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Parcours at Art Basel in Basel 2023: Samuel Leuenberger Unveils the 'World of Mouth' and Redefines

In a captivating conversation, Gen de Art magazine engages with Samuel Leuenberger, the curator of Parcours at Art Basel in Basel 2023, to uncover the essence of this year's edition. Leuenberger reveals the grandeur of the Parcours sector, its groundbreaking approach to showcasing art, and the intention to challenge traditional norms. Amidst the excitement, Leuenberger candidly shares the intricacies and triumphs of organizing exhibitions in unconventional spaces, making Parcours a thrilling and ever-evolving artistic adventure.

Samuel Leuenberger

Gen de Art: As you said, "Wherever there is a spot in which you can imagine art, Parcours can happen." It's quite interesting to know about Parcours in this way, and people are wondering what will happen this year in 2023. What can we expect from Parcours this year overall, and what will make it differ from previous years?

Leuenberger: This year's Parcours is the most complex and biggest one we have done so far. It's my 8th year organizing it, so I've gained a better understanding of the rhythms and what works and what doesn't. As always, the audience can expect surprises. I aim to challenge traditional norms of displaying art in terms of location and presentation. I want to question the definition of sculpture and artwork in the public space, as it has evolved significantly. Therefore, I explore unconventional places to showcase art. For example, we will venture into a water tunnel and an attic space for a sound piece by Cally Spooner. We will also feature sculptures in the park. I always strive to think outside the box and find new ways to exhibit art.

Gen de Art: How do you select the artworks and artists for Parcours?

Leuenberger: It's a combination of three factors. Firstly, I have a wish list of artists I've always wanted to collaborate with personally, so I reach out to them. Secondly, I approach galleries that I admire and ask for recommendations of artists they work with. Lastly, participating galleries in Parcours can submit proposals, whether I specifically ask for them or not. Sometimes, unexpected proposals come in that catch my attention. In the end, I choose from these three sources: artists I personally like, recommended artists from galleries, and intriguing proposals.

Installation view: Tony Cokes, Some Munich Moments 1937–1972, 2022 in: Tony Cokes, Fragments, or just Moments, underpass between Kunstverein München and Haus der Kunst, 2022

A collaborative project between Kunstverein München and Haus der Kunst, Munich

Courtesy the artist, Kunstverein München e.V., Haus der Kunst, Munich, Greene Naftali, New York, Hannah Hoffman, Los Angeles, and FELIX GAUDLITZ, Vienna

Photo: Max Geuter.

Gen de Art: The theme for this year's edition of Parcours is "Word of Mouth." How did you come up with this theme? Could you share some key highlights that will be featured this year?

Leuenberger: The theme refers to how we speak and spread the word about the artworks we appreciate. I'm fascinated by the fact that many artists convey complex stories through their artworks today. It goes beyond creating aesthetically pleasing sculptures; there are political, social, and geographical meanings behind many installations. I'm particularly interested in the nonverbal communication that happens between the artist and the audience. When we write about and discuss artworks, we need to find a way to translate this nonverbal communication into words. The way we describe and recommend projects influences people's decisions to visit them. For example, if I describe a project in a water tunnel as adventurous, with the potential for flooding and pigeons, people might be intrigued and recommend it to others. It's interesting to observe the connection between the written word and nonverbal art. This theme will be explored through various works in Parcours.

Hank Willis Thomas at Kunstmuseum Basel

Gen de Art: What challenges do you face when organizing Parcours exhibitions in non-traditional spaces, and how do you overcome them?

Leuenberger: Organizing Parcours is emotionally intense because of its complexity. We must be prepared to face the possibility of losing and gaining projects at the last minute. We work in the public sphere, which introduces numerous variables. We encounter challenges such as obtaining permits, dealing with neighbors who might not be happy with aspects like sound or light, and addressing safety concerns raised by the police. Each space presents unique obstacles that require creative problem-solving. Sometimes projects don't fit a specific location, or additional security measures make them too expensive. It's a constant battle until the very end. This year, we initially had 29 projects, but due to various reasons, we had to reprogram and adjust, resulting in 24 projects. It remains an exciting and dynamic process.


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