Art Basel sees gallerists, artists, curators and collectors descend on the Rhine-perched Swiss city every June, but it’s only one of several art fairs, events, and fêtes in Switzerland during the month.
In the northwest of Switzerland on the banks of the Rhine River, and at the meeting point of Switzerland, Germany and France sits the Swiss city of Basel. Known in the industrial world for its penchant for producing a long line of pharmaceutical products, Basel also, and perhaps more interestingly, takes the stage as a multi-cultural centre of the arts. Boasting a wide range of museums, theatres, and galleries, this Swiss city has become a hotbed for arts enthusiasts around the world, and that is never more evident than in the summer, when the city plays host to Art Basel and a number of other artful pursuits.
Boasting a wide range of museums, theatres, and galleries, this Swiss city has become a hotbed for arts enthusiasts around the world, and that is never more evident than in the summer, when the city plays host to Art Basel and a number of other artful pursuits.
If you only have time for one art show during your time in Europe, Art Basel (18 — 21 June) should be it. 2015 sees the fair’s 46th edition with a roster of expanded exhibits in addition to the main event, an expo hall stuffed with 284 galleries from 33 countries showcasing over 4,000 artists ranging from modern masters like Picasso and Warhol to contemporaries like Damien Ortega and Alex Katz to lesser known names like Haegue Yang and Rita Ackerman. The museum-quality fair is exceptionally fun and interesting whether you’re buying, browsing or just watching the bespectacled crowds.
Unlike its sibling fairs in Hong Kong and Miami, Art Basel’s focus in Basel remains firmly gazed on selling art and less on networking, PR and partying. Also unlike other art fairs, its official programme includes its own auxiliary shows. Parcours is a collection of site-specific exhibits placed across the city. 2015 highlights include Yves Scherer’s fountain-perched 3D ‘Little Mermaid’ with the head of Emma Watson; David Balula’s fully functioning ice-cream parlour where the artist teamed with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Burns to create unusual flavours like burnt wood, graphite, linen, and smoke; and Spanish artist Alicia Framis’ ‘Room for Forbidden Books,’ an installation of 100 banned books housed in the quiet council hall of Basel Cathedral where guests are invited to read.
For the fourth year running, Gianni Jetzer has curated Unlimited, one of the most exciting shows at Art Basel with big name artists paired against rising newcomers. The 74 pieces in the 2015 edition promise to be no less dynamic and include work by Ai Weiwei, Martin Creed, Olafur Eliasson, Ryan McGinley and Zhang Enli’s whose ‘Space Painting’ is a strangely enchanting endeavour made from 205 painted cardboard boxes.
Film includes the screening of Takashi Murakami’s debut feature film Jellyfish Eyes and a first-time collaboration with the Festival del film Locarno in Switzerland’s Italian speaking city of Locarno. With a special screening dedicated to Irish artist Duncan Campbell whose film It For Others won him the 2014 Turner Prize, this collaboration seeks to be the first in what hopes to become an ongoing creative pursuit.
Salon and Conversations are intimate, moderated Q&A panels with artists and industry insiders. Past speakers included Wolfgang Tillmans, French artist Pierre Huyghe, and Los Angeles photographer Alex Prager. 2015’s guests include Vietnamese-born Danish artist Danh Vō, Tate Modern Director Chris Dercon, and Egyptian artist Wael Shawky whose dark, captivating puppetry exhibited at Doha’s Mathaf examines the Crusades through an Islamic lens.
The 74 pieces in the 2015 edition promise to be no less dynamic and include work by Ai Weiwei, Martin Creed, Olafur Eliasson, Ryan McGinley and Zhang Enli’s whose ‘Space Painting’ is a strangely enchanting endeavour made from 205 painted cardboard boxes.
Additional non-affiliated Basel art-fairs include Scope (16 — 21 June) emphasising multidisciplinary mediums, Rhy (18 — 21 June), which provides a space for newer, lesser-known galleries and Liste (16 — 21 June) dedicated to young artists. The Swiss Art Awards (16 — 21 June), run by the Swiss Government, have been awarded since 1898 and host a few splashy events of their own.
