From May until November, the artist Tino Sehgal will be presenting a series of six artworks, what he calls “constructed situations,” at the Fondation Beyeler in the picturesque Swiss city of Basel. The starting point for the exhibition is a work acquired by the institution in 2015 entitled This You (2006), the only one of Sehgal’s works intended to be staged outdoors. The work consists of a single performer—or “interpreter” as Sehgal calls them—who confidently serenades passersby with a recognizable pop song, after which the interpreter announces the name of the artist and the title of the piece. This You is installed in the blossoming Berowerpark area on the museum’s grounds in the Basel suburb of Riehen, overlooking sweeping vistas of corn fields and vines covering the Tüllinger Hills. Above all, This You brings into focus the idea of the park as a place where social interaction takes place, the substance of which becomes a series of performative interactions expanding the traditional notion of an artwork beyond something immovable, silent or fixed.
Once inside the museum, purpose built by acclaimed architect Renzo Piano in 1997, one of Sehgal’s most intimate and sensuous works, Kiss (2002), is on display alongside a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi entitled L’Oiseau (1923/1947), a work selected from the Fondation Beyeler’s collection purposefully by Sehgal. Its placement alongside the Brancusi—a sculpture referencing movement—is both thoughtful and well placed. In Kiss, two performers are immersed in an ongoing frolic of blissful intimacy. The cavorting couple move in slow sequences—fully clothed fondling and petting each other intimately—seemingly unaware of those around them, thereby creating a discernible distance between them and the audience. Unlike most of Sehgal’s other works, such as the work installed outside, Kiss requires no audience input whatsoever, it’s completely self-contained, internally immersive, languid and erotic. I saw it as an homage not just to Brancusi but also to other artists from art history as well, notable among them Gustav Klimt, the Austrian Symbolist painter who became iconic for depicting the immersive language of embrace in a work on canvas bearing the same title.
The intricate choreography of Kiss thereby becomes like a garden of amorous relations in the museum. It’s one of Sehgal’s most pioneering works, rousing a libidinous sense of desire in the viewer, effectively transforming the Fondation Beyeler into a kind of temporary erogenous zone. Expressively, this quality—acute in Kiss more so than the artist’s other works—unleashes a seductive force into the Beyeler like a potently strong aphrodisiac. And it is in this context that the show—and Sehgal’s works in general—become genuinely experiential, transgressing the idea of spectatorship and the cult of the object as it has spread across centuries of art history.
Tino Sehgal continues at Fondation Beyeler (Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Basel, Switzerland) through November 12.
Editor’s note: The author’s lodging and travel expenses were paid for in-part by Fondation Beyeler arranged by Goldmann Public Relations.