When the sun goes away we paint the sky
Merian, Basel
25 May 2024 – 4 January 2025

The façade of the former Hotel Merian will be taken over by When the sun goes away we paint the sky, an artwork by Petrit Halilaj symbolizing guidance and co-commissioned specifically for the 30th anniversary of the partnership between UBS and Art Basel.

When the sun goes away we paint the sky is a transnational public artwork emanating from the Grand Hotel Prishtina in Kosovo. Once a symbol of Yugoslavian prosperity, the hotel came to embody the socialist republic’s violent collapse in the 1990s. Its sign went dark; its five stars fell.

In 2022, Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj converted the hotel’s darkened sign and fallen stars from a brooding symbol of decline into one of hope. Citing the 2014 essay of Prishtina resident, Njomza Vitia, who was twelve years old when she wrote it, Halilaj combined existing letters from the original sign with newly made ones to formulate a poetic call to his fellow residents and people from all over the world: when the sun goes away we paint the sky. He simultaneously remounted and reconfigured the hotel’s original stars, adding to them an ever-growing number of new stars and constellations. These spread out first across Prishtina and meanwhile all the way over to Mexico City, where they were shown at Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, to Museion Bolzano and now to Merian in Basel.

In Basel, as with all the other constellations, the stars flash on and off in shifting patterns when the sun goes down, producing a captivating dance of light. The choreography of the stars is shared between all places, thus linking them to another across the skies. No longer a symbol of luxury or loss, the glistening stars are free to signify other values, to embody new desires, to invoke different longings and becomings.

Photo by Peter Macdiarmid