For such a small city, Basel is a heavy hitter. Despite having a population smaller than Plymouth, it’s fought its way to the top of the international art scene; boasting some of the best galleries in Europe and an art fair recognised all over the world. Yet navigating your way through this veritable smorgasbord of culture can be tricky, thanks in no small part to the staggering number of venues on offer.
Here’s a guide to making the best of your cultural stay in Basel:
Just outside Basel, in the tiny town of Riehen, sits the granddaddy of all modern galleries. Boasting over 200 canvases by big names like Picasso, Monet, Cezanne and Lichtenstein; housed within a gloriously open setting designed by architect Renzo Piano, the Fondation Beyeler is a dilettante’s wet dream. The permanent collection is complemented by a revolving procession of exhibitions diverse enough to attract art lovers from around the globe. At only 20 minutes from Basel, the Fondation is a must for any serious art-nut.
If your interests lie in a strictly modern direction, take time out to venture to the Kunsthalle. Housing ferociously avant-garde exhibits since 1872, this grand old building features an endlessly rotating stock of work from the best, the boldest and the brightest in contemporary art. Expect to be challenged, beguiled and subjected to some of the strangest works you’ll see in a prestigious gallery. Regular video installations, performance pieces and lecture series ensure there’s always something new to see.
Jean Tinguely was a man with a unique vision. Combining machinery, appliances and repurposed waste into vast, sculptural creations he prefigured the work of Theo Jansen with creepy prescience. While none of his works quite have the eerie power of Jansen’s otherworldly Strandbeast series, they still exert a hypnotic hold over visitors: twisting, turning, shunting and dancing to pre-set triggers. Whimsical, strange and housed alongside the best view of the Rhine in all of Basel, a visit to the Musuem Tinguely is a must.
If modern art leaves you feeling dour, and you have no time for whimsical machines, swing by the venerable Kunstmuseum to soak up the best posterity has to offer. Housed behind the impressive façade is one of the world’s oldest public art collections; in city hands since 1661. Classic Swiss paintings jostle for place alongside ancient sculpture, while a wing dedicated to 20th century art should keep any lingering modernists happy. Taken as a whole, the museum offers an invaluable insight into the development of art in Switzerland, tracing the country’s cultural ascent via Witz, Bocklin, Hodler and other luminaries.
Tony Wuethrich Galerie
With a focus on contemporary art, photography and young artists, the Tony Wuethrich Gallery is a good spot to scout for up-and-coming talent before they hit the big time. Exhibitions are a bit of a mixed bag, but for every duff piece there’s at least one other that will blow you away; or at least impress upon you again the extent of Basel’s flawless art credentials. It may lack the punch of some of the bigger galleries, but the Tony Wuethrich makes up for it by being raw, immediate and genuinely alternative. Worth a visit.
If you time your visit just right, you may find yourself inadvertently immersed in one of the biggest art shows in the Western world. So popular it went international in 2002 with a Miami delegation, Art Basel is second only to the Venice Biennale in the art calendar. With every gallery in town getting in on the act, and several temporary spaces mushrooming up across the city, Art Basel is when Basel itself really comes alive. Running June 13-16 in 2013; if you like modern art and don’t mind crowds, this is one not to miss.
If you’re visiting Basel for its diverse art scene, then make the most of your stay by booking a room at the luxury Swissotel Le Plaza Basel.