Elena Filipovic: on Basel and showcasing the most trenchant artists of our time

As the art world descends upon Basel this week, we interviewed Elena Filipovic, director and curator of Kunsthalle Basel to find out more about the current shows on there, what's new in town and her ideal day in Basel.
by Lara Morrell
Lara Morrell
Elena Filipovic

Kunsthalle Basel tends to cultivate the cutting edge – could you tells a little about the current shows on and
the choice of artists?

Tiona Nekkia McClodden’s first institutional solo in Europe and P. Staff’s largest show to date are each very different aesthetic propositions, but a queer poetics threads its way through each, as does a radical candor about the impossibility of living easily amongst the violence of our present. Tiona’s exhibition is spare and tough, sexy and hard at the same time, an unraveling of control, constraint, mercy. P’s show, on the other hand, is a colourful phantasmagoria, so on the surface it couldn’t look more different from Tiona’s stark black and white, but there is a latent sense of threat present in that show too. P’s show is almost a choreographic proposition in which the viewer is the performer, guided room to room by a slow build up of tension. From a live electrical wire to ordinary institutional fixtures made from blood to holographic image-sculptures…the tension becomes explosive in the final room, with a new film that is as much filmic as it is a corporeal experience, it sort of burns its image into your retina. 

What are the principles that underpin the curatorship of Kunsthalle Basel, what makes the space stand
apart from other art institutions and what do you believe to be the role of a curator today?

Kunsthalle Basel celebrated its 150th anniversary last year, so I’ve been reflecting a lot on what has made the institution so exceptional across that long history. I’m convinced that it’s a particular and rare mix of an art association (the founding body of Kunsthalle Basel) that was from the start committed to reflecting the art of the present, which was a bold choice to make in 1872, and an extremely open-minded local public, the citizens of Basel, with their deep respect and love for culture. When I think about the fact that this was the place where artists from Paul Gauguin and Jackson Pollock or, later, Cindy Sherman and Mike Kelly Vo had their first important shows outside their native countries, I realize that the mandate for the job really is to do what we are doing now in showing Tiona Nekkia McClodden and P. Staff, which is to say, to showcase the most trenchant, thought-provoking artists of our time with newly produced new work.

What are you most looking forward to this year during Art Basel?

Having the whole art world descend on Basel is thrilling. Sharing what we do as an institution with so many passionate art lovers is one of the great joys of the job. Elsewhere, there is so much going on: Liste always has amazing young positions to discover, Basel Social Club will have a glorious space with an exhilarating performance and events programme, Art Basel’s Parcours is a way to rediscover hidden locations in the city with surprising artistic presentations, and the Kunstmuseum Basel’s all-female exhibition line up is inspiring. 

For the first time this year, a collective happening called “Finally Saturday” will be hosted by Art Basel, Bebbi Zine, Kunsthalle Basel, Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum Tinguely, Theater Basel, and Verein Theaterplatz-Quartier and curated by Benedikt Wyss, taking place on Saturday the 17th with performances, concerts, and DJ sets. We will host a “Talk to Me” and drinks with Ketuta Alexi-Meskishvili from 7-7:30 p.m. at our back wall. This is a beautiful ending for this crazy art fair week!

Have any interesting spaces opened up in the city, post covid? 

Several, actually, including For Space at Teichgässlein 31, Amore at Sperrstrasse 2, both in Kleinbasel, as well as Spheres Projects by graphic designer Philippe Karrer in the St. Johann area of Basel

Could you take our readers around on your ideal day in Basel – what not to miss out on, where to go, what to do, and where to eat?

During summer, I love to start my day at Rhybadhüsli St. Johann for a swim or reading in the sun. Then, in an ideal world, I’d either have brunch at Avant-Gouz or grab some freshly made Vietnamese summer rolls at one of my favorite lunch spots, Voodles, hidden behind a Starbucks on the Freiestrasse. Days off often involve seeing art, like the fantastic Gina Folly and Andrea Büttner shows at the Kunstmuseum Gegenwart or the unforgettable Doris Salcedo exhibition currently on view at Fondation Beyeler, or going gallery hopping throughout the city. The perfect ending would be getting some homemade ice cream from Acèro – their ginger sorbet is so ginger-spicy that it almost burns your tongue, but it is just sooo good.

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