In this strange summer of 2020, all our traveling plans were disrupted by Covid-19. Facing the global pandemic, we were forced to reconsider places close to our homes and different ways of traveling, if we wanted to travel at all. After long years spent traveling far, jumping on and off planes, and comfortably sitting in cabins for tens of hours, Covid came to show us we need to travel differently if we want to keep doing it. 

So after long thinking, when I was trying to decide whether it was actually ok to travel or not in this situation, I realized I could use this summer to discover places I sort of overlooked over the past years. I also realized I did a few long road trips in my life, but rarely in Europe, so I was determined to visit a place by car, and not too far from home but still sort of unfamiliar.

With that in mind, my choice was Switzerland. To me, this country was all about chocolate, the Alps, and pricey watches. To be honest, I had no idea what it was like in terms of culture, art, and especially contemporary art. All I knew about contemporary art in Switzerland was ArtBasel, which is in fact my favorite art fair, but just one of the many offerings Switzerland has for us art lovers. 

I was indeed stunned by the breathtaking views of the Alps and the alpine lakes, but I also found very charming cities. I touched a few of them during my trip, but Zurich was the one I found more interesting for contemporary art. It is the largest city in Switzerland, but it is still relatively small. Despite that, when it comes to contemporary art Zurich has a good number of galleries and museums, art centers, and historical places like Cabaret Voltaire, the birthplace of the Dada movement, or the Pavilion Le Corbusier. 

Zurich can be easily visited in a few days, all you need is a good pair of walking shoes and you can get around pretty easily, walking from one place to the other. The city offers a vibrant cultural scene for any type of art lover, and contemporary art has good representation, with museums and art centers, as well as local and international galleries. 

So, to give you an idea of what you can find in Zurich, here are the four contemporary art museums I visited and loved in the Swiss city. 

1 – Migros Museum of Contemporary Art

Located in Zurich-West, it is housed in the Löwenbräukunst Areal, a former brewery turned into a massive art hub. The brewery hosts multiple galleries and museums, as well as restaurants and private spaces, and the whole area of Zurich-West is an interesting part of the city to experience something different from the Old Town. 

The museum itself is an interesting platform for contemporary art, with exhibitions dealing with a vast range of themes. Originally opened in 1996, it takes two floors of the brewery. Here it presents temporary solo and group exhibitions by both Swiss and international artists, as well as works from its own collection. It is not a huge museum, but it is nice to visit and the quality of the exhibitions is very high. You can also spot some of the works from their collection around the brewery, like some installations by Ugo Rondinone. The museum works closely with artists for their exhibitions, and it shows in the quality of the works on display. 

Migros Museum of Contemporary Art
Limmatstrasse 270, 8005 – Zurich
Opened daily 11 AM – 6 PM, closed on Monday
Tickets 8-12 CHF

2 – Kunsthalle Zurich 

Located in the same building of the Migros Museum, the Kunsthalle Zurich is the other major contemporary art institution inside the Löwenbräukunst Areal hub. 
It presents works by emerging and established artists, that reflect on current issues in the art world and in social contexts. The museum also offers talks, screenings, and events to further discuss the themes of the exhibitions on show. 

It has two different spaces on different floors of the brewery, plus an exhibition space and a cafe where you can relax during your visit. The shows I visited there were quite good, and looking at the past exhibitions I can say they have a very interesting program. The spaces are quintessential industrial-turned-art-center, with white walls, big windows, high ceilings, and all in all the visit was very pleasant. Together with the Migros Museum, they make up for a good day of art, especially if you are planning to visit the galleries hosted in the same complex or the “Im Viadukt”, a market hall built beneath the arches of a nearby railway line.

Kunsthalle Zürich
Limmatstrasse 270, 8005 – Zurich
Opened daily 11 AM – 6 PM, closed on Monday
Tickets 8-12 CHF – Combined ticket with Migros Museum 20 CHF

3 – Helmhaus

If you are in Zurich looking for contemporary art, this is another place not to be missed. Right in the city center, steps away from the beautiful Grossmünster and overlooking the Limmat river and the Old Town, you can visit this small art center. It mainly displays works by Swiss artists or those who have lived in Switzerland, aiming at reflecting the lively art scene in the country. It works primarily with young and emerging artists and also hosts prizes and calls for entries. The space is nice, it can be easily visited while wandering around Zurich Old Town, as it is right in the middle of every itinerary you may follow. Also, the entrance is free, so you can just pop in anytime you are nearby. As a bonus, it offers a great viewpoint for amazing photos of the Old Town and the Limmat river. Pair the visit with a few galleries nearby and the Cabaret Voltaire for a full day of contemporary art.

Limmatquai 31, 8001 – Zurich
Opened Tuesday to Sunday 11 AM – 6 PM, Thursday 11 AM – 8 PM
Free entry

4 – Museum Haus Konstruktiv

Last but not least, probably the best museum I have visited in Zurich. Haus Konstruktiv is the leading institution for constructivist, concrete, and conceptual art in Switzerland, aiming at showing the many ties between constructivist and conceptual art and the most recent innovations in contemporary art.

It was originally founded in 1986 but only moved to its current location in 2001. It occupies a former power station, built over 100 years ago, near the city center. The museum spans over five floors, and it hosts solo and group exhibitions with works by leading international contemporary artists. On the top floor, it also hosts as a permanent display the legendary “Rockefeller Dining Room” by the Swiss artist Fritz Glarner, and a library. 

I particularly loved this museum, both for its position and the two beautiful exhibitions that were on display when I visited. The setting and the works were extremely good, both shows were very well designed and they provided enough information both for an experience and a not so experienced visitor. They were displaying one of my favorite artists, Brigitte Kowanz, which I guess has biased my judgment a little bit, but nonetheless, the museum was a real gem. 

It also has a nice cafe and a store, that sells books, small gifts, postcards, bags, and limited edition items. You can easily reach the museum in a few minutes walking from Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich shopping street. Definitely one stop not to be missed! 

Museum Haus Konstruktiv
Selnaustrasse 25, 8001 – Zurich
Opened Tuesday to Sunday 11 AM – 5 PM, Wednesday 11 AM – 8 PM
Tickets 12-16 CHF

Do you want to read more about Switzerland?
Try this alternative itinerary for Swiss contemporary art!