The Kunstmuseum Basel’s Hauptbau was completed in 1936 based on plans by the architect Rudolf Christ (Basel) and his colleague Paul Bonatz (Stuttgart), two representatives of a conservative modernism. It was originally conceived solely for the presentation of the museum’s collections, and since the spring of 2016, when the new building with its skylighted galleries specifically designed for special exhibitions opened, the main building is once again entirely dedicated to its original purpose.
The ground floor now showcases the collection of art from Basel; the mezzanine is reserved for the treasures of the Im Obersteg Collection. The collections of medieval and Renaissance art as well as works from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries can be found on the second floor. The art of classic modernism and European postwar modernism is presented on the third floor. Finally, the Hauptbau also houses the museum’s department of prints and drawings (on the mezzanine) and the shop and museum bistro (on the ground floor).
In April 2016, the museum inaugurated a third venue across the street from the Hauptbau, to which it is connected by an underground passage: the Neubau by the local architects Christ & Gantenbein. It is designed to accommodate both special exhibitions and presentations of art from the collections. Construction of the new building was made possible by a public-private partnership: Dr. h. c. Maja Oeri donated the funds that enabled the Canton of Basel-Stadt to purchase the building plot, and the Laurenz Foundation contributed CHF 50 million toward the building costs of altogether ca. CHF 100 million.
Many elements of the Neubau quote the architectonic idiom of its older sibling across the street. The dialogue between the structures is most readily apparent in the new building’s monumental staircase beneath a central circular skylight, the rough scraped plaster in the foyer and stairwell, and the subtle colors of the brick façade.
The great special exhibitions are held in the skylighted galleries on the third floor. Treasures from the collection of art after 1950 are presented on the other gallery levels and in the passageway connecting the Neubau to the Hauptbau—with the exception of contemporary art, which is on view at the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart. A branch of the shop in the Hauptbau is located on the Neubau’s ground floor.