Lausanne and the visual arts
From a quiet awakening to a real cultural boom
By Françoise Jaunin
In its beautiful country landscape between the Alps and the Jura, lake and plateau, Lausanne is at the crossroads of major communication routes between France, Germany and Italy. The exchange of ideas, influences and even artists has for time immemorial combined the spirit of the north with the energy of the south. The “total work of art” represented by its 13th-century cathedral (the largest and most beautiful gothic building in Switzerland) is a magnificent example of this – even though the Reformation era destruction deprives us of its pictorial heritage.
The Parisian magnet
In 1841, about twenty years after its “Ecole de dessin”, Lausanne opened the second oldest museum in Switzerland exclusively dedicated to art, after Geneva. But almost until the middle of the 20th century, the vast majority of its artists did what most “provincial” talents do - they went to the big cities. Paris was “their” city; the place where they made their names. Some stayed for a few years (Auberjonois, Bosshard, Buchet), others spent their entire careers there: Grasset, Steinlen, Vallotton and the Breton “commuter” Marius Borgeaud.
The international turning point
It was in the accelerated movement of the 1960s that the Vaud capital embraced the era of cultural internationalism and contemporary art. With René Berger at the helm, the Musée des Beaux-Arts set the tone. Even though they weren’t always fully understood locally, its three Salons des Galeries-Pilotes, its 16 international biennial tapestry festivals and its pioneering interest in video art had a considerable impact and remain in the annals.
Made up of a handful of idealist artists from the 1968 movement, the Impact group (Scheurer, Schauenberg, Barbier) managed a forward-thinking gallery and mixed the art of public life into joyously provocative events, such as the famous “Action Voitures” in 1976. To protest against the urban failure of the Place de la Riponne, it proposed – with casts of VW Beetles for support – to transform the Musée des Beaux-Arts into a parking lot.
Boom in museums and culture
Since the second half of the 1970s, Lausanne has experienced a great boom in museums and culture. One by one, museums opened: the Collection de l’Art Brut, the Musée de l’Elysée, the Fondation de l’Hermitage, the nearby and short-lived Fondation Edelmann in Pully (1991-1995), the Olympic Museum, the Espace Arlaud, the Fondation Verdan, the MUDAC, the Archives of Modern Construction, the Forum d’Architectures and the “Lausanne Jardins” festival, which has become an international gathering for landscape art since 1997. Not to mention the contribution made by galleries, a dozen of which have joined together under the name GGALA (Lausanne Art Gallery Group) around a shared professional charter. Or the collective energy of the artists who managed experimental spaces, some of which were short-lived: Palud 1, 16/25, the Blanc des Cieux, the Casino, and Circuit.
A success named ECAL
This effervescence was also found at the Ecole Cantonale d’Art – ECAL – and the arrival of Pierre Keller as its head in 1995 boosted and propelled it among the ranks of the most renowned art and design schools in the world. “ECALians” and “ex-ECALians” (Philippe Decrauzat, Didier Rittener, Vincent Kohler, Alexis Georgacopoulos and many others) drew attention by snapping up prizes and distinctions. Despite its move in the summer of 2007 into a former factory in Renens renovated by the famous architect Bernard Tschumi, the ECAL retains the L for Lausanne in its acronym.
To the museum by the water
The next adventure is unfolding in Bellerive, where the new Musée des Beaux-Art, right on the waterfront and set against a dreamy landscape, should provide Lausanne with a European-scale institution that reflects its high cