Helen in Europe travel blog

Jean Tingueley museum; Too Early to panic: Swiss artists Gerda Steiner &...

Giacometti exhibition and not the last one

The Dance of Death by Jean Tinguely

more Basel Dance of Death figures at the History Museum


After my big art day in Basel yesterday I came to a realisation: 1: yes, things are expensive in Switzerland; 2: my ICOM pass is being accepted at all museums here. So here was a chance to make the most of a situation. After checking out of the hotel, I caught the very efficient and clean tram to The Jean Tinguely museum and enjoyed the current exhibition Too early to Panic by Swiss artists Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger which was set up a three-part, labyrinthine cabinet of curiosities between nature and artificiality. It was very user-friendly and reminded me of the many large scale installation style exhibitions at ACCA. Of course the museum focuses heavily on Tinguely with the major piece Grosse Méta Maxi-Maxi Utopia, 1987 which had been displayed at the Venice Biennale given a room of its own. After reading about its kinetic qualities I asked the invigilator if it ever operated, thinking maybe it only happened once an hour or day or so. He said 'Oh yes', pushed the pedal with his foot and off it went, wheels turning and all mechanisms in motion! What a treat. But the highlight for me was the amazingly lit Mengele-Totentanz (Mengele Dance of Death) which references Basel's famous mural of 1450. Its row of dancers conveyed several messages at once: it reminded viewers of the transience of life and the egalitarian nature of death, but at the same time took up some of the ideas behind the Humanist ideals then emerging. Tinguely's version was a a fourteen-part mechanical sculpture in a darkchapel-like room inside the museum. The name Mengele is actually the ‘high altar’ in the middle: a maize harvester – so drastically deformed as to be barely recognisable – made by the firm of Mengele, the family of the notorious Nazi concentration camp doctor. All the parts used for this work are relics of an infernal blaze at a farm not far from Tinguely’s studio in Neyruz, near Fribourg. After the Tinguely museum I opted for the Beyeler Foundation and took a delightfully scenic 20 minute tram trip. I think all the ArtBasel attendees had decided that this was the museum to visit whilst in Basel and the place was packed. Thankfully I didn't have to pay the 28 Swiss Francs (that's $38AUD!) although the Francis Bacon/ Alberto Giacometti would have made it worth the price along with the rest of the collection based hangs. After the Beyeler I decided to squeeze in one more museum before my train and opted for something completely different, a history museum. One of the highlights of this charming museum displayed inside a very high cathedral (Barfüsserkirche, literally ‘Barefeet Church’) was to see the Dance of Death theme again but displayed in early art. It as the perfect way to sandwich this with Tinguely's version.

Basel was probably full of art exhausted ArtBasel goers and I found myself on an about to be filled train; I had a seat and saw other patrons choosing who to sit with. Art industry professionals are a certain breed; you can tell by how they dress. When buying a coffee ready to board the train to Zurich, I had noticed at the staion earlier a stylishly dressed woman buying something at the same shop and speaking English. Later as we boarded the train, with seats filling up I sent mental telepathic messages to her – ‘sit with me! Sit with me!’ and she did! I immediately asked if she had been to ArtBasel to which she sighed in relief and then for the entire trip Lena and I talked about art and her life in Belgrade, her new life as a curator/ gallery director in New York, her visits to Australia and a desire to return. Cards were swapped and she went to her meeting with artist in Zuric!h before boarding the flight back to New York, as you do. My accommodation in Zurich was somewhat last minute and different to what I had been experiencing on this trip.

Initially I had organised a 5W stay and I had chosen a particular woman over two other Zurich hosts as I thought we were a good match, however, the 'host' (and I use this term loosely) seemed to treated any email or query I made as a huge inconvenience and even made antagonistic and patronising comments. She even had the gall to suggest, two days before my arranged stay that I stay at a YHA! It was too late to contact the other hosts at the last minute, so, with most accommodation already booked, I ended resorting to one of the few remaining Zurich Airbnb’s, a hostel style room with shared bathroom and toilet. I was determined to turn this into a positive, and sought the outdoors as soon as possible. To my delight, I found it was pride week and nearby there was a festival with food trucks, the perfect way to spend a sunny evening, with friendly and accepting people.



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