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The Project

Arena for a Tree, Venice 2024
An art intervention by Klaus Littmann
Venice: Arsenale Nord, April 17 to July 30, 2024

From a distance, the porous “hull” looks like an upside-down dome or a giant walnut shell with saplings sprouting from it. Seen close-up, it reveals itself as architecture, sculpture and stage rolled into one. Its horizontal structure, which was inspired by tree rings, provides three tiers of seating for around fifty spec- tators – all with unobstructed views of the centre, where three trees sprout from a central pool. This natural protagonist is embedded in a spatial concept that dates back to the beginnings of Western culture. Originally a scene of combat, then of theatre, the arena is a venue that focuses all eyes equally on the event unfolding at its centre. The event in this case is utterly undramatic but nevertheless existential. The three trees, each of them distinctive in shape, symbolize at once both rootedness and mobility. They also provide shade, a habitat for insects and a source of raw materials. It is no coincidence that the choice of tree fell on the swamp cypress: it thrives on both freshwater and seawater, withstands gales, can soak up large amounts of floodwater, and promises to survive even scorching urban summers.

An “ark” at the Arsenale
The temporary installation is located in the eastern outskirts of Venice, in front of a utilitarian red-brick building with ogival windows on the mar- gins of the Arsenale – a former shipyard covering around 48 hectares, i.e. a tenth of the city‘s surface area. The numerous waterside workshops are witnesses of Venice‘s former prowess in shipbuilding, as a military base and as a trading hub. Moored in front of an extensive area currently undergoing redevelopment and repurposing, this ship-like structure, permeable to both air and light, signals a different kind of historical development: trees are now no longer primarily a raw material for masts, or for the piles and beams used in commercial and residential buildings. They are living organisms that we can identify with – young, vulnerable saplings, indispensable for the global ecosystem and therefore requiring protection. The Arena for a Tree is a freely accessible venue for contem- plation. It was conceived as a silent alternative to the numerous events that the rambling Arsenale accommodates nowadays. Set apart from all commercial interests, it incorporates aspects related to the climate and water supply into the backdrop of Venice.

Foreigners Everywhere
The main exhibition of the “La Biennale di Venezia” addresses that which is foreign. “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere” provides a stage for artists whose work focuses on national, linguistic, religious or gender identity as well as their perception of themselves and others. The focus on migrant biographies and the symptoms that “otherness” brings with it promises once again to present today’s art in a global radius. And Arena for a Tree, too, has the theme of migration as its leitmotif: over long geological periods, the swamp cypress was native to different regions of the world. Its “natural” home today is mainly in Mexico, Guatemala, along the Mississippi River and into the US state of Missouri. In view of global warming, it is also likely to take root in Europe.

For Forest – The Unending Attraction of Nature
The projects of artist and curator Klaus Littmann often spring from an engagement with the culture of everyday life, offering contemporary art which, wherever possible, is located in the public space. Poetry is not exclusive. And trees, too, are there for everyone. They supply us with oxy- gen and, with their seasonal transformations, also provide us with images embodying the progress of life. In autumn 2019 Littmann transformed the football stadium in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt into a forest. For Forest – The Unending Attraction of Nature became a silent mega-event that saw the antics of excited football fans yield to the serenity of trees under an overarching sky. Trees up to 14 metres tall made the wind and rain audible; wisps of fog veiled their colours, turning their crowns into soft silhouettes; the coming and going of light and warmth filled the air with ever-changing scents, while birds and insects delighted in their new-found home. Arena for a Tree germinated like a seed from that mem- orable art project in Austria. It was installed first on Basel’s Münsterplatz (Cathedral Square), in 2021 and graced the inner courtyard of the Swiss National Museum in Zurich in the spring of 2022. At each new location, a new tree species is chosen that can thrive in the respective climate. Venice is the third port of call – and the first one on water. This element, with its winds and waves, silently surrounds the Arena for a Tree and bears it along in the global ecological cycle.

Arena for a Tree was created in collaboration with Enzo Enea of Enea Land- scape Architecture. Schnetzer Puskas Ingenieure developed the structure to design drawings by Klaus Littmann.

