BY Kito Nedo in Critic's Guides | 17 SEP 21

Your Guide to the Best Shows in Basel and Zurich

Ahead of Art Basel and Zurich Art Weekend, Kito Nedo offers his selection of what to see in the neighbouring Swiss cities

BY Kito Nedo in Critic's Guides | 17 SEP 21

Alice Neel, Hartley on the Rocking Horse, 1943, oil on canvas, 76 × 86 cm. Courtesy: © The Estate of Alice Neel


Fondation Beyeler, Basel

19 September 2021 – 2 January 2022

In the early 1960s, New York portrait painter Alice Neel famously referred to herself as ‘a collector of souls’. She used painting to get to the core of contemporary existence. ‘I paint my time’, she is quoted as saying in Pamela Allara’s Pictures of People (2000), ‘using the people as evidence.’ For this show focussing on portraits and self-portraits, curator Theodora Vischer has brought together works by nine women artists: alongside Neel’s paintings are pieces by Mary Cassatt, Marlene Dumas, Frida Kahlo, Lotte Laserstein, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Berthe Morisot, Elizabeth Peyton and Cindy Sherman. By placing these artists in dialogue, most of whom were active during different decades, the exhibition offers a partial – but fascinating – view into how portraiture has changed from 1870 to the present day.

Kara Walker, 'A Black Hole is Everything that a Start Longs to Be', 2021, exhibition view, Kunstmuseum Basel. Courtesy: the artist and Kunstmuseum Basel

Kara Walker

Kunstmuseum Basel

5 June – 26 September 

‘A Black Hole Is Everything a Star Longs to Be’ is the cosmic-sounding title of this solo exhibition by US artist Kara Walker, curated by Anita Haldemann. Featuring more than 650 sketches, studies, collages, notes, handwritten dream fragments, overpainted pages from books, typewritten index cards and found objects spanning three decades, this is the first comprehensive presentation of the artist’s graphic oeuvre. Stand-out pieces include four large-format pastels, rendered in the style of the old masters, which feature former US president Barack Obama in allegorical scenes of the artist’s imagining. The most striking of these, Barack Obama as Othello ‘The Moor’ with the Severed Head of Iago in a New and Revised Ending by Kara E. Walker (2019), depicts Obama in 17th-century dress holding the bloody head of Donald Trump in his hands.

Beatriz González, Cavar: presente de indicativo (Ditch: Present Indicative), 2021, oil on canvas, 53 × 83 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Galeria Casas Riegner, Bogota, and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich; photograph: Oscar Monsalve

Beatriz González

Peter Kilchmann, Zurich

28 August – 2 October

In her native Colombia, Beatriz González has inspired a generation of younger artists to engage with the country’s political situation. However, it was only following a major touring retrospective of her work in 2018 – which travelled from Bordeaux to Madrid to Berlin – that the octogenarian painter became better known in Europe. For her second solo show at Galerie Peter Kilchmann in Zurich, the artist has produced eight new paintings and several works on paper. As suggested by the exhibition’s title, ‘Funebria’ (Funeral), this latest body of work focusses on the theme of collective mourning due to several tragic events in Columbia’s recent history. Works such as Angelus local (2021), for instance, depict shadowy figures digging what appear to be graves. It refers to the ‘false positives’ scandal, where the members of the military lured citizens to remote locations and then murdered them so that they could claim that they were winning the war against Guerrilla forces during the county’s 52-year armed conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia and the government.

Renée Levi, Ginny, 2021, installation view, Philip Zollinger, Zurich

Renée Levi

Philipp Zollinger, Zurich

17 September – 23 October

Swiss painter Renée Levi explores painting in its broadest possible definition, producing large-scale installations grounded in experimentation, spontaneity and site-specificity. For her current exhibition at Philipp Zollinger, for instance, she created a series of geometric paintings by laying canvases directly on the floor and using a mop to apply blue lines (all works GINNY, 2021). Elsewhere, she employs brightly coloured oils, spray paints and unusual utensils to create the illusion of the painting almost detaching from the surface of the canvas.

Kunsthalle Zurich, view Heimplatz with installation Tactile Lights, 2020, by Pipilotti Rist, © Pipilotti Rist; photograph: Franca Candrian

Walter De Maria and the David Chipperfield extension

Kunsthaus Zurich

27 August 2021 – 20 February 2022

In 1992, the late artist Walter De Maria created The 2000 Sculpture: a 500 m2 floor installation for the main hall at Kunsthaus Zürich. Consisting of 2,000 white plaster bars arranged in a herringbone pattern, the work – which the museum claims is one of the largest floor-based sculptures in the world – is being shown again for the first time in more than two decades. In early October, the institution is also due to open a CHF206 million extension, designed by David Chipperfield. Intended to lift Kunsthaus Zürich into the top tier of international museums, the new exhibition spaces will house, amongst others, key works from the Bührle Collection, including pieces by Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. As an arms manufacturer, the collector Emil Georg Bührle produced weapons for the Nazis and profited directly from the Holocaust. It remains to be seen if, and how, the institution will reflect this dark history.

Two additional must-see shows in Zurich and Basel:

At, Zurich, Julian Göthe’s theatrical solo exhibition, ‘The Fat Shadow’ includes a new installation and mini retrospective of drawings from his commissioned senographic projects (until 31 October). In Basel, Emily Sunblad’s ‘Das Krokodil und die Muschel / The Crocodile and the Seashell’ at Weiss Falk is made up entirely from paintings made during her recent pregnancy (until 30 October). 

Kito Nedo lives in Berlin where he works as contributing editor for frieze and as freelance journalist for several magazines and newspapers. In 2017, he won the ADKV-Art Cologne Award for Art Criticism.