There's only so much art fair one can handle. Those big halls get more crowded as the weekend wanes, your feet start to ache and your eyes ache even more. If you've managed to visit Art Basel, Volta, Liste, the Solo Project and Scope in these few days, art objects start to all blend together and your attitude becomes more jaded with each booth.
So I entreat you to take a step outside. It's nearly summer, and with any luck Basel weekend (Friday looks good) should be sunny and warm, with maybe just a few of those dramatic clouds that fill the Swiss sky. Take a little walk toward the river—better yet hop on a bike, giving your walking feet a bit of a rest without sacrificing your ability to stop and enjoy the view at a moment’s notice.
But just because you’re out of the grand art fair halls doesn’t mean that there isn’t more art to see. And no, I’m not talking about the Parcours performances or any other Art Basel-officiated public art; I mean the kind of art that you happen upon, discover by chance in some neglected corner, and enjoy in passing. You might notice a funny little sticker adhered to a lightpost, a stencil of a vandal Hello Kitty with a spraycan, a droopy little robot Marvin wheatpasted on a wall, or an inexplicably perturbed spraypainted hedgehog dreaming of bees and flowers. A little gem of street art happened upon in your regular meanderings through a city becomes that much more refreshing after seeing booth after booth of just-so art fair offerings. All that is required for this kind of experience is that you keep your eyes open.
While last year's Art Basel Miami Beach wowed us with an incredible array of street art murals in the district of Wynwood and a whole host of street art and graffiti-inspired events and exhibitions, Basel, Switzerland, also boasts its own street art and graffiti scene. In a city so punctual, precise and spotless, those little irruptions of messy creativity on the street are delightfully surprising.
Seifrei, Marvin times 17, 2011; Photo collage by Andrea Stadelmann
That little dejected robot you spotted by the Rhein? That’s the work of Seifrei, whose output is not limited to the Marvin character but also encompasses many forms of wheatpastes, stencils, and freehand work. Lately Seifrei has been affixing stenciled vinyl LPs around town. Here’s hoping you catch sight of one.
The Swiss street art duo and Xstreets collective members Bustart and Zaïra are some of the most famous Basel street artists. One of the first Basel-based street artists, Bustart’s signature icon is a gruff-looking stylized bear, while his girlfriend Zaïra often paints owls. Yet neither artist’s practice can be reduced to one icon and they both experiment with many different subjects and mediums. Bustart and Zaïra recently relocated to Amsterdam, where anti-graffiti enforcement is more lax, yet you might run across some of their stickers still running around Basel.
Crone, Jers, and Smash 137, Fight Club Basel, 2011; Photo by Andrea Stadelmann
For the more intrepid seeker, the best spot to find graffiti is the legendary Basel Line, just east of the central train station. You can view the line either from above, while traveling in a train (Regio S-Bahn 3 direction Olten), or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, access it through stairs leading from street-level or walk up it from the Zeughaus tram stop. Here you’ll find some world-class graffiti from Basel heroes Smash 137, Dare (RIP), Jers and Aley, and international graffiti heavyweights like Seen and Reyes. The Basel Line, an open-air graffiti museum and inspiration to many European graffiti writers, plays host to everything from traditional masterpieces to some experimental work. Jers and Aley are always pushing the boundaries of graffiti, moving it into the realm of installation, like this mosaic tile piece, or this innovative 3-D optical illusion, with their names painted on either side of a home-made wooden lenticular surface which was then drilled into place. Pretty astonishing! Unfortunately only half of the installation remains, but now it reveals a sliver of what was previously covered—one of the fascinations of viewing graffiti and art on the street is this palimpsest of elements, the interplay of layers and layers of paint, exposed and torn asunder by weather, or sometimes by jealous rivals.
Jers Aley, August 2011. Photo collage by Andrea Stadelmann.
On the street or down on the line, this kind of art exists outside of the commercial realm (in fact it is penalized by harsh fines and/or jail time); it can neither be bought nor sold but exists on its own terms, a gift of art to all passersby. But if you’re in the mood for buying (you are in Basel for the fairs after all), prints and originals are available for sale at Art Basel from such street art luminaries as Shepard Fairey at Pace Prints, JR and Kaws at Galerie Perrotin, and REVOK, Faile, Pose, How & Nosm at Jonathan Levine at Scope.
A special thanks to Andrea Stadelmann who kindly contributed her photographs for this article.
(Image on top right: Street, Art | Basel, 2009; Photo by Achim Hepp)