Samuel Leuenberger is an independent curator based in Basel — which also happens to be the city he was born and raised in. In addition to running SALTS, a not-for-profit venue that promotes young Swiss artists in Birsfelden, Switzerland, he has worked as curator for the interdisciplinary festival “Les Urbaines” in Lausanne as well as for “14 Rooms,” a live art exhibition coordinated by Fondation Beyeler, Art Basel and Theater Basel. He has also worked at Stephen Friedman Gallery and the Kunsthalle Zurich.
While Art Basel shows are presented across 27,500 square meters of exhibition space in two gigantic halls, the Parcours sector takes place in the city itself, in the historic old town. Parcours showcases site-specific artistic interventions that are open to the public, free of charge. This programming has, since 2016, been overseen by Leuenberger. His first year, he presented 19 artistic projects across the Munsterplatz area, adjacent to the Basel Cathedral, including works by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Jim Dine and Alfredo Jaar; last year, he oversaw the installation of projects by Wu Tsang, Amanda Ross-Ho, and Shana Moulton.
As a native son and expert at weaving art into Basel’s urban topography, he’s a well-informed source for tips about how to enjoy the city — ranging from where to get the perfect cup of coffee to the best spots for Thai food to a discrete accommodation nestle amid sylvan greenery.
How long have you been living in Basel?
I am a Basel native, but I left Switzerland to study abroad when I was 16 and then moved to Zurich when I was 27. Now I am back in Basel and have been living here for exactly 10 years.
What are your “can’t leave without seeing this” recommendations in the city?
Walking over the various bridges of the city and enjoying the picturesque view, the silhouette of the city against the sunset.
Do you have a favorite architectural “must”?
Renzo Piano’s Fondation Beyeler is still one of the most beautiful museum spaces in the city. Other must-visit places are Zaha Hadid’s Vitra Fire Station across the border in Germany (one of the architect’s first projects to be realized), t
What is the most overrated thing people advise visitors to check out when they’re in town?
The Rhine river running through Basel.
What restaurants or cafes would you recommend, and why are they unique?
I’d recommend getting coffee at Klara Bar or unternehmen mitte.
If you want to posh it up, I recommend Les Trois Rois, where you can get delicious cookies and assortments with your coffee. If you are on a tight budget, try Cafe Flore — you get coffee and a Basler Lackerli [a traditional hard spice biscuit made of honey, hazel
nuts, almonds, candied peel, and Kirsch] for only 3.50 Swiss francs (or about $3.50). If you are in the mood for thrift store shopping, go to Irma & Fred — if you buy something for over 5 francs, they will offer you a cup of good Italian coffee.
In terms of restaurants, I like to stick to the classics like Restaurant Kunsthalle, Zum Goldenen Fass, La Fourchette, or Chez Donati. Or try one of the yummy Thai restaurants such as Chanthaburi, Nordbahnhof, Bo Thai, or Thai Family Restaurant.
How would you spend a free morning or afternoon in Basel?
I would drive with my motorcycle down to the industrial harbor, Landesstelle, a large area where lots of pop-up bars and restaurants have opened outside the city’s streamlined shops.
What would you buy that feels like a “local” item?
Basler Lackerlis, flammkuchen [a savory rolled out flat bread baked with fromage blanc or creme fraiche, thinly sliced onions and bacon — some call it Germanic pizza], and Schwimmfisch [a floating bag to put your clothes in when you drift down the river].
Where would you recommend people stay when they visit? (i.e. favorite neighborhood, and/or favorite specific hotel/s?)
Hotel Krafft Basel still remains the classic destination, with the view of the Rhine. If you want to stay in a more upscale neighborhood, try to get an Airbnb in the residential area called Gellert Quartier, which is only a few minutes away from the city center but feels like the countryside. My absolute favorite “secret” place to get a cozy and nice room is the youth hostel next to Museum fur Gegenwart. It’s on a small creek, halfway inside a small forest. It was redesigned a few years back, and so it looks more like a design hotel than you would think.
What are the best venues to check out the city’s art offerings?
Kunstmuseum Basel, Kunsthalle Basel, Schaulager, Fondation Beyeler, Haus der elektronischen Kunste (HeK), Museum Tinguely, Kunsthaus Baselland, der TANK...the list is endless.
What are the ideal spots to see live music?
Kaserne Basel, Hirschi, Holzpark, and Kaschemme.
What are your favorite bars to relax in after spending the day at the fair?
The Three Kings Bar, Consum, Kabar, and Marina Bar on the harbor.
What are you most excited about for this edition of the fair?
Needless to say, Parcours is one of the most exciting ways to discover art in the city. Unlimited and Statements of course remain must-sees, and I’m also excited to visit LISTE, which takes place concurrent to Art Basel.
Founder: Louise Blouin