Basel’s groundbreaking open-storage venue Schaulager celebrates 20 years with video art show


Video art is more than just a series of zeros and ones on a hard drive, waiting to be summoned into existence. The physical space in which you view video, film or other time-based media is an essential part of the experience.

“Every artist starting to work on a piece of art based on film or video always has this notion of space in the back of their mind,” says Isabel Friedli, the curator of Schaulager’s new exhibition Out of the Box. The work cannot exist without the room it is shown in, and for the most part these spaces are carefully controlled by the artist to meet the work’s specifications. “Custom-made, such works are singular, much like a bespoke garment,” as the exhibition statement puts it.

Out of the Box presents these “boxes”, showing works by two dozen artists across the wide-open spaces of the Schaulager: big boxes, small boxes, some that reach up to the ceiling. Some works have been reconfigured by the artists for this new context. For example, Anri Sala’s audiovisual installation Ravel Ravel was first shown at the 2013 Venice Biennale in a six-metre-high sound-dampened space. Even the Schaulager’s hangar-like rooms could not accommodate its presentation, so Sala has created a new version of the work for the exhibition.

Lidén’s video installation Warm-up: State Hermitage Museum Theater (2014)
Photo: Tom Bisig, Basel; © Klara Lidén

Space redefined

“We have really empty spaces, which we can define for every exhibition we do, which is great, but at the same time it is also a little bit of challenge because we really need to redefine the architecture for every exhibition we do,” Friedli says. This is the first show to be held at the Schaulager since its Bruce Nauman retrospective in 2018.

Alongside the time-based media are sculptural and installation works that also fit the theme, including one of Monika Sosnowska’s crumpled metal boxes crammed into a corner of the building “as if by a giant” and Jean-Frédéric Schnyder’s sculptures of buildings made from banana boxes. There will be three works by Tacita Dean in different media from her stage sets for the Royal Ballet’s 2021 production of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Other artists include Thomas Demand, Peter Fischli, Katharina Fritsch, Rodney Graham, Dayanita Singh and Dieter Roth. (Roth lived and worked in Basel and was the subject of the Schaulager’s first retrospective; a new publication on him will be published alongside the exhibition.)

Tacita Dean’s Paradise (2021) Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation; gift of the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London 2022. On permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel. Still: Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery; © Tacita Dean

Of course, the phrase “out of the box” has a deeper significance for the Schaulager: it opened 20 years ago as an early example of the kind of open-storage institution that has become highly popular in recent years, literally showing art taken out of its packing cases. It houses the 90-year-old Emanuel Hoffmann collection, and when the mostly contemporary works are not out on loan—they are regularly shown at the Kunstmuseum Basel—they are installed at the Schaulager, remaining on view for visitors and researchers. As many of the works use unconventional materials, it also allows for them to be easily monitored and conserved.

The Hoffmann collection has been acquiring time-based media works “ever since that kind of art existed”, Freidli says, but the pace has picked up in recent years.

Still in the boxes

However, the difficulty of showing these works on an ongoing basis has meant that many have remained “in their boxes”. It is a hurdle that the institution hopes to address with an entirely new extension, which will be dedicated to multimedia works. This new building is still in the early planning stages—like the current building by the veteran museum architects Herzog and de Meuron, its form will be shaped by the needs of the art it holds.

With new museums including Rotterdam’s Depot and London’s V&A East adopting the open-storage model, what have the Schaulager’s 20 years of experience taught them about the advantages? “People are always so amazed and surprised about seeing works in the storage rooms,” Friedli says. “Works are installed as if they are in an exhibition, but there is no context given. People can really concentrate on a work, look at it, contemplate it and experience it in a different situation. It’s really a kind of pure experience you can have at Schaulager.”

Out of the Box: 20 Years of Schaulager, Schaulager, Basel, until 19 November


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