, Ivo Zanetti, Jérôme Brandt, and Sven de Coulon, to name just these few. From the outset, CAN offered a great number of exhibitions and events in which artists from Switzerland and abroad took part. Today, a number of those same artists find themselves at the forefront of the art scene, and there is no doubt that CAN has played a decisive role in their careers and at the crucial moment when those careers were just taking off. Over the years, CAN has become a benchmark, an art venue that serves as a point of reference. Besides the artists, the exhibition curators have likewise played an important role in the art center’s success. Alongside Jean-Pierre Huguet, who directed CAN until his death in late 2006, and Marc-Olivier Wahler, who served as the center’s art director until 2000, a number of well-known figures have passed through there, including Annemarie Reichen, Jean-Christophe Blaser, Gauthier Huber, and Eveline Notter.
In 2008 a new team took charge of the center’s future and direction. Since then CAN has been managed by the association Kunstart and directed by Arthur de Pury, Massimiliano Baldassarri, and Marie Villemin, who have been joined by Marie Léa Zwahlen and Julian Thompson, and later Martin Widmer (replacing Massimiliano) and finally Sylvie Linder. The center’s administration is supported by the committee of Kunstart, which is made up of a dozen artists and art historians, as well as some hundred active members of the association. To attend to the indispensable connections with the political authorities and the foundations and art patrons that provide financial support to CAN, Kunstart appointed a director. Nevertheless, the internal workings of the structure are meant to be horizontal and nonhierarchical. The CAN administration is thus looking to develop a certain coherence — fragile by its very nature of course — between an associative organization and the exhibitions the center mounts. The relationship that the center looks to foster with its artists plays an important part naturally. The administration is made up of four curators and two technicians, and each participates in, according to her or his abilities, all the other day-to-day tasks involved in running an art center, viz., communications, general administration, accounting, photography, reception, security, graphic design, the website, assistance in mounting a show, organizing transportation, cleaning, etc. Curatorial, administrative, practical and wage-related decisions are taken in common. This way of working is often deemed a waste of both time and productivity nowadays, but CAN has always wanted to stress an optimization of workflows that is more human than entrepreneurial.
The new team wanted to continue along the same creative and experimental lines originally laid down by the art center, while increasing the program’s frequency. The aim of this frenetic rhythm was to work against a routine taking hold, which would be unfavorable to the constant renewing of the issues and questions at work in contemporary art, for which a certain risk-taking has always been indispensable. In recent years CAN has indeed increased the number of exhibition strategies, wanting to experience the different ways of producing and presenting the art of today, from the most personal to the most monumental. Along with the center’s events and exhibitions, the administration team has also developed its publishing activities. The center has thus brought out several books, artist editions and vinyl albums, all considered separate projects in their own right and all displaying a strong dose of originality.
For more than 20 years, CAN has continuously explored and questioned the latest trends in contemporary art, and has thus forged for itself a solid international reputation on today’s art scene. Over five hundred events (exhibitions, performances, screenings, concerts, talks, round-table discussions) have been held there, in which over one thousand four hundred artists from the world over have participated. The center continues to have multiple objectives in its sights, i.e., offer artists an experimental space for novel works of art, serve as platform for local artists, and constitute a venue the general public knows about and likes to visit.