2 days of art in the city
Here we’ll show you an example of a discovery tour of the most interesting works of art in the public domain. Because you will encounter many pieces of outstanding art in Basel: Pablo Picasso, Jonathan Borofsky and Jean Tinguely are just a few of the artists who enrich the cityscape with their works. And with urban art hotspots scattered about too, the city is a Mecca for art connoisseurs. Have fun on your art tour!
Begin your tour at Theaterplatz, at what is probably one of the city's most striking works of art in a public space: the Tinguely fountain(1) – also known as the “Fasnachts-Brunnen” (Carnival Fountain) – by Jean Tinguely. Nine figures spouting water make for an amusing scene. And not without reason: this exact spot used to be home to the stage of the old city theatre. The Tinguely fountain, which was revealed in 1977, is a tribute to the actors and dancers who used to appear here. The figures in the fountain are made from parts of the theatre, which was demolished. The Tinguely fountain is particularly beautiful in winter, when impressive ice sculptures form over the figures.
You will find the next work of art just a short walk away, right in front of the entrance to Theater Basel – Richard Serra’s Intersection(2). You can’t miss the huge sails made of steel. Planned as a temporary exhibit in 1992, it was subsequently privately gifted to the public. The sculpture has remained at Theaterplatz ever since.
The next work of art is right behind this one: the Grosse Mondleiter(3) by local artist René Küng. Curved rungs, most of which are made from tree branches, portray a stairway to heaven above the roof of the theatre. The sculpture, with its linear design, was established on Theaterplatz in 1980.
There is also public access to the theatre restaurant, which offers a different menu every day. How about a snack among ballet dancers and costumed actors taking a short break?
Your journey then continues on to Heuwaage. You will quickly spot the bright sculpture Lieu dit(4) by Basel artist Michael Grossert. It is a combination of painting and sculpture, tectonic and organic forms. In 1976, this was new and provocative for Basel. At the same time, though, the sculpture represented friendship between artists. When the piece was destroyed by vandals shortly after it had been revealed, friends painted the opulent object again from scratch.
If you take the stairs behind it and turn to look back at the large wall of the building behind you, you will see the next piece of art. Swiss street art and graffiti artist TIKA has made an international name for herself with her huge paintings. In Basel, this building at Heuwaage is emblazoned with an enormous, colourful creature(5) – strictly speaking, a basilisk, which is the emblem of Basel.
Head back to the theatre and turn left into Theatergässlein towards the Birsig car park. It looks as though you should be walking upside down on the ceiling here – because there is a pedestrian crossing up there. The piece Luege-Lose-Laufe(6) by Marc Covo has brightened up the little passageway since 1993. Even the posters are the wrong way up!
Head along Steinenvorstadt to Barfüsserplatz and take the steps up to Gymnasium Leonhard. At the top of the steps to Kohlenberg, a naked Ritter Georg(7) sits on his horse atop a high pedestal. This elegant bronze statue by Carl Burckhardt was created in 1922 and stands out from afar thanks to its S-shaped silhouette.
Head via Heuberg to Teufelhof Basel, where Restaurant Atelier offers the perfect setting for lunch. At the heart of the Old Town, Teufelhof Basel is a veritable bijou for culture enthusiasts and epicureans. In addition to an inn and a hotel, it also has a studio, a theatre, a brewery and an impressive wine cellar.
After a good meal, it's time to head to Lyss to see the impressive work of art by The London Police(8) – you will find it painted on the wall right behind Restaurant Harmonie. Here in the middle of Basel's Old Town, a group of funny little astronauts ensnare a woman lying on her back.
Next to the collegiate building of the University of Basel at Petersplatz, you will find the sculpture Lehrer und Schüler(9) by Basel sculptor and artist Alexander Zschokke. It is reminiscent of the classical antiquity and religious sculptures of the Middle Ages. The larger-than-life figure conveys discipline, knowledge and honour – values that the oldest university in Switzerland (founded in 1460) still embodies to this day.
At Schifflände, to the left of the Mittleren Brücke, stands another sculpture by Basel sculptor Carl Burckhardt, called Amazone, Pferd führend(10). This was his last piece before his death.If you look closely, you will see traces of work from the plaster model, which was only cast in bronze three years after Burckhardt’s death (1926).
If you now take the Rheinsprung, you will find another work of art by an artist from Basel on a wall on the left hand side: Gänseliesel(11) by Samuel Buri looks somewhat unfinished. The mural looks like a black-and-white image, with the artist's utensils on a set of scaffolding. It's the perfect optical illusion.
