Art lovers in Switzerland have a wide variety of museums from which to choose
Switzerland’s brilliant landscape and snow-capped Alps are so stunning that visitors to this beautiful country are reticent to spend too much time indoors.
Lovers of fine art, though, will find Switzerland’s many museums offer an incredible array of indoor allure, from classic and contemporary art to astounding photographs.
Here are some of the finest art museums Switzerland has to offer:
CENTRE FOR PHOTOGRAPHY
See the world through a creative lens in this museum. Founded in 1993, the Centre for Photography in Winterthur is dedicated to chronicling photography as an art form. Consisting of the Fotomuseum Winterthur and Fotostiftung Schweiz, the Centre for Photography ranks among the best art museums in Switzerland. The two independent institutions each have a different aim in the jointly-run center: The Fotostiftung Schweiz focuses on Swiss photography from its beginnings to the present with a particular emphasis on Swiss photography from the 20th century. The Winterthur Museum of Photography examines contemporary photography in the context of individual works by acclaimed photographers.
This museum in Riehen/Basel is lovely both inside and out. The aesthetically pleasing Fondation Beyeler building is located in an English landscape park that features aged trees, a water lily pond and a pavilion overlooking cornfields, vineyards and the foothills of the Black Forest. Inside the museum, guests can savor the 250 masterpieces of Hildy and Ernst Beyeler, who were renowned as perhaps Europe’s pre-eminent dealers in modern art.
The museum houses works from artists such as Marlene Dumas, a contemporary South African artist and painter; Gerhard Richter, a German visual artist who produced abstract and photorealistic paintings; and Ferdinand Hodler, one of the best-known Swiss painters of the 19th century. Presentations are accompanied by a calendar of readings, talks and guided tours.
Located in Zurich, the Kunsthaus Zurich houses some of the most important art collections in Switzerland. This collection spans from the Middle Ages to contemporary art, with an emphasis on Swiss art and includes major works by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti along with a host of other Swiss artists. Leading representatives of the Expressionist movement along with a meaningful collection of Classic Modernism makes this museum a must-visit for art lovers. With some 19,000 members, its patron association, the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft, is one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
Housing the largest and most significant public art collection in Switzerland, Kunstmuseum Basel was dubbed the fifth best museum on the planet in 2013 by the London Times. The museum, which is made up of three buildings, encompasses more than 100,000 square feet.
The original museum, finished in 1936, contains art ranging from the 15th century to 1950, including the largest collection of works by the Holbein family, an influential German family of artists in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Other pieces on display include paintings from Vincent van Gogh and Switzerland’s Arnold Bocklin and Ferdinand Hodler.
In 1994, Geneva’s modern art museum was opened in a 1950s factory building. Containing large windows, huge rooms and expansive floors, this museum offers a spacious home for numerous art collections.
Since it opened, the museum has staged 450 exhibitions with works dating from the 1960s to the present day. MAMCO’s opening re-invigorated a cultural district in the now gallery-filled and trendy Quartier des Bains neighborhood. One of the premier events in the neighborhood is the Nuit des Bains (“baths night,” a name that stems from the fact public baths used to take place there), which is held three times per year. During this event, the arts district is transformed into a large gallery and and attracts thousands of people each night.
MASI LUGANO – MUSEO D’ARTE DELLA SVIZZERA ITALIANA
Founded in 2015, MASI Lugano has become one of the most visited art museums in Switzerland. Born from the union between the Cantonal Art Museum and the Art Museum of the City of Lugano, the merger brought together two institutes that had been working since 2012. In its two locations – at the LAC cultural center and the Palazzo Reali – it offers a rich exhibition program with temporary exhibitions and new collections. MASI is equipped with an artistic heritage of more than 14,000 works covering a historical period ranging from the end of the 15th century to the present day.
MUSÉE DE L’ELYSÉE
The internationally renowned Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne is one of the world’s leading museums dedicated to photography. Established in 1985, the museum aims to improve the public’s understanding of photography through innovative exhibitions, key publications and engrossing events.
The museum hosts a one-of-a-kind collection of more than one million phototypes including collections from Charlie Chaplin, Ella Maillart, a Swiss adventurer and photographer, and Nicolas Bouvier, a Swiss traveler, writer and photographer. The building that houses the museum is exceptionally photogenic: an 18th-century villa with views of Lake Geneva.
MUSEUM FÜR GESTALTUNG ZURICH
Switzerland’s foremost museum of design and visual communication, the Museum für Gestaltung Zurich contains an acclaimed collection comprising more than half a million objects from the history of design. Founded in 1875, the museum reaches a broad national and international audience at its two sites in Zurich and through touring exhibitions. It features four collections: Poster, Design, Graphics and Applied Art, which encompass more than 500,000 objects.
The newly refurbished main building of the museum is located just a few minutes’ walk from Zurich’s main train station, and is a sublime example of Swiss modernist architecture. The new Swiss Design Lounge invites visitors to relax and experience contemporary Swiss furniture while sampling goods from the museum cafe.
Located directly on the Rhine River, the Museum Tinguely in Basel is home to the world’s largest collection of art by Jean Tinguely, a Swiss sculptor famous for his moving mechanical sculptures. Tinguely (1925-1991) is considered one of the most innovative and important Swiss artists of the 20th century. A variety of Tinguely’s kinetic art sculptures and interactive exhibitions are on permanent display, complemented with illustrations, photographs and other documents related to the artist’s life and work. Tinguely’s wife, Niki de Saint Phalle, has donated 55 sculptures to the museum, and special exhibitions present the works of a variety of artists and subjects including Marcel Duchamp, a French-American painter and sculptor whose work was associated with Cubism and Dadaism; and Kurt Schwitters, a German artist who worked in several genres including Dadaism, Constructivism and Surrealism.
ZENTRUM PAUL KLEE
The iconic Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, which opened in 2005, is dedicated to the life and work of Paul Klee (1879-1940). With around 4,000 pieces, the museum has the most significant collection of paintings and drawings from Klee’s work. Swiss-born, Klee is regarded as one of the 20th century’s most important artists. His individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. Designed by star Italian architect Renzo Piano and built on the outskirts of the capital city, the museum’s three curved hills and gently contoured lines blend into the surrounding rolling landscape. Enclosed by fields and a spacious park, the center provides an ideal area for walking.
By Jason Paha