CAN 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 a 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. At first directed by Arthur de Pury, Massimiliano Baldassarri, and Marie Villemin, who were joined by Marie Léa Zwahlen and Julian Thompson, and later Martin Widmer (replacing Massimiliano Baldassarri) and finally Sylvie Linder. In 2018, big changes were made within the team and a new office was formed comprised of Sylvie Linder, Magali Pexa, Julian Thompson, joined by Martin Jakob, Nicolas Raufaste and Sebastian Verdon. In 2020, Liza Trottet joined the office (replacing Julian Thompson).
The center’s administration is supported by the committee of Kunstart, which is made up of artists and art historians, as well as around one 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. However, during the restructuring of the team in 2018, a joint decision between the office and committee went a step further by eliminating the role of director, a coherent decision in regards to the desired horizontal structure.
The new CAN office is composed of artists, curators and technicians, each participating, in accordance with their capabilities, in the everyday activities needed to run an art center: communications, administration, accounting, photography, reception, care-taking, graphic design, web site, construction, transports, cleaning, etc. This type of operation is often considered a waste of time and effort, but the CAN intends to value an “optimisation of flow” that is more human than entrepreneurial.
Since 2008, the new team as well as the next one in 2018, wanted to continue along the same creative and experimental lines originally laid down by the art center, all while increasing the program’s frequency. The aim of this frenetic rhythm was to work against routine taking hold, which would be unfavourable 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 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, 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 become a privileged meeting point with the public.