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Police v.s. “Favela Café” Occupation at Art Basel (Switzerland)

June 17, 2013

Art Review:

On Friday night Swiss police fired rubber bullets and teargas at an artist-activist group who took over Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata and architect Christophe Scheidegger’s politically uncomfortable ‘Favela Café’ at Art Basel, a fully working eatery in the guise of impoverished urban areas. Art Basel allowed the group to protest for a limited time only.

At 10:05pm on Friday, June 14th a police action attempted to shut down a gathering of 150 people or so who came together over the course of the day to peacefully “occupy” a highly controversial artwork by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata and architect Christophe Scheidegger entitled Favela Café (2013). The occupiers were fired at by tear gas and rubber bullets outside of Art Basel’s Main Halls.

The work itself, which serves expensive coffee, pastries and cold cut sandwiches to Art World/Fair goers was erected this year as part of a commissioned installation project by Art Basel for Messeplatz, the main square within the annual fair and grounds contested as public space. After the Fair doors close on June 16, Art Basel is planning to ‘donate’ the structure for use as a bar and restaurant with a community garden.

In the media, the occupy activists have been portrayed as art hooligans who have allegedly attacked the police and are now facing serious fines, although the worst property damage they inflicted was drawing with chalk in the exhibition space.

It seems clear that discussions are necessary at this time to begin unpacking and addressing issues instigated by the work itself, its context, the lack of open criticality, the type of resistance and use of force we see so systematically/forumulaically regardless of what these public spaces are, where they happen to exist and what they represent.


Video documentation of the building of the obscene project “Favela Café” and the art crowds toasting at the opening: a cynical celebration indeed.


Earlier this year activists from “Basel wird besetzt” (Basel will be occupied) had occupied an empty building in the city, aiming to build self-managed project spaces and a cultural center. On their website “Basel wird besetzt” openly criticized the purely profit-oriented residential construction politics of the city of Basel. This anti-gentrification activist group was evicted by the police after just one month. You can find out more information about them on the website: (in German)


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