Now cross over the Mittlere Brücke and, when you reach the end, look across to the left hand side to see another landmark of the city of Basel. Helvetia auf Reisen(12) by Bettina Eichin sits atop a wall on the Kleinbasel side of the Rhine. She has set her suitcase and shield down next to her and is gazing into the distance, lost in thought.
If you’ve not yet had enough and want to discover even more urban art, we recommend you take a longer walk along the bank of the Rhine in Kleinbasel towards the port (20 minutes). Here you will find the city’s most exciting urban art hotspots. The Uferstrasse am Klybeckquai(13) is a popular meeting place, especially in summer, and there is plenty of graffiti to discover between here and the Dreiländereck. Round out your day with refreshments at the Landestelle restaurant or the “Sandoase”.
The second part of your art tour begins in the De Wette park. Here, round white fences(1) surround wild growth and trees. Although it doesn't initially look like art, the piece was created by Basel artist Erik Steinbrecher. Landler / Polka was established in 2008 as part of the redesign of the park.
If you’re interested, Zum Kuss also serves breakfast and coffee. The café in “Totenhusli” by Melchior Berri, dating back to 1850, was renovated into the “Zum Kuss” bar by Basel architects Christ & Gantenbein.
If you now head towards Aeschenplatz, you will already be able to see what is probably the largest and most obvious piece of art in the public domain: the Hammering Man(2) by Jonathan Borofsky. The figure carries out its work here in an endless loop: the gigantic, black sculpture, made from aluminium and steel, slowly strikes its hammer three to four times a minute.
Close by is Picassoplatz, which leads us to a legendary tale that will astonish you: Basel and Picasso are involved in one particular story relating to art from 1967:
Autumn 1967. The art collector Peter G. Staechelin is in financial difficulty. He plans to sell two paintings by Picasso that are currently on loan to the Kunstmuseum Basel. Basel’s art lovers are up in arms. With the slogan “All you need is Pablo” they take to the streets, collect donations and ultimately induce the city to acquire the two paintings for 8.4 million Swiss francs following a referendum. Picasso himself was so impressed by this story that he donated a further four of his works to the Kunstmuseum. He dedicated them to the citizens of Basel, who had fought so hard for his art. To this day, Kunstmuseum Basel continues to house one of the most significant Picasso collections in Europe.
Here, on the Picassoplatz, you will find the sculpture L’homme aux bras écartés(4) – a weatherproof version of the original work by Pablo Picasso.
But let's come back to the present, and modern street art: one master of Urban Art is the artist known as Invader. His Space Invaders(5) can be found on various walls and house walls all over the city – there are 24 in all in Basel. One of these space invaders is tucked away on the Picassoplatz – if you look closely, you will find the little computer game figure on the façade of an office building.
If you now continue on to Kunstmuseum Basel main building, you will find its Bistro in the courtyard. Treat yourself to a break here. After all, where else can you enjoy lunch surrounded by the sculptures "Bürger von Calais"(6) by Auguste Rodin and Alexander Calder?
Your art tour now takes you back to the city centre, passing by the Tinguely fountain and via the Barfüsserplatz to the Gerbergässlein.The Graffiti in Gerbergässlein(7) is probably the best-known piece of street art in the centre of Basel: the work was commissioned by the rock bar L’Unique across the alley. If you take a seat in the bar and look closely, you’re sure to find graffiti portraits of some of your favourite musicians.
Head out of the bar and turn right, retracing your steps along the Gerbergässlein, then take the steps up Leonhardsstapfelberg to Leonhardskirchplatz. Sculptor Peter Moilliet has placed his own monument to Basel's curator of monuments and art connoisseur Dr Rudolf Riggenbach(8) here. With an open coat and a smoking cigar, the sculpture of the man himself draws a lot of attention.
Arion, Omar, Schwarzer Teufel, Silberpfeil(9) – these catchy names once belonged to horses in literature from around the world. They are embedded in the floor of nearby Rosshof, to remind visitors of a bygone age. This piece of art is by artist Hannes Vogel. The best way to get there is to follow Heuberg until you reach Lyss, and then continue via Spalenberg and Nadelberg until you reach Rosshof.
Do you remember this area from yesterday? You have already enjoyed the work of art by The London Police, which is just a short walk from here. To finish your tour, we recommend dinner in the Art Nouveau brasserie, Zur Harmonie. Enjoy!