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Switzerland’s Art and Culture Scene

Art in Switzerland is as diverse as the country itself. There is an abundance of cultural institutions throughout the country, so why not enjoy a Sunday afternoon in one of the many museums? Find out all about Switzerland’s museums, art galleries, and architecture in our guide!
The Swiss Federal Palace was created by the Swiss-Austrian architect Hans Auer.

At a Glance:

  • The Swiss gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth are one of the most influential people in the contemporary art world.
  • The annually held Art Basel is one of the world’s most important art fairs.
  • Famous Swiss architects include Le Corbusier, Herzog & de Meuron, as well as Mario Botta.

Swiss Art Galleries and Museums

Switzerland is among the countries with the most museums per capita. Despite its comparatively small size, it boasts over 1,000 museums and galleries, as well as numerous music and literature festivals. Find a short overview of Switzerland’s most important art galleries and museums below.

Kunsthaus Zurich — The Most Important Works of Modern Art

The Kunsthaus Zurich enjoys international renown, both for its permanent collection as well as its temporary exhibitions. It hosts one of Zurich’s most important modern art collections and is a must for every art lover. International works include the biggest collection of Munch’s work outside of Norway, paintings from the Dutch and Italian Baroque, and major works by Monet, Picasso, and Lipchitz. In addition to names of international renown, Zurich’s own artists such as Pipilotti Rist, Peter Fischli, and David Weiss are also represented as well as works by the Swiss Alberto Giacometti.

Hauser & Wirth — International Influences

This international gallery was founded in Zurich by Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Ursula Hauser and the Hauser & Wirth Zürich gallery opened in 1996 in the former Löwenbräu brewery building. The Löwenbräu site is a hot-spot for anyone interested in contemporary art as not only the Hauser & Wirth gallery is located there but also the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art as well as the Kunsthalle Zurich.

Hauser & Wirth also has spaces in London, New York, Los Angeles, and Somerset. The gallery represents over 60 artists such as Mark Bradford, Paul McCarthy, Pipilotti Rist, and Christoph Büchel. ArtReview Magazine ranked Iwan and Manuela Wirth as third most influential people in the contemporary art world in 2016 after being listed first in 2015.

STAMPA Gallery — More than Just a Gallery

The STAMPA gallery was founded in 1969 and is located in Basel. The gallery represents young as well as established international and Swiss artists and the exhibitions are realized in close collaboration with them. The represented artists include Marcel Odenbach, Udo Koch, Herzog & de Meuron, and Pipilotti Rist. Integrated into the gallery concept, there is also the STAMPA bookshop, offering a specialized range of publications on art, photography, design and fashion, architecture, videos, and artist’s books.

The National Museum — Representing the Swiss Life

The National Museum Zurich is home to the country’s largest cultural and historical collection and is part of the Swiss National Museums Group. The museum building was designed by Gustav Gull reminiscing of French Renaissance chateaus and is one of the main sights in Zurich. The museum has recently expanded and the new building opened its doors in August 2016. Visitors gain insights into Swiss life — from the beginnings up to the present day. The temporary exhibitions focus on culturally and socially relevant topics.

Paul Klee Center — Three Hills on an Island

The Paul Klee Center in Berne houses the world’s largest collection of Paul Klee paintings — around 4,000 paintings which represent 40% of his works. The museum was built by the award-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano. The building is reminiscent of three hills of steel and glass arising from a green island. It contains an exhibition center, a music and event hall, and the children’s museum Creaviva. Klee’s work is shown in changing exhibitions of around 120 to 150 of his paintings.

Buying Art in Switzerland: Art Fairs

Founded in 1970, Art Basel is nowadays one of the most famous art fairs. Every year in early summer, Basel turns into the capital of art and attracts gallery owners, artists, and art enthusiasts alike. The 2016 edition brought around 90,000 visitors from all over the world to Basel. The annual Art Basel show takes place at Messe Basel, Switzerland’s biggest and most important exhibition site. Since 2002, the fair also takes place in Miami Beach every December and in 2013 it launched its second international edition in Hong Kong.

Art Basel is organized around eight different sectors encompassing different mediums ranging from sculptures, paintings, and installations to film and videos, photography, prints, as well as live performances. Over 280 of the world’s leading art galleries, selected out of 1,000 candidates by an art committee, show the work of around 4,000 artists.

Even though artgenève with its 80 exhibitors cannot compete with the size of Art Basel, it is an important art fair in the French-speaking part of the country. Artgenève is a showroom for international galleries, public and private spaces, as well as independent spaces and curators. In partnership with the City of Geneva it also organizes a public space exhibition.

Other art fairs in Switzerland include Art International Zurich as well as the other shows from Art Basel: Scope, Liste, and VOLTA.

Contemporary Swiss Architecture and Its Creators

While exploring Switzerland, you will come across buildings representing the major European architectural styles, if only to a modest extent. Nonetheless, there are many cities and towns that have retained a lot of their original settlement structure as, for example, the Old City of Berne, which is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage. Furthermore, the country was and still is home to many internationally renowned architects.

One of the most influential and famous Swiss-born architects of the 20th century was Charles-Edouard Jeanerette, better known as Le Corbusier. He was a pioneer in urban planning but since his concepts didn’t find acceptance in Switzerland, he did most of his work abroad. Nonetheless, his first and last works are in Switzerland: the Villa Jeanneret-Perret and the Heidi-Weber House. In July 2016, 17 of his buildings in Switzerland, France, India, and other countries have been recognized by UNESCO as world heritage.

The Swiss Federal Palace was built between 1894 and 1902 according to plans by the Swiss-born architect Hans Auer. The building complex is under monumental protection and is one of the most important historical buildings of the country. The design of the Swiss Federal Palace was Auer’s best-known work.

In the 1980s, the Ticino Tendency movement turned into one of the main traditions in Switzerland’s contemporary architecture. It is described as a unique symbiosis of rationalism, modernism, awareness of history, and reference to the landscape. The Swiss Mario Botta is the most internationally renowned representative of this movement. Hikers might be familiar with Botta’s churches in the canton of Ticino like the Chiesa San Giovanni Battista (1996) in Mogno.

The list of achievements of the two award-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron is long. It includes the Tate Modern in London, the Prada Aoyama Epicenter in Tokyo, and the “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing. Furthermore, they also created St. Jakob Park in their hometown Basel, a complex housing a football stadium, a shopping mall, the FCB Museum, as well as a retiree’s home.


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