Art Basel and Beyond: Offerings Outside the Fair
For contemporary-art lovers, Art Basel is a cornucopia of finds, from site-specific installations and videos to sculptures, photography and paintings.
But the fair is not the only arts game in town. Basel, known as the cultural capital of Switzerland, is famous for having not only cutting-edge arts institutions but also great spaces highlighting everything from design and architecture to history, cartoons and even teddy bears.
“The city of Basel and the arts have been indelibly linked since 1661, when the city became home to the Kunstmuseum Basel, the first collecting institution in Europe,” Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, wrote in an email. “These institutions enrich our visitors’ experiences by presenting exceptional exhibitions concurrent to the fair.”
For those looking for a bit of a break from the main fair, plenty of options exist. Here are other art, design and museum offerings worth a stop.
Vitra Design Museum
Just across the border in Weil am Rhein, Germany (about a 10-minute taxi ride from downtown Basel), is the Vitra Design Museum, the Frank Gehry-designed space focused on the role that design plays in art, architecture and culture.
For this spring and summer season, it is mounting two major exhibitions. One show is by Lake Verea, the Mexican artistic duo of Francisca Rivero-Lake and Carla Verea. It focuses on their portraits of houses by famous modernist architects for their “Paparazza Moderna” project (though July 7).
The other show, “Balkrishna Doshi: Architecture for the People,” is the first international retrospective outside Asia to examine work by Mr. Doshi, winner of the 2018 Pritzker Prize. Included are urban planning projects as well as work on private residences and interiors by Mr. Doshi, considered a pioneer of modern architecture in his native India (through Sept. 8).
The Kunsthalle has long had captivating programming, Mr. Spiegler said, and that’s in large part because it has chosen directors who are rising stars in the contemporary-art world.
That includes the current director, the art historian Elena Filipovic. A champion of female artists, she has curated the first European institutional solo show of the Croatian-born artist Dora Budor (through Aug. 11).
Ms. Budor, a 2019 Guggenheim fellow who focuses much of her work on installation and sculpture, is presenting “I Am Gong,” which examines the architectural history of the Kunsthalle and its surroundings. “It’s a high-tech show, but no tech will actually be visible; instead, live feed transmissions, mutating compositions, sensor-activated dust chambers and other such items will feed her moody, electric show,” Ms. Filipovic wrote in an email.
A second show, “Homemade RC Toy” (also through Aug. 11) by the South Korean artist and choreographer Geumhyung Jeong, focuses on the boundaries between animate and inanimate and human and machine through her robotic sculptures and videos.
Kunstmuseum Basel, Gegenwart
It might feel as if the South African artist, filmmaker and stage director William Kentridge is ubiquitous across Basel during fair week.
Not only will the Marian Goodman Gallery, which represents him, be exhibiting his works at Art Basel, Theatre Basel will also be showing his “Paper Music,” a “cross-genre performance” in which animations of his charcoal and ink drawings are shown on a screen set to live music played on stage.
In addition, a large-scale retrospective of his works, including “A Poem That Is Not Our Own,” will take place at the Kunstmuseum.
Set over three floors, the show will highlight not only his earlier films and drawings from the 1980s and 1990s but also more recent projects, including “The Head and the Load,” which had its debut in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in London last summer.
The show employs shadow play, film projections, music, dance and mechanized sculptures to highlight the largely untold story of African porters and carriers who served in the French, German and British forces during World War I.
“I think Kentridge is one of the most inspiring artists today,” and his work is able “to relate to our most pressing issues, our unresolved wounds of history,” said Josef Helfenstein, director of the Kunstmuseum Basel, in an email.
Museum der Kulturen Basel
The city’s ethnographic museum has an important and timely show, “Thirst for Knowledge Meets Collecting Mania” (through Jan. 19), looking at the debate in the museum field about the drastic changes in perceptions of what is considered acceptable to collect and display.
In the past, moving things like human remains, West African masks or Greek pillars from their original context to museums was commonplace and even expected.
Now, however, museums grapple with the question of what collectors and audiences actually gain from the experience, and whether such items should be repatriated.
The show also examines how perceptions have changed regarding materials like ivory, which for centuries was coveted but whose trade is now mostly banned across the world.
The show ponders questions such as what is the best way of handling these sensitive objects now.