The history of Kunsthalle Basel is one of looking forward, of pointing the way—of believing in artists before they achieve worldwide recognition, offering them an important platform for their new ideas and forms. This institution has never been a place that focused on looking back (or looking where everyone else was already looking). So, for this special anniversary, too, we wanted to look forward and celebrate the next 150 years.

We owe this history to the committed and forward-looking artists and art-lovers who, more than 150 years ago, made their vision of the future come true by creating a place for the art of their time, a place “to awaken, foster, and propagate interest in art, and to cultivate friendly relations between artists and art-lovers,” (1) as Johann Jakob Im Hof (1815–1900), then president of the Basler Kunstverein, put it on the occasion of the groundbreaking.

Basel businessman and politician Im Hof was also the one who, years previously, had the ingenious idea of operating ferries across the Rhine to generate funds to build a new exhibition venue and headquarters for the Basler Künstlergesellschaft (an art society founded in 1812 that merged in 1864 with the Basler Kunstverein, initially founded in 1839). This created the unusual and peculiar situation that, from 1854, the art society ran the first Rhine ferry in Basel (adding a second in 1862), thus making a lasting impact on the city’s image. When Basel’s city council gifted the requested undeveloped plot on Steinenberg to the Kunstverein in 1867, a competition was won by the very successful Basel architect Johann Jakob Stehlin-Burckhardt (1826–1894) with a design that was within the stated budget. Stehlin-Burckhardt later also built the Stadttheater (1873–1874) and the Stadtcasino (1875–1876) adjacent to Kunsthalle, creating a striking ensemble devoted to cultural life at the heart of Basel. With 70,000 franks in revenue from the ferries plus the clearance of 80,000 franks of debt by the society’s long-standing treasurer Rudolf Merian-Iselin (1820–1891), the foundation stone for Switzerland’s first Kunsthalle was laid on November 16, 1869, and building began. Details of the history of Kunsthalle Basel can be found here.

“The inauguration on May 26, 1872, drew the attention of the whole city. With banners and music, the art society’s members paraded from their meeting place at Café Spitz over the Rhine Bridge to the new Kunsthalle (…) The banquet at the Stadtcasino was followed by a first bacchanal at the association’s new clubhouse that lasted into the small hours.” (2)

This year, Kunsthalle Basel celebrates its 150th anniversary with many activities in the spirit of its founding idea, to awaken, foster, and propagate interest in art, and to cultivate friendships.

On the occasion of this anniversary, which is also of great importance for Basel as a city of culture and for its citizens, an unusual joint project has been realized with Ramstein Optik: in June 2022, coinciding with the art fairs in Basel, the town center—from Claraplatz in Kleinbasel to the Theaterplatz-neighborhood in the heart of Grossbasel—will be enriched by a poster campaign telling the impressive story of Kunsthalle Basel, and thus also of Basel itself. Artists who have had major exhibitions at Kunsthalle Basel like Miriam Cahn, Hanne Darboven, Nam June Paik, Cindy Sherman, Gerda Steiner, Jean Tinguely, James Turrell, and Anicka Yi, as well as those currently featured, Michael Armitage and Berenice Olmedo, are seen on large-format posters. Our thanks to the participating artists and photographers, but especially to the Basel company of Ramstein Optik, for its generosity and enthusiasm in drawing public attention to this important anniversary. This campaign is accompanied by a special presentation on the exhibition history of Kunsthalle Basel in the shop window of Ramstein Optik (Sattelgasse 4) near the marketplace, on show from June 6 through July 4, 2022.

Ramstein Optik – Poster Kampagne

The same month, on Wednesday, June 29, 2022, the annual assembly of the Basler Kunstverein is followed by its summer party, starting at 8 pm. This event gives existing and prospective members the opportunity to drink a toast to the year 2021, to the past 150 years, and to all the years still to come. There will be drinks, food, and music (free of charge for members).

As part of the anniversary celebrations, on Friday, November 11, 2022, a colloquium will take place on the history of Kunsthalle Basel’s exhibition posters, initiated by Basel’s Plakatsammlung SfG based on its own collection, discussing various periods and their respective designers.

Kunsthalle Basel is also marking this anniversary by giving free online access to the entire exhibition history of Basler Kunstverein for the first time. The list of over 1,300 exhibitions that have taken place at the venue since 1872 can be found here.

From 2022 on, members of Basler Kunstverein also benefit from a 20% reduction on à la carte dishes and drinks in the “Schluuch,” the brown area, and in the garden of Restaurant Kunsthalle, which also celebrates 150 years this year. You sit where art history’s greatest artists once ate and where those that will make it into the art histories of tomorrow are still eating today. In choosing to eat at Restaurant Kunsthalle, you help support the operation of the art institution above because a small percentage of the intake goes towards the continuation of Switzerland’s first and oldest Kunsthalle. Details on becoming a member can be found here.

And there’s even more going on behind the scenes: we are always keen to invest in the development of our infrastructure (heating, air-conditioning, lighting, security system, library, ticketing, website, photo archive, and much more), ensuring that Kunsthalle Basel continues to be a place where you like to look at the art of NOW and that this remains the case for another 150 years. At the same time, we are paying greater attention to our ecological footprint, with new, more environmentally aware solutions, and we are constantly looking for partners and supporters to help us advance in this direction.

Source: (1+2) Basler Kunstverein: 150 Jahre Basler Kunstverein 1839–1989, 1989

Press clippings:
Hannes Nüsseler, Risiko als Tradition: Seit 150 Jahren sorgt die Kunsthalle Basel für Aufsehen (25.5.2022, bzbasel)
Ariela Dürrenberger: 150 Jahre Kunsthalle: Die erste Institution ihrer Art (25.6.2022, Telebasel)

Opening GOYA, Kunsthalle Basel, 1953. Photo: Dietrich Widmer

Opening Welt-Moral. Moralvorstellungen in der Kunst heute with Pipilotti Rist’s work, Kunsthalle Basel, 1994. Photo: Daniel Spehr

Opening Maurizio Cattelan, Kunsthalle Basel, 1999. Photo: Erwin Zbinden

Opening, Alex Baczynski-Jenkins, Such Feeling, Kunsthalle Basel, 2019. Photo: Dominik Asche

Opening, Michael Armitage, You, Who Are Still Alive, Kunsthalle Basel, 2022. Photo: Nicolas Gysin

Kunsthalle Basel. Photo: Moritz Schermbach