A Ship Will Not Come

Extended until 25 Oct 2020
14 Nov 2019 - 25 Oct 2020

Switzerland is a seafaring nation and at home on the oceans. So much seems proven at least by film footage taken on the voyages of the “MS Basilea” in the 1950s and ’60s. Besides sea spray, clouds, wave crests and troughs, cargo loads of coffee and cocoa, or an entire herd of water buffalo, the images also document strange occurrences on land: In Massawa (Eritrea) an aging emperor descends from a Russian warship. Or the Swiss crew witness a parade during the Cultural Revolution in China – in which airplanes and trains (made of cardboard for the time being) are presented to an astonished crowd.

The “MS Basilea” footage gives us reason to ask about the stories written by ships. What interests us is less the media-exploited epics like the “Titanic” than small stories and rather inconspicuous events. Stories that allow a view of the whole: of post-colonial struggles on the African continent during the Cold War, or (in China’s case), the delicate beginnings of the world power of tomorrow.

The “MS Basilea” footage is framed with artistic works. They tell of life and death on a refugee ship, or the attempt to portray Théodore Géricault’s painting “Raft of the Medusa” (1819) with contemporary means. They tell of the oppressive loneliness of a modern container ship, of winds and ocean currents in the Atlantic as a climatic prerequisite for the slave trade, as well as a cemetery of ships in Gadani (Pakistan), where the daunting steel vessels are dismantled into the individual components that will reenter the global commodity cycle.

With works by Dias & Riedweg, Eza Komla, Hira Nabi, Dierk Schmidt, Allan Sekula and Adnan Softić. The proposal to look into the archives of the “MS Basilea” came from Damian Christinger. Curatorial supervision was provided by Bettina Schuler (JJM) and Adnan Softić.


Title Image: Work Detail by Dierk Schmidt, Sketch of SIEV-X, 2000. Courtesy of the artist. 


  • 14 Nov 2019
    19:00 Uhr
  • 24 Nov 2019 3:00 pm
    Artist Talk
    With Eza Komla, Dierk Schmidt, Adnan Softić, Sophia Prinz and Roger M. Buergel
    Artist Talk about the artistic approaches to historical truth (GE)
  • 11 Dec 2019 7:00 pm
    Theme Night
    With Sophie Mauch
    Departing from the stories written by ships in the exhibition we'll explore the world on the water, on different kinds of floating constructions, and see what inspiration we find to tell stories of our own. (EN)
  • 15 Dec 2019 3:00 pm
    Children's Event
    For children (between 5 and 10 years old)
    Stories we hear en route are inspired by the adventures of the Swiss merchant navy and other things from the exhibition. (GE)
  • 12 Jan 2020 3:00 pm
    Theme Afternoon
    With Mamadou Diallo and Roger M. Buergel
    On colonial and postcolonial realities in Africa today. (FR / GE)
  • 2 Feb 2020 3:00 pm
    Theme Afternoon
    With Bettina Schuler and Roger M. Buergel
    On the reasons why the best part of cinema has found its home in the museum. (GE)
  • 3 Mar 2020 6:30 pm
    Theme Night
    With Lea Haller
    A conversation about world trade companies, money flows and the nation's self-image. (GE)
  • 10 Mar 2020 6:30 pm
    Theme Night
    With Hannah Baader, Armin Linke and Roger M. Buergel
    The search for traces on the ocean floor, maritime ecology and the limits of international law. (GE)
  • 29 Mar 2020 3:00 pm
    Artist Talk
    With Hira Nabi
    On the dramatic aspects of the dismantling of ocean liners in Gadani (Pakistan). (EN)
  • 5 Apr 2020 3:00 pm
    Theme Afternoon
    With Christina Wild und Yann Stricker
  • 5 Jul 2020 3:00 pm
    Artist Talk
    Mit Mauricio Dias, Walter Riedweg und Roger M. Buergel
    Über improvisierte Formen der Zusammenarbeit mit Jugendlichen und anderen (eher schwierigen) Akteur_innen. (DE)
  • Events are included in the general museum admission ticket if not otherwise stated.