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One of the art world’s most enduring corporate partnerships—Art Basel and the Swiss bank UBS—is marking its 30th anniversary with a range of activities cementing the relationship between the fair and its “global lead partner”. These include a high-profile joint public commission by the Kosovo-born artist Petrit Halilaj, whose dramatic work, When the sun goes away we paint the sky (2022), is installed on the façade of the former Hotel Merian.

UBS, which managed $5.5 trillion of invested assets in the second quarter of 2023, joined forces with Art Basel in 1994 when the artists Pipilotti Rist and Enrique Fontanilles became the first recipients of the Video Art Prize endowed by Art Basel’s then partner, the Swiss Bank Corporation, which later merged with the Union Bank of Switzerland to become UBS.

In the years since, UBS and Art Basel have initiated various projects, including the Unlimited sector of the fair and the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report, which launched in 2017, says Patricia Amberg, senior art adviser at UBS. Today, the UBS brand is ubiquitous in Basel, both across the fair and city. As part of the Art Basel Parcours sector, UBS presents Dare Me Do-Touch Me Too (2024), a new site-specific installation by Edith Deyerling at the UBS Claraplatz branch.

At its lounge at Art Basel, the UBS Art Collection is hosting Threads, a group show of textile-based works by leading artists such as Maja Bajević, who is showing a new site-specific installation entitled Facts and Figures, which has been acquired by the collection. A number of works by other key artists from the 30,000-strong UBS Art Collection also feature in Threads, including those by Hank Willis Thomas, Joana Vasconcelos and Kapwani Kiwanga.

Asked how the UBS activities overlap, Amberg says: “It is important for us to show what [UBS is] doing in the art field. We have the art advisory, supporting clients when it comes to collecting, and we also have the corporate art collection which we also leverage in some sense. It shows how we are involved in the art world and support artists.”

Protestors on the Messeplatz yesterday accused UBS of investing $210bn in fossil fuels in recent years

The sponsorship was challenged yesterday by two environmental activist groups (the BreakFree Collective and the Collective for Climate Justice), who staged a protest on the Messeplatz in front of Agnes Denes’s installation, Honoring Wheatfield—A Confrontation. The groups’ claims include that UBS has invested $210bn in fossil fuels in recent years and are calling on Art Basel to drop the bank as a sponsor.

A spokesperson for Art Basel responded: “Sustainability is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and Art Basel is committed to using its platform to encourage wider change across the art world and inspire sustainable practices.”

UBS said: “At UBS, we recognise the importance of the orderly transition to a low carbon economy and are taking action through the implementation of our net-zero ambition and implementation of our decarbonisation targets and plans. We apply a stringent Sustainability and Climate Risk Policy Framework to all transactions and believe our ambitious targets are in-line with or better than our peers, for example, our target for the fossil fuel sector is to reduce our absolute financed emissions by 70% from the 2021 baseline to 2030.”

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