Aimless walking, an iPhone Pietà and a huge gargoyle: Art Basel is here to help you find happiness

What might at first glance appear to be confused tourists lost on Basel’s central Marktplatz, is actually a performance artwork at Switzerland’s iconic art fair, Art Basel.

‘Walking In Every Direction’, by English artist Hamish Fulton sees volunteers going on an hour-long aimless walk, the idea being participants turn inwards and reflect, perhaps even meditate.

It’s one of 20 site-specific installations and performances in Art Basel’s ‘Parcours’ event staged across the city’s centre.

Aimless walking, an iPhone Pietà and a huge gargoyle: Art Basel is here to help you find happiness
Visitors taking part in ‘Walking In Every Direction’, by English artist Hamish Fulton as part of Art Basel ParcoursAP

After an entirely online event last year due to the pandemic, Art Basel is returning in person this week.

“It’s an indoor and outdoor sculpture project, installation, performance project, which takes place almost in everywhere in the historic centre of Basel, meaning that we find different locations, hosts, partners, who offer their spaces and we try to match it with exciting projects from artists,” explains Samuel Leuenberger, curating Parcours for the fifth time.

Leuenberger chose the theme of ‘Can We Find Happiness Together Again?’ for this year’s selection.

It’s a reference to the artists and galleries he worked with to make this year’s show happen, but also a reflection of the joy of seeing friends and colleagues after over a year apart.

“To really be able to trust that this will come through, to trust that this will take place, even though we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and so, hence the title,” he says.

“Of course, finding happiness with each other, but also through the arts and through just working together again and meeting each other in the public space.”

Last year’s Art Basel was moved entirely online due to the pandemic. Leuenberger says he had to rip up about half of his plans for 2020.

He hopes his happiness-themed selection – from Bunny Rogers’ stone gargoyle to Thomas Bayrle’s iPhone Pietà – might win over those not accustomed to traditional art settings.

Aimless walking, an iPhone Pietà and a huge gargoyle: Art Basel is here to help you find happiness
Bunny Rogers’ Stone Gargoyle at Art Basel 2021Nici Jost/Art Basel

“I think a lot of people who have fear of crossing the threshold of going to a museum, people who are maybe not so into the arts, this is a beautiful way to merge a different kind of public, maybe a more art insider public and one that’s just walking by,” he says.

“This is the beauty of it, you can walk around the corner and you bump into a piece and you would be completely surprised why it’s here, you might not know that Parcours is happening.”

Last week you could see the demographics of the city had changed, so definitely people are coming.

Elena Filipovic

Art museum Kunsthalle Basel is also taking part, playing host to a Parcours piece and staging events alongside Art Basel.

Museum director Elena Filipovic says after a year without the city’s traditional art fair she missed a lot.

“I miss most the conversations around art, the curiosity, the passion that everyone brings when they come to this week of Art Basel and to our shows at Kunsthalle Basel,” she says.

Of course, this year’s fair will be very different than previous editions with COVID-19 certificate checks and face masks worn throughout, there’ll likely be fewer buyers from the United States and South America attending in person, due to travel restrictions.

Aimless walking, an iPhone Pietà and a huge gargoyle: Art Basel is here to help you find happiness
Part of ‘The Interview Painting Ensemble (mise-en-scène in 12 Acts)’, 2021 by Claudia ComteNici Jost/Art Basel

“Already starting mid-last week, you could see the demographics of the city had changed, so definitely people are coming,” says Filipovic.

“And, if there are fewer in numbers – and I could imagine there would be fewer of our colleagues from the US, from Latin America, from Asia, nevertheless, I have the feeling the people who are here are really serious, are the ones who really couldn’t be kept away. And that’s nice.”

Art Basel art fair opens with media previews on Tuesday 21 September 2021. The general public are invited to attend from Friday 24 September to Sunday 26 September. Parcours will also run till Sunday 26 September.

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