They say art is subjective, but one thing that can’t be debated is Basel’s supremacy when it comes to seeing incredible works in the flesh. Thanks to its remarkable density of world-leading museums, galleries and off-spaces – not to mention the renowned ART Basel fair that rolls into town every year – the city’s art offering has seen it compete with, and maybe even surpass, heavy hitters like Paris and London.
With so much to explore, knowing where to begin can give even the most accomplished art aficionados a headache. Fortunately, Basel culture vulture and founder of Artstübil gallery and Urban Art Tours Philipp Brogli is here to give us the lowdown on the museums and cultural experiences you simply cannot miss.
The one for magical art in painterly settings
"Fondation Beyeler is located inside an idyllic park and is surrounded by nature. It offers peace and relaxation and the building by Renzo Piano offers beautiful views, which is why it’s one of the most stunning art spaces in the world and attracts the most visitors to Switzerland every year.
"Take time to explore the surroundings and let the art inspire you. I recommend the new exhibition project by Olafur Eliasson called «LIFE». It’s the artist's first site-specific installation in Switzerland and it can be experienced with all five senses. Another one that’s not to be missed is Goya, which launches this October, and is set to be one of the most significant exhibitions ever devoted to painter Francisco de Goya outside of Spain."
The one for classic collections
"When the Amerbach-Kabinett collection was acquired by the city in 1661, the Kunstmuseum Basel became one of the first public art museums in the world. Today, it houses the largest public art collection in Switzerland, with 300,000 works spanning seven centuries.
"There's a lot to discover here, so I recommend studying the current programme online beforehand in order to find something that suits your taste. If you are interested in the works of Pablo Picasso, you should search for 'Arlequin assis', 1923, which explains the history and connection with the legendary artist in more detail.
“Keep an eye out for upcoming exhibitions, which include a showing of provocative American artist Kara Walker’s personal archive this June, with 600 drawings from her studio. Then, starting in September, the museum will celebrate the work of eminent French artist Camille Pissarro: it's Switzerland’s first exhibition devoted to his work for more than 60 years.”
The one for exhibitions that come to life
"Jean Tinguely has fascinated me since I was a child. His moving machine-like sculptures combined with his interesting use of materials made him one of the greatest kinetic artists of his time. Museum Tinguely is located directly on the Rhine and boasts a permanent exhibition that spans his early filigree reliefs to the monumental machine sculptures of the 1980s.
"I like this museum because there is always something in motion. The venue offers workshops and programmes for the whole family, where visitors can experience, hear and feel the exhibits in operation. Also, with 2021 marking its 25th anniversary, a new festival programme will be launched from summer onwards."
The one for big kids
“The Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel (Toy Worlds Museum Basel) is truly unique in that every exhibit is dedicated to a different kind of art: toy making. It has the world’s largest collection of teddies, more than 2,500 in total, as well as dolls, doll houses and carousels showcasing the careful workmanship and imagination of their creators.
“A new exhibition has just been unveiled, called Moving World, showing a series of shopfront displays that feature animatronic toys and impressive showpieces, just like the kinds we’d see at Christmas in toy store windows. Many of the scenes have been provided by historic toy makers Margarete Steiff GmbH and are from as long ago as 1926.”
The one for edgy art enthusiasts
"Basel has had an active graffiti scene since the 1980s and its urban art scene is recognised across Europe. Well-known national and international artists who gave colours and shapes to the city are still active in Basel today. At Urban Art Tours, we take groups around the city to discover Basel's authentic street art and graffiti, accompanied by artists and experts of the scene, in German, French and English. It lasts around two hours, and we discuss the different painting techniques and stories behind the artists.
"My favourite piece to show our guests is from Invader, a mosaic work on Clarastrasse (near Messe Basel) that was installed in 2019. It has a wonderful rainbow – he calls it 'The Golden Pot of the Art World'.
"You can also study Switzerland’s urban art scene at our Artstübil gallery in Steinentorberg, where we spotlight various themed exhibitions from national and international urban artists."
Philipp Brogli, founder of Artstübli Gallery and Urban Art Tours Basel / Photo: Maja Juzwiak
In partnership with Basel Tourism