Navigating Basel with Elena Filipovic, Director, Kunsthalle Basel | BLOUIN ARTINFO
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Navigating Basel with Elena Filipovic, Director, Kunsthalle Basel

Elena Filipovic, director of Kunsthalle Basel
(Evelyn Bencicová)

No matter where you are, it’s difficult to avoid hearing about Basel at this time of the year, when the charming Swiss city turns into the entire art world’s must-visit destination, thanks to Art Basel (June 14-17 this year) and the other important fairs such as Design Miami/Basel (June 12-17), VOLTA (June 11-16) and LISTE (June 11-17). Even though Basel takes art and culture very seriously — its 40 museums give it the highest concentration in Switzerland — there is a lot more to the city than art.

BLOUIN ARTINFO spoke to Elena Filipovic, director of the venerable Kunsthalle Basel, to get an idea of how best to mix art and the rest when visiting this beautiful city by the Rhine. The American-born director has been at the helm of the institution since November 2014. She has a newcomer’s enthusiasm for the city and a local’s knowledge. She shared with us her ideas for making the most from a visit to the city during the wealth of June art fairs. 

How long have you been living in Basel and what do you like best about the city?

I’ve been here three and a half years, which is almost nothing and an eternity at the same time if I think about how much I’ve been lucky enough to see and do since I’ve arrived. The quantity and variety and, above all, quality, of museums and cultural institutions in such a small city, is unparalleled. The citizens of Basel really care about culture and their art institutions, which is exceptional.

What are the three best places near Basel that you would recommend for a day’s trip?

As France is right around the corner, a day trip to Colmar, a beautiful city not even an hour from Basel, is a great destination. The museum Unterlinden and its extension by Herzog & de Meuron, showcasing the breathtaking Isenheim Altarpiece, is a must-see. Or, a fast train to Paris gets you to the city of lights in about three hours. When heading in the direction of Central Switzerland, you could explore the Emma Kunz Center, including her grotto, where the Swiss artist and healer detected telluric forces.

If one were staying on in Basel after the fair, what are the activities in and around Basel you would recommend for a memorable trip?

Top on my list would be to visit the Goetheanum in Dornach, just 30 minutes away. It is a wild and amazing piece of architecture inspired by Rudolf Steiner. Another gem is the Botanical Garden, it’s relatively small but a great place. The Natural Pool in Riehen is a lovely alternative to swimming in the Rhine on hot summer days.

What are the best places in Basel to unwind after a day at the fair?

Have drinks during sunset at Landestelle, located at Basel’s old harbor, with bars, grill, a skateboard park and a nice view over the Rhine.

What are your favorite restaurants in and around Basel that you would recommend to visitors to the city?

Kunsthalle Restaurant, of course! Every artist who has ever shown at the Kunsthalle upstairs has eaten there, so it is pretty much haunted with great art spirits. And most people don’t know it, but now there is this room at the back of the restaurant (a hidden treasure) where Verner Panton’s 1972 massive mother of pearl chandelier, originally made for his own home, was recently installed. It’s a gorgeous piece of design history…and everyone looks good under that light! Additionally, I really like Rhyschanzli, Volkshaus, Trio, and Goldenes Fass.

Any local dish/ produce that visitors must experience?

Hache Hornli is a typical dish made of the surprising combination of macaroni, ground meat, and applesauce. It’s still served at the Kunsthalle Restaurant but so is my favorite, the Kunsthalle Burger. And then, of course, there is Fondue, which is best eaten with friends at someone’s home (I learned the Swiss also eat it in summer!).

Where should one go to catch the best live music/music scene in the city?

The Birds Eyes Jazz Club!

What is the favorite outdoor activity of the local residents of Basel that tourists must indulge in for an authentic experience?

You must go swim in the Rhine! There is nothing quite like it. There are these special “Fish” bags that are for sale everywhere and you use them to protect your clothing and shoes and phone and then you jump in with it and it doubles as a floatation device. The Swiss really have figured things out! And the really brave will take a small boat and float down the Birs, a small side river to the Rhine.

Where would you advise your visitors to go shopping?

Set & Sekt, OOID, LOKAL, but also what’s called the Quartierflohmarkte (the flea markets around different neighborhoods in town, where everyone can just sell their secondhand things in front of their door). And I do recommend to check www.wiewaersmalmit.ch which is a great initiative by two young ladies, Ana and Derya, who publish portraits of shop owners and cultural producers of Basel on a weekly basis.

Where would you go in Basel to quietly catch up on a book or to catch up with a friend?

The Museum Tinguely’s Solitude Park is underrated, it’s a beautiful and quiet spot in the shade of Switzerland’s tallest building.

Which is your favorite bookstore in Basel?

The Bucher-Broky, a second-hand shop that only sells books, located in an industrial hall in the Gundeli district, is a fun place to browse around some books while listening to the classical music that is being played in the background.

Any hidden surprises about Basel that are not easy to find in travel guidebooks?

I was told a small basilisk (a legendary reptile reputed to be a serpent king) lives in the botanical garden’s tropical house.

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