Grizzly stuff: Precious Okoyomon’s installation the sun eats her children is a terrifying combination of poisonous plants and a creepy animatronic bear, which periodically screams. The bear is "trapped in the nightmare”, the artist says Photo: Stefan Bohrer, © Precious Okoyomon
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, until 11 August
The Fondation Beyeler’s summer show this year is something a bit different, even for this temple of European Modernism. The entire gallery and gardens have been taken over by a group of contemporary artists whose conceptual pitch for the show is “a living organism that changes and transforms”. In other words, it is a show that is not fixed and static in the traditional way, but continually being altered through its run—whether an amorphous fog sculpture or growing plant-based exhibits, or the pictures being moved from one room to another.
The show’s concept was the product of a kind of artistic steering group that included the Beyeler’s director Sam Keller, and the artists Philippe Parreno, Tino Sehgal and Precious Okoyomon. Okoyomon explains that it stemmed from a desire to allow artists to both control the content and to reflect the nature of the artistic process. “It feels like it flowed from a very natural organic pollination of, first of all, bringing artists together into the curatorial process, and then all of us thinking about the natural pollination of: how do you make a show? And kind of unmake it together.”
The group came together in a kind of self-selecting manner, and included practitioners from other disciplines. The neuroscientist and dream researcher Adam Haar, for example, collaborates with Carsten Höller on a piece called Dreaming of Flying With Flying Fly Agarics, for which visitors can take a nap on a “robotic bed”. Elsewhere, the philosopher Federico Campagna and the architect Frida Escobedo have worked together on A Library as Big as a World, a book collection designed in the shape of a garden.
Okoyomon’s contribution to the show very much adheres to the point. Her piece the sun eats her children is a garden of poisonous plants, with the addition of a stuffed animatronic bear that periodically lets out a scream of horror. Completing the work are butterflies, who go through their full life-cycle inside the garden. “I work with plants a lot,” Okoyomon says, “and this is a great planting, a really tough, thick garden. If you were to eat anything of what I’ve planted, you would have visions for days. And once it gets hot in there, it creates a certain smell that could get you a little high.”
All this ensures that no two experiences of the show will be the same. “What’s interesting,” Okoyomon says, “is that you get to move with it and watch it grow and change. It’s a real entanglement process.” A.P.
Hommage aux Anciens Créateurs (2000) by the Congolese artist Chéri Samba, who features in many of his own works Private Collection, courtesy of MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris
Kunstmuseum Basel (Gegenwart), until 27 October
If there is one thing to learn from When We See Us, an exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel, it is that Black figurative painting is nothing new. Even though the western art market has only recently “discovered” it, Black artists around the globe have been painting themselves and their communities for generations. “It might be new for the western gaze, but not for the rest of the world,” says Tandazani Dhlakama, one of the show’s curators. “What they see today is part of a big, rich historical continuum.”
When We See Us comes to Basel from the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz Mocaa) in Cape Town, where it premièred in November 2022. Curated by Dhlakama and Koyo Kouoh, the director of Zeitz Mocaa, the exhibition contains more than 200 works spanning a century by 120 artists, including big names like Nina Chanel Abney, Ben Enwonwu and Wifredo Lam.
The show takes its title from the 2019 Netflix series When They See Us, in which the film-maker Ava DuVernay explored racism in the US through the story of the Central Park Five—a group of Black and Brown teenagers who spent years in prison for a brutal 1989 murder they did not commit. “We flipped ‘they’ with ‘we’ to represent how Black artists see themselves,” Dhlakama says.
Why figurative painting specifically? “People have been painting themselves since the beginning of time,” Dhlakama says, pointing to the example of ancient cave art. “Every few years, someone says painting is dead, but it never dies. The Black body has been politicised for such a long time, and in order to free Black depictions of that—what better way than painting?”
The story is also told through music. “There are certain cultural and political movements that keep coming up in the works, and we think about the sounds accompanying these movements,” Dhlakama says, citing Négritude, the Harlem Renaissance, the end of colonialism in Africa and others. For this reason, she commissioned the composer and installation artist Neo Muyanga “to come up with a sonic translation of the exhibition; translations of the images people are seeing”, with different playlists and soundtracks piped through speakers in each of the show’s six sections. During Art Basel, Muyanga will play live concerts at the museum inspired by When We See Us (see the museum’s website for times and booking details). After Basel, When We See Us will travel to Belgium and Sweden. E.G.
Sunball (1969-71), a futuristic outdoor lounge chair housed in a spherical casing, complete with built-in sound system Photo: Jürgen Hans, © Vitra Design Museum
Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, until 11 May 2025
With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the dawning of a new space age, ideas of what the future might look like are once again at the forefront of people’s minds. An exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum explores the rich tradition of how, over the past century, writers, artists and designers have visualised such a future. The show, Science Fiction Design: from Space Age to Metaverse, also looks at “the reciprocal relationship and impact between the science fiction genre and the evolution of design”, the curator Susanne Graner says. “Our collection, with a primary focus on interior and furniture design, boasts an array of furniture pieces from the Space Age, as well as iconic designs that have been featured in the set design of numerous science fiction films.”
