With over 50 museums and 100 galleries, Zurich is a great cultural destination.
Frequently named the world’s No. 1 city for standard of living, Switzerland’s economic centre is a ‘little big city’ of some 400,000 inhabitants. The quaint, compact old town is split in two by the River Limatt, which flows out of Lake Zurich and feeds the city’s 1,200 fountains to refresh passers-by with its clear, pure water. A whole team is employed full-time to keep the fountains clean.
Housing the national collection of Switzerland, the Kunsthaus (‘Kunst’ is German for art) is Zurich’s main art attraction. Virtually every major art movement is represented, from the Old Masters (Canaletto, Panini, Breughel) and Impressionism (Monet, Gauguin, Cezanne) to Surrealism (Ernst, Miro, Dali, Magritte), post-war art (Pollock. Rothko, Newman) and present century (Cy Twombly, Jeff Wall). Of course, Swiss art is well represented with an important collection of 19th and 20th century artists (Fuseli, Hodler, Böcklin, Vallotton) and works by the great Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti.
A modern extension by “starchitect” David Chipperfield has doubled the display space and enabled the museum to show the entire E.G. Bührle Collection, assembled by the Zurich industrialist Emil Bührle (1890-1956). Combined with the museum’s existing works, it forms the largest group of Impressionist artworks in Europe outside Paris. The extension is linked to the original 1910 building by an underground passage which contains works by the Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson.
In the up and coming Zurich West district, Löwenbräukunst is a contemporary art centre in a converted brewery. The cavernous rooms and stark walls of the late 19th century, red brick building are ideal for displaying art.
Among its tenants is the Kunsthalle, which presents changing exhibitions of international contemporary art. This is also the focus at the Migros Museum, funded by the giant Swiss retailer of the same name. Notable among the independent galleries is Hauser & Wirth, which was founded in Zurich and also has branches in London and New York
Beautifully situated in wooded parkland near the western shore of Lake Zurich, the Museum Rietberg is the legacy of the avid collector Baron Edward van der Heydt (1882-1964), whose particular interest in art and artefacts from Asia, Africa, America, Oceania and the Orient resulted in a world renowned collection. The museum is entered by a cube-like structure in patterned, turquoise glass which stands in contrast to the magnificent 19th century villa fronted by a large, ornamental pond.
Much of van der Heydt’s non-European collection, which he gifted to the city of Zurich, is displayed in brightly lit, subterranean chambers and includes Chinese bronze casting, Buddha figures, Japanese Noh theatre masks, Persian lacquerware, African carved sculpture and pre-Columbian figures.
Operated by Zurich University of the Arts, the Museum für Gestaltung (Museum of Design) hosts changing exhibitions in design, photography, architecture, posters and graphics. It extensive collections include posters (330,000 items documenting the international history of the poster from its mid-19th century origins to the present day), 10,000 mass-produced products and 20,000 examples of packaging and a collection documenting the transformation of graphics in everyday life from Gutenberg to the present day and continually augmented by works by graphic designers and advertising agencies and corporate designers.
In a corner of the Chinese Garden near Lake Zurich are two fascinating and wildly contrasting museums. The Centre Le Corbusier was the last building designed by the famous Swiss architect and artist. It is also known as the Heidi Weber Museum after the art collector who commissioned it. With its steel and glass frame, a flyaway roof and multi-coloured enamel plate cladding it looks as futuristic today as it must have in the late 1960s. (Le Corbusier died in 1965, two years before it was completed.) If ever a building could be considered a work of art, this is it. Visiting days are limited to between summer and early autumn; with no insulation, it is impossible to heat in colder months.
Next door is the Atelier Hermann Haller, where the Swiss sculptor worked from 1933 until his death in 1950. The quaint wooden cottage is filled with his work, almost exclusively depictions of the human figure, from small figurines (which he used to work out his ideas instead of doing preparatory sketches) to a ceiling-high nude. An annual exhibition shows Haller’s work alongside work by a guest artist. Visiting periods here are also limited summer and early autumn.
Picturesquely situated in the Old Town on the sparkling River Limmat, the Helmhaus hosts solo, group and themed exhibitions of contemporary art, mainly by Swiss artists or artists resident in Switzerland.
Located in a former electricity substation, an icon of Zurich’s industrial architecture, the Haus Konstruktiv is unique in Switzerland (and one of a few such institutions in Europe) in its dedication to concrete, constructive and conceptual art. The massive exhibition rooms are spread over five floors.