Basel teems with museums, so if you’re not ‘arted out,’ check out the Gauguin exhibit (through 28 June) at Fondation Beyeler or Scottish sculptor Martin Boyce’s show (through 16 August) at Kunstmuseum’s Museum für Gegenwartskunst. A 10-minute drive across the border of Germany leads to the futuristic Vitra Museum, where Making Africa: A Continent of Contemporary Design runs through 13 September.
More Than Basel: Other Installations In and Around Switzerland
For those who enjoy the more mobile type of holidays, the summer months offer a wellspring of diverse art installations and exhibitions about the small European country, and even in some of the neighbouring countries that are just as easily accessible. Whether moving about by car or train, art enthusiasts would do well to get to as many of the following uniquely diverse exhibitions as possible.
Not to be outdone by its sibling city, Zürich amps up its June art offerings, starting with Baur au Lac’s Art in the Park (14 June — 23 August), an annual fête organised by Gigi Kracht and Galerie Gmurzynska. This year’s 13th edition is devoted to British Pop artist Allen Jones, and features six of his sculptures made from sinuous sheets of painted steel.
In 2015, Zürich’s iconic Kunsthaus begins refurbishing David Chipperfield, which, all things considered, is set to draw eyes and ears alike in 2020 when it rings in completion. But its summer exhibits go on and include Europe: The Future of History (12 June — 6 September) examining the identity of European Art followed by an exhibit on Baltimore’s enfant terrible, John Waters (14 August — 1 November). Haus Konstruktiv hosts an exhibit on South Africa’s William Kentridge (4 June — 6 September). Zürich’s Aufsehen Festival (25 June — 6 September) projects light art on the city’s selected building façades turning the architecture into a stage. And the city’s power galleries take advantage of the transiting art set with Zurich Contemporary Art Weekend (June 13 – 14) that includes a Julian Opie show at Galerie Bob Van Orsouw (through 31 July), an Alexander Calder and Francis Picabia exhibit at Hauser & Wirth (14 June — 25 July) and a James Turrell prints show at Häusler Gallery (through 15 August). Buyers can attend Koller’s series of timely auctions, Modern and Contemporary (26 — 27 June), Swiss Art (26 June) and Jewelry (24 June).
Big crowds are expected in 2015 thanks to Expo Milano 2015 (through 31 October) and the Venice Biennale (through 22 November). The former, only four hours from Basel/Zurich by train, is themed “Feeding The Planet For Life” so the massive arena it’s in is home to canals, plazas, a ‘future food district’ and a functional grocery store. Don’t miss Fosters+ Partners’ UAE pavilion or Japan’s pavilion featuring the digital wizardry of Tokyo art collective teamlab. The latter, seven hours by train, is seeing a recurring theme on European identity versus Islamicism, with pieces like the church-turned mosque by Christoph Büchel, a conservatively clad breastfeeding woman by Argelia Bravo, and a ‘High Visibility Burqa’ by Marco Biagini.
Other arty happenings nearby include Swarovski’s April 2015 unveiling of Kristallwelten in Innsbruck after a massive $50-million refurbishing. Its sleek new restaurant and glassy skyscraper for kids were designed by Norwegian architects Snøhetta; a new Crystal Clouds installation from artists Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot is a web of suspended mesh nets studded with 300,000 crystals, and a series of subterranean “chambers of wonders” was designed by Tord Boontje and Lee Bul.
After 10 years in hibernation, the artist Christo begins work on the Floating Piers Project, a massive modular fabric bridge on Lake Iseo, one hour from Milan. It shows for only 16 days in June 2016, but visitors can witness the project’s preparation in the meantime and admire the contemporary sculpture garden at nearby Ca’ del Bosco Winery or the 14th-century paintings at the Academia Tadini, a leafy neoclassical palace on the lake.
(Featured image: Art Basel’s new exhibition hall is set for the upcoming 2015 Art Basel festival in Basel, Switzerland. A series of art festivals, Art Basel is in its 46th rendition and shows no signs of slowing soon. An international event, the festival brings together artists and enthusiasts from around the globe for a series of dynamically varied exhibitions. — Photo courtesy of Art Basel)