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New exhibition at Kunstmuseum Basel presents forgotten or rarely seen works and icons of its collection
Installation view. Photo: Julian Salinas.

BASEL.- The exhibition Basel Short Stories turns the spotlight on the Kunstmuseum Basel's rich and in some respects world-famous collection, presenting less well-known treasures from the holdings in new contexts. The kaleidoscopic display unites illustrious and obscure, private and world-historical—and sometimes grotesque—events in the history of Basel that are brought into focus by art from the Kunstmuseum’s collections.

Basel Short Stories reminds the visitors of the extraordinary potential of the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, the municipal art collection of Basel, by staging a multifaceted dialogue between forgotten or rarely seen works and icons of the collection. It reflects all divisions of the collection, from the Old Masters to the present day, and sheds new light on the humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam, Hans Holbein the Younger’s masterwork The Dead Christ in the Tomb, the illustrator and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian, the historian and art historian Jacob Burckhardt, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the 1912 Basel Peace Congress, the figure skaters Frick and Frack, the inventor of LSD Albert Hofmann, and the women’s rights activist Iris von Roten. Each room tells a different story while also contributing to the concert of voices that make up the exhibition.

The manifold characters, voices, and scenes illustrate that a museum is a complex, infinitely surprising, and continually evolving organism. Loosening the reins of the art-historical canon, Basel Short Stories presents a more freewheeling encounter between works of art and documents based on Basel’s rich history of ideas and everyday practices and the lives of individuals associated with the city.

Visual short stories unfold in nine galleries, initiated by works of art, objects, and documents from the holdings of the Kunstmuseum, the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, and other private and public collections in Basel. Several rooms have been conceived and designed in close collaboration with Silvia Bächli, Pipilotti Rist, and Not Vital, three artists whose oeuvres are represented in the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung.

A rich program of events accompanies the Basel Short Stories, including the “Criss Cross,” a series of evening events crossing disciplinary boundaries: heterogeneous groups of guest speakers scrutinize selected issues that come up in the exhibition from a variety of perspectives, placing them in the context of contemporary debates in society and blending art with science, everyday life, and popular culture. Themes to be addressed include psychotropic substances, questions of ecology, aspects of peace efforts and processes, forms of feminism, as well as the entanglements between athletics and show business. Cooperative projects such as “Looping Journey,” directed by Gare du Nord, in which lay choruses experiment with translating the exhibition into music, and a “Culture City Plan” based on Basel Short Stories (realized by the cultural historians Franziska Schürch and Isabel Koellreuter) weave a web around the exhibition that literally connects it to the city.

Examining both familiar works and unknown pieces from a fresh angle, Basel Short Stories invites longtime fans who know the museum inside out and the broader public alike to discover the collection’s history and uncharted riches. Thanks to its transdisciplinary conception, the show is readily accessible to wide and diverse audiences.

An accompanying catalogue published by Christoph Merian Verlag presents a wealth of materials; illustrations, quotes, and excerpts from historic documents appearing side by side with essays by experts in a variety of fields. With contributions by Andreas Beyer, Andrea Bollinger, Bodo Brinkmann, Maike Christadler, Gabriel Dette, Patrick Düblin, Søren Grammel, Anita Haldemann, Josef Helfenstein, Michael Kessler, Andrea Maihofer, Ariane Mensger, Charles Ray, Sabine Söll-Tauchert, Monica Stucky, Hortensia von Roten, Regina Wecker, Maja Wismer, and others.

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