Contemporary art in Switzerland was a real surprise for me. I already have a whole article on Zurich, which is by far one of the most interesting cities I have visited in Europe. But there is definitely more to discover around the Swiss cantons.
With its beautiful sights of the Alps and its cozy, medieval towns, Switzerland is the perfect destination both in summer and in winter. And when it comes to contemporary art, it has a lot to offer. From world-class art fairs, like Art Basel, to international galleries, museums, and art centers, Switzerland has something for everyone.
But since we all know the major attractions, such as Basel, Zurich, Bern, or St. Moritz, I decided to give you an alternative itinerary to discover the amazing Swiss contemporary art scene.
Following this itinerary, you can visit different parts of Switzerland and discover great alternatives to the most famous museums in the country. Are you ready for a road trip?
Our trip starts in Lugano, near the southern border between Switzerland and Italy. Lugano is a nice small city, surrounded by breath-taking mountains and overlooking the beautiful Ceresio, also known as the Lugano Lake. Right at the entry of the city stands the LAC, a huge new building hosting the biggest cultural center of the Canton Ticino.
Opened in 2015 Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) is a cultural center dedicated to music, visual, and performance arts. The Art Museum of Italian Switzerland is hosted inside the center, which also houses the prestigious Lugano and Canton Ticino art collections. Both collections are on show on rotation, together with temporary exhibitions, taking up two entire floors of the building.
The museum has a beautiful location and a giant window where you can get an amazing view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. You can also pair the visit with a concert at the LAC Auditorium or a dance performance.
Driving north from Lugano, make sure to stop in Luzern. Not only this small city has a stunning museum, but it is one of the most charming small cities in Switzerland and perhaps Europe. Located near yet another lake, and cut in half by the Reuss river, it is characterized by beautiful wooden bridges used to link both sides of the city. Its historical city center is charming and still preserves very characteristic old buildings, but if you walk down to the lake and towards the main train station (designed by no less than Santiago Calatrava) you will find the ultra-modern Culture and Congress Center.
Opened in 1998, it was designed by Jean Nouvel as a multi-functional center. It hosts a concert hall, among the best in the World for its acoustics, as well as an art museum.
The museum is located on the upper floors of the KKL and overlooks the city of Luzern and its lake. The spaces are big and they take a whole floor of the building, providing enough room for big exhibitions. The museum’s collection mainly focuses on contemporary art, with special attention to Swiss artists. The temporary exhibitions are interesting and well-designed. They present both national and international artists, making the Kunstmuseum Luzern one of the most interesting in the whole country.
Close to the border with Germany, Austria, and Lichtenstein, St. Gallen is the third stop of this short itinerary for contemporary art in Switzerland. Capital of the canton of St. Gallen, the city is famous for its baroque cathedral and charming Old Town. Yet, the city boasts a thrilling contemporary art scene, with two major centers. Together with the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, the city is home to the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, the local Museum of Art. Located in a stunning neoclassical building designed by architect Johann Christoph Kunkler in 1877, its collection spans from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century, with a strong preference for contemporary Swiss art. It also has a great collection of modern and contemporary art, with works by Delacroix, Millet, Monet, as well as Paul Klee, Richard Serra, Andy Warhol, Nam June Paik, Mario Merz or Pipilotti Rist.
Last, but definitely not least this itinerary will stop in Lausanne. Located on the Geneva Lake in the French-speaking region of Vaud, Lausanne has a medieval Old Town, with nice fountains and cobbled streets.
At the same time, it is currently building a whole new area dedicated to the arts. The area will place Lausanne among the top destinations in Switzerland for contemporary art and architecture, but it won’t open until 2022. The project, called Plateforme 10, will rise next to the train station and will become Lausanne’s main art district. Both the Musée de l’Elysée (the museum of photography) and the Mudac (Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts) will move here between 2021 and 2022 when the new buildings, designed specifically for the two museums, will be finished.
As of now though, Plateforme 10 already hosts the MCBA, the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts. Opened in this location in 2019, the museum has a long history. It was first created in 1841 and it occupied a few different locations around the city of Lausanne, before moving to the newly build Plateforme 10. The museum has a very rich collection, with over 10,000 pieces spanning from Ancient Egypt to nowadays. The main focus, though, is on modern contemporary art, with works by both Swiss and international artists. It hosts a permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions and a number of different events throughout the year.
Once the Plateforme 10 project will be finished, Lausanne aims to be one of the major cultural centers in Switzerland and in Europe. Definitely a reason to visit back in a couple of years!