Each January, Basel-area museums and cultural institutions turn “night into day” with a program of exhibitions, short tours, readings, concerts, workshops, games, stories and more. Last Friday evening, under starry skies and a full moon, it was time for the free shuttle buses, trams and boats to load up with eager museum-goers for the 14th edition of Museumsnacht Basel.
Altogether, 42 museums and host organizations opened their doors from 6 pm Friday until 2 am on Saturday. Thanks to 1,200 staff in three countries, it was eight hours of non-stop culture–Tom and I made it to ten of the venues. It was an opportunity to visit places we’d never been, and to see the special offerings at some of our favorite museums. Take a look!
Museum Kleines Klingental
This museum occupies the former Klingental Dominican convent and features original medieval sculptures from Basel Cathedral, a 17th-century model of the city and the history of the convent itself. For Museums Night, the theme was “Tee with Hans Huber”, star of Basel’s music world in the late 19th century. We got there in time for a fine performance of Huber’s duets and arias for soprano and tenor, with piano accompaniment.
Pharmazie-Historisches Museum der Universität Basel
Basel University hosts a significant collection relating to the history of pharmacy. Museum highlights include apothecaries’ shops and equipment, a complete alchemist’s laboratory, and several centuries’ worth of pharmacy ceramics. Museums Night theme: “All things are poison”.
HMB – Museum für Geschichte / Barfüsserkirche
The Historisches Museum Basel (HMB)’s permanent exhibition spotlights Basel’s identity at the crossroads between three cultures: Swiss, German and French. For Museums Night, the theme was “With cut and thrust”, in keeping with the current temporary exhibition about the long-ago world of knights and mountain-top castles. Visitors crowded onto the steps in the museum’s central hall for screenings of clips from such films as Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The Basel-Stadt State (Cantonal) Archive preserves the records of public administration in the canton, covering 1000 years of history, from the Middle Ages to the present day. The theme for Museums Night was “Animals and Us”, in collaboration with the Natural History Museum.
The collections of Basel’s world-class Fine Arts Museum range from medieval works to 19th-to-21st century international art. Its 20th-century focal points are Cubism, German Expressionism and American art since 1950. For Museums Night, “Mondrian Boogie-Woogie” featured lively music, dance demonstrations, even a class to learn some moves!
This space in the former Klingental convent presents contemporary art originating in the Basel region. For Museums Night, several artists worked on-site in live performance: one collecting hair clippings from visitors for a sculpture, another typing poems to-order, still others hanging written works in a tent outside.
S AM Schweizerisches Architekturmuseum
S AM – the Swiss Architecture Museum mounts international and thematic exhibitions that emphasize the socio-political aspects of architecture. For Museums Night, the theme was “Viewpoint”.
Sammlung Friedhof Hörnli
This unique collection of funeral artifacts includes urns, hearses, coffins, cemetery regulations, grave crosses, even gardening implements. Museums Night was the first time we’d been to a museum in a graveyard (our way across the sprawling municipal cemetery lit by fires strategically set out along the path).
Museums Night at the Münster offered music in three different venues, and we were able to catch two performances. We also viewed plaster casts made of sculptures on the building’s towers during recent restoration work. The acoustics in Basel’s former cathedral, along with a striking setting, made for beautiful music.
Musicians from the Basel Symphony Orchestra played past midnight, bringing an evening of spirited classical music to a close. Here, cellos and violins take center stage, playing Violoncelles, vibrez by Giovanni Sollima.
Museum der Kulturen Basel
Basel’s Museum of Culture is the largest ethnological museum in Switzerland, and has a significant collection on life in both European and non-European cultures. The theme for Museums Night: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall”, featuring tattoos, a makeup bar and a body painter at work.
Basel museums year-round
Basel is a museum-goers heaven, but not everyone is a fan of long lines and packed shuttle buses. Some museums offer “happy hour” viewing through the year, and many have wonderful coffee shops and bistros.
To plan your own, more relaxed, visits to Basel’s many museums, take a look at exhibitions running now. Great value: the Museums Pass Musees, good for more than 280 museums in Switzerland, France and Germany.
We had a great time! Did you brave the Museums Night crowds?