The exhibition of more than 100 objects is ordered chronologically, starting with early examples of science fiction including novels by writers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells (the oldest object in the show is a copy of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein), and the first sci-fi film, A Trip to the Moon (1902), directed by Georges Méliès. Then there are the streamline designs of the 1920s; the so-called “Space Age” of the 1950s and 60s, with many examples from design and TV series such as Star Trek; pieces from the digital revolution that began in the 1980s; and the Retrofuturism of the 2000s. The show ends with contemporary examples of design and pieces in the metaverse.
That being said, the exhibition design—which was created by the Argentine visual artist and designer Andrés Reisinger—does not force visitors to take a chronological approach. “Reisinger wanted to change the way visitors interact with the space in the Vitra Schaudepot,” says Graner, referring to the museum’s Herzog & de Meuron-designed venue that houses the show. “Visitors can now choose which route they would like to take through the exhibition. Reisinger also changed the lighting, because he wanted to create a dimmed, immersive mood,” she adds.
Reisinger has both physical and digital works of his own included in the show. His Hortensia Chair (2018) is “a playful and simultaneously futuristic object that the artist and designer initially developed as an NFT before producing it as an actual piece of furniture”, according to a statement from the museum.
Chairs, in fact, dominate the exhibition, offering the optimistic suggestion that the future will involve a lot of reclining. These include Olivier Mourgue’s Djinn Lounge Chair (1964-65); the inflatable Blow (1967) armchair by Jonathan De Pas, Paolo Lomazzi, Donato D’Urbino and Carla Scolari; Marc Newson’s polished aluminium Orgone Chair (1993); and Joris Laarman’s Aluminum Gradient Chair (2013), the first 3D-printed metal chair.
Graner’s favourite object in the show is Sunball (1969-71), an outdoor lounge chair designed by Günter Ferdinand Ris and Herbert Selldorf, which resembles a space cabin, featuring an integrated sound system, an adjustable reclining structure and a shield from the rain. “This piece of furniture truly embodies the aesthetics and functionality of the Space Age era,” Graner says. A.D.
Dan Flavin, pictured in New York in 1970, created his first fluorescent-light sculpture in 1963 and dedicated it to the Romanian sculptor and painter Constantin Brâncuși Photo: Gianfranco Gorgoni, © Maya Gorgoni
Kunstmuseum Basel, until 18 August
Dan Flavin’s fluorescent-light sculptures are instantly recognisable but hard to place. Remembered as the epitome of 20th-century American Minimalism, Flavin, who died in 1996 at the age of 63, did not think of himself as a Minimalist or as a sculptor. He preferred equivocal or cryptic terms, like “objects” or even “gaseous images”, to describe his eye-catching geometric pieces. Fond of eccentric titles that playfully include discursive dedications, Flavin, like the movement that has claimed him, did not believe in thematic or poetic implications in his work. But this summer’s survey at the Kunstmuseum Basel manages to find content—otherwise anathema to Minimalism—by delving into those dedications, and by revisiting his longstanding interest in drawing and works on paper.
Dan Flavin: Dedications in Lights uses nearly 60 works, including 35 light installations, to revisit the whole of the artist’s working life. Flavin’s artistic and professional breakthrough came in 1963 with a readymade 6ft-long yellow fluorescent light, affixed to a wall at an angle and called the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi). Ethereal but industrial, elegant but brutal, it was a departure from his previous paintings and amounts in retrospect to a manifesto. The Basel show begins with the diagonal but, in a gallery that collects the show’s works on paper, a related sketch hints at the piece’s Modernist origins and implications.
Flavin and Basel go way back. The artist’s permanent outdoor installation untitled (in memory of Urs Graf) dates to a 1975 exhibition here, when Flavin found a kind of kinship with the Swiss Renaissance artist and goldsmith, whose life as a mercenary left behind vivid traces in often grotesque works on paper that are part of the Kunstmuseum Basel’s permanent collection. Flavin’s austere light pieces might seem a world away from an elaborate drawing like Graf’s Two Prostitutes Robbing a Monk (1521), but the show reveals how they each share space in the artist’s imagination.
Flavin had a “clear understanding of what certain colours could do in space”, says Olga Osadtschy, who co-curated the show with Josef Helfenstein, the Kunstmuseum Basel’s recently departed director. Two imposing green pieces mark the Basel show, including 1973’s vast untitled (to you, Heiner, with admiration and affection), in honour of the co-founder of New York’s Dia Art Foundation, Heiner Friedrich, who played a key role in Flavin’s career. “It’s this massive green barrier—all these green fluorescent lamps in your face—and it blows everything else away.” J.M.