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Authors:Felicity Bodenstein:
Publication title:National Museums in Switzerland
Conference:Building National Museums in Europe 1750-2010. Conference proceedings from EuNaMus; European National Museums: Identity Politics; the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen; Bologna 28-30 April 2011. EuNaMus Report No. 1
Publication type: Abstract and Fulltext
Article No.:037
Abstract:The confederate form of its government and the cantonal structure of the Swiss state largely conditions Switzerland’s museum geography. Cultural affairs are not generally managed by the federal government but are traditionally the jurisdiction of the cantons; and all except a handful of Switzerland’s 949 museums are not national (Federal Department for the Interior; 2005: 3). The birth of Switzerland’s first national museum was long and arduous and great apprehension was repeatedly expressed at the idea of such an institution. For many Swiss; it represented an obvious contradiction to the state’s federal-national principal. In the years between the establishment of the first Helvetic Republic (1798-1803) up until the creation of the Swiss confederate state in 1848 and following; no national museums of any kind were founded. A material reason for this was that the creation of the Federal state was not accompanied by any massive movement of secularization; such as that which had; in France; transferred huge quantities of church possessions and artworks into the hands of the state. In Switzerland; the secularization of ecclesiastical treasures was a gradual process going back to the period of the Reformation and thus predating national concerns. This process had already given rise to many local and regional museum institutions; as a well-developed pre-national principal that boasted fine collections of international stature. Indeed; the project for a national museum presented an obvious difficulty as it implied choosing one place where the country’s national heritage would be presented and represented. However diplomatic difficulties were overturned by the need to stop the sale and export of Swiss antiquities abroad. Yet; since the establishment of the Landesmuseum; in Zurich in 1890; the national museum institution has; though somewhat half heartedly; tried to expand to provide more territorial representativity than the existence of one unique institution established in Zurich can offer. It has only; in the last two decades; come to include the museum of the Château de Prangins in French Switzerland and the Forum Schweizer Geschichte Schwyz; in the German speaking Alpine region (cf. Annex table). The Forum (1995) is; in a sense; the first museum to have been founded to celebrate an idea of the Swiss nation (the Landesmuseum was itself founded to deal with the exodus of Swiss material culture). Its foundation celebrates the 700th anniversary of the Swiss confederation.

In many traditional and high profile fields of collecting; such as the fine arts; especially contemporary art and foreign old masters; ethnography and classical antiquities; Switzerland’s largest and most significant museums are either municipal; cantonal or private institutions. The federal government generally has no or little involvement in the promotion of contemporary artistic expression. In terms of subject matter; Switzerland’s nationally owned museums deal mainly with traditional artistic practices or historical issues of national or local importance. Most authors underline the fact that the Swiss museum landscape is extremely varied and fragmented. The difficulty of obtaining a clear overview and statistical information concerning questions of financing and management of Swiss museums is a problem indicated by various sources (Brülisauer; Schüle; 2004). Yvette Jaggi; president of the Suisse federal cultural foundation; has commented on the absence of public debate concerning a federal cultural policy as a possible consequence of Switzerland’s plurilingual society; which; though source of cultural diversity and richness; also makes communication and exchange more difficult (Pro Helvetia; 2005: 8). The selection of museums chosen in the table below; and in the case studies; shows that Switzerland’s most important ‘national’ museums do not necessarily correspond with Switzerland’s most important museums; according to criteria of visitor numbers or general renown. In terms of art museums for example; and as included in the annex; the collections of Basel; Bern; Geneva or the Kunsthaus of Zurich are more renowned then those of the Landesmuseum. Furthermore; only two of the selected museums are directly run by the Federal state as part of the official network of Federal museums. Indeed; this selection is based on two principals allowing us to go beyond to the very strongly restricted Swiss national museum label (since 2010 it includes only 3 museums). The museums chosen are all mainly financed by the Federal state and their narrative is clearly of ‘national’ scope; in the Swiss context.

No. of pages:22
Series:Linköping Electronic Conference Proceedings
ISSN (print):1650-3686
ISSN (online):1650-3740
Publisher:Linköping University Electronic Press; Linköpings universitet

Felicity Bodenstein (2011). National Museums in Switzerland, Building National Museums in Europe 1750-2010. Conference proceedings from EuNaMus; European National Museums: Identity Politics; the Uses of the Past and the European Citizen; Bologna 28-30 April 2011. EuNaMus Report No. 1;article=037 (accessed 2/12/2016)