Basel Is Switzerland’s Culture Capital; the Alps Have Art Worth Traveling for, Too. See Our City-and-Country Guide
Between Basel and Graubünden, art-lovers will find plenty to yodel about.
It’s hardly a secret that Switzerland’s pastoral image belies a cutting-edge art scene, with Basel—the third-largest city and smallest canton, situated along the Rhine River right where the French, German, and Swiss borders meet—as the country’s unofficial culture capital.
The Alps also have a fair share of art worth traveling for. The largest and southeastern-most of the 26 cantons, home to glamorous St. Moritz and a thousand mountain peaks, Graubünden is not only the birthplace of Heidi, it also gave us Modern and contemporary artists from Alberto Giacometti to Not Vital (who now calls an Engadin valley castle one of his homes).
For discerning travelers looking to experience the best of both worlds on a quick-yet-rejuvenating trip to Switzerland (with as little as 10 hours’ notice, no less), NetJets offers personalized service with heightened attention to detail gained from more than 55 years of experience, industry-leading standards, and a multilingual team dedicated to anticipating your every need.
BASEL: Days 1–3
See and Do: After being cancelled last year, Art Basel is back in a new hybrid form, with digital and IRL editions welcoming 272 galleries from around the world.
The Messeplatz will have site-specific interventions by Argentina-born Cecilia Bengolea, who is staging a video and performance work in its fountain, as well as Britain’s Monster Chetwynd, whose Salvador Dalí-inspired work involves dancers in giant balloons.
Inside, Giovanni Carmine, the director of Switzerland’s Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, has curated 62 large-scale projects, including the debut of David Hockney’s trompe lʼoeil painting Pictures at an Exhibition (2018/2021). And Samuel Leuenberger, founder of Switzerland’s non-profit art space Salts, has planted 20 site-specific installations and performance works around town.
Of course, Basel is brimming with art—even the headquarters of Novartis and Roche have notable collections (sometimes they open for tours). The Renzo Piano-designed Fondation Beyeler—which will soon add an extension by starchitect Peter Zumthor—is now showing “Close-Up” (September 19, 2021–January 2, 2022), which includes portraits and self-portraits by nine renowned female Modernists, from Berthe Morisot to Frida Kahlo to Elizabeth Peyton.
Don’t miss “Kara Walker: A Black Hole is Everything a Star Longs to Be” (until September 26) at the Kunstmuseum Basel. While Walker is known for her wall-sized silhouettes, drawing on paper is the foundation of her practice. This exhibition displays, for the first time in public, more than 600 sketches, collages, and large-format works from the artist’s personal archive, in which she explores her identity as a Black woman in America.
Between Weiss/Falk (co-founded by friends Oliver Falk and Oskar Weiss, son of the late Swiss artist David Weiss) and Wilde (currently showing works of the English sculptural and installation artist Cornelia Parker, until November 19)—not to mention a new crop of artist-run spaces such as Amore, Giulietta, and Palazzina—Basel’s gallery scene is going strong, too.
It’s worth hopping over the border to the German town of Weil am Rhein, if only to visit the architecture and design Mecca that is the Vitra Campus, whose Frank Gehry–designed museum is showing “Here We Are! Women in Design 1900 to Today” (September 23, 2021–March 6, 2022). In addition to its flagship store (designed by Herzog & de Meuron), conference pavilion (Tadao Ando), fire station (Zaha Hadid), and viewing tower and slide (Carsten Höller), the Swiss furniture-maker just unveiled a 43,000-square-foot perennial garden from the Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf.
Eat and Drink: At the Restaurant Kunsthalle, situated inside the eponymous institution for emerging artists, you can dine—say, on French duck liver with apple slices, blueberry juice, and Calvados—under an expansive ceiling lamp created by the late Danish designer and former Basel resident Verner Panton, who frequented the restaurant. Panton pieced together thousands of translucent shell fragments over the course of 15 years; the resulting fixture was installed a few years ago amid artworks by Samuel Buri, Bruce Nauman, and Danh Vo.
Less formal, the Herzog & de Meuron–designed brasserie inside Volkshaus—Basel’s ca.-1925 concert hall—complements its menu of French and Swiss comfort foods with an impressive collection of contemporary art, including all of the original works from the book “Artists’ Recipes” (by Marina Abramović, Roger Ballen, and Anish Kapoor, to name a few). There’s also a new, 45-room hotel, also designed by Herzog & de Meuron. Its lobby doubles as a satellite gallery from Switzerland’s Von Bartha, now with works from the Irish-Welsh sculptor Barry Flanagan.
Stay: Since 1681, when it was founded as an “inn for gentlemen,” the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois has welcomed everyone from Napoléon Bonaparte to Ella Fitzgerald. With frescoed walls and views of the Rhine in many of its 101 suites—not to mention the three Michelin–starred Cheval Blanc, the cigar bar, or the new Pedrazzini boat (the only one on the Rhine, handcrafted in Switzerland)—it’s still the most luxurious address in the Old Town.
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GRAUBÜNDEN: Days 3–6
See and Do: In 2019, the Polish entrepreneur and art collector Grażyna Kulczyk unveiled her non-profit Muzeum Susch on the site of a medieval monastery and brewery in the Engadin valley. It is a space for experimental, site-specific works alongside temporary exhibits from conceptual and female artists. On view through December 5, 2021 is “The Measuring of Time,” a retrospective of the late Italian artist Laura Grisi, reconstructing a range of her immersive environments inspired by natural phenomena (fog, rain, wind).
The Engadin is also where the multidisciplinary artist Not Vital has his foundation, including the 17th-century Planta house in Ardez, with its library of historic Rumantsch writings, as well as a painting studio and sculpture park in the mountain village of Sent, his birthplace. Meanwhile, he calls a ca.-1040 castle in Tarasp home (when he’s not in Beijing or Rio de Janeiro, that is); it also houses and sometimes exhibits his collection of antique, Modern, and contemporary art, along with works from artists near and far. They are all worth visiting (note: you’ll need to book tours of the castle and the Planta house).
There is a thriving gallery scene, too. Joining Vito Schnabel—which is displaying abstract, large-scale paintings on raw jute canvas by the Los Angeles–based artist Spencer Lewis through September 26, 2021—Hauser & Wirth returned to its Swiss roots a few years ago by opening a three-level, Luis Laplace–designed space in the center of St. Moritz. More remote, Galerie Tschudi shows new works of Arte Povera and Minimalist art within a medieval building in the village of Zuoz, while Von Bartha invites artists to take over the barn of a historic patrician house in nearby S-chanf.
Eat and Drink: While the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is widely known for its health spa, based around the healing waters of the town’s Tamina Gorge, it is also becoming increasingly renowned for its food. Even if you’re not staying at the property, we’d suggest booking a table at one of its Michelin-starred restaurants. Chef Sven Wassmer sources inspiration—and seasonal ingredients—from the Swiss Alps for Memories, while Igniv has menus with up to 30 courses designed to be shared, from Graubünden-born chef Andreas Caminada.
Stay: Originally built ca. 1913 as an alpine sanatorium in Zuoz, the 68-room Hotel Castell offers a full-on immersion in art. Its owner—the Swiss artist and collector Ruedi Bechtler—has invited a number of big-name artists to develop projects on site, from Pipilotti Rist (who designed the Red Bar with Zurich architect Gabrielle Hächlero) to Tadashi Kawamata (see sun terrace and pool) to James Turrell (you’ll want to spend some time sky-gazing in his open-air installation, Skyspace Piz Utèr).
With its thermal baths crafted from 60,000 slabs of local quartzite by none other than Peter Zumthor, 7132 Hotel Vals—named after the area’s postcode—is a destination for both wellness and design. For its House of Architects sister hotel, 7132 tapped Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, Thom Mayne, and Zumthor to create a series of Zen-like suites overlooking the Grison mountains.
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