The temporary art intervention Arena for a Tree in Venice is presented by and made possible thanks to the generous support of Kulturstiftung Basel H. Geiger | KBH.G in cooperation with ECC-Italy (European Cultural Centre).

Media Releases

ARENA FOR A TREE 27.04.–06.06.2021

A walk-in art intervention by Klaus Littmann from 27 April to 6 June 2021 at Münsterplatz Basel, presented by Kulturstiftung Basel H. Geiger. In Basel, everything is concentrated on one single tree, whereas in Klagenfurt 299 trees filled the pitch of the Wörthersee stadium. With the intervention «Arena for a Tree», Littmann continues his presentation of Max Peintner’s idea from the early 1970s, which he began in 2019 with “For Forest – The Unending Attraction of Nature”. The work challenges our perception and sharpens our perspective on the future in relation to mankind and nature. The tree itself – mainplayer in this walk-in art installation in the center of Basel’s Münsterplatz – represents the forest. It is a symbol for nature and its preservation, a stark ambassador in kind and a testimonial for this exhibition cycle. The «Arena for a Tree» is part of the exhibition «Tree Connections» which will be on view from May 11 to July 11 2021. Accompanying the exhibition is an extensive catalog published by Hatje Cantz as well as a diverse public program.

In Klagenfurt, 299 trees filled the court of a football stadium – in Basel, however, everything is concentrated on one single tree. The circumferential stand is inspired by annual rings that archive the gradual evolvement of a tree, and the outer contours of the arena reflect on the unevenness and roughness of tree bark.

The tree itself – mainplayer in this walk-in art installation in the center of Basel’s Münsterplatz – represents the forest. It is also a symbol for nature and its preservation, a stark ambassador in kind and a testimonial for this exhibition cycle.

«Nature is such a monumental work of art – so why not at least dedicate a small work of art to it.» Klaus Littmann


As in the For Forest project in Klagenfurt, Swiss landscape architect Enzo Enea is responsible for the selection and cultivation of the tree. It is not a question of mere beauty or strength, but rather whether this tree can be integrated into Basel’s tree population and its ability to adapt to changing conditions, caused by global warming in the long run.

Enzo Enea’s choice fell on the ironwood tree, the Parrotia Persica from the witch hazel family. The slow-growing ironwood tree, which can reach a height of 10 meters, is made of very dense, hard wood and is so heavy that it is one of the few types of wood that does not float on water. Its leaves show a spectacular range of colors from yellow to red in autumn. Originally from Persia and the Caucasus, where the climate is also continental, the iron tree is used to distinct seasons. It likes the warmth, is hardy at the same time and tolerates the urban climate particularly well. This robustness, which is also characterized by hardly any pest or disease infestation, qualifies the stress-resistant ironwood tree for Enzo Enea as the perfect protagonist, which is also optimally prepared regarding the effects of climate change: “For me, the ironwood tree is the tree of hope and the future par excellence and as such a positive symbol for climate protection, which we humans must actively promote. Because nature does not need us, but we need nature.”

The arena will leave the Münsterhügel, the tree, however, shall take root in Basel and will be presented to the city as a gift.

The Kulturstiftung Basel H. Geiger presents the temporary art intervention ARENA FOR A TREE on Basel’s Münsterplatz, followed by the show TREE CONNECTIONS in the KBH.G exhibition space.

Media Releases and Media Images/-Videos Arena for a tree

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27.04. – extended till 06.06.2021
Open daily from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Münsterplatz, Basel
Free entry

We thank you warmly for your cooperation:
Schnetzer Puskas Ingenieure | enea landscape architecture | Häring AG

11.05. – 11.07.2021
At the exhibition space of Kulturstiftung Basel H. Geiger I KBH.G Spitalstrasse 18, Basel
Open daily from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m., except Tuesdays
Free entry

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Texts by John McDonald, Florian Illies, Isabel Zürcher

German, English
Time of publication: 2021
288 pp., 210 ills., Quarterbound Hardcover
€ 48,00
ISBN: 978-3-7757-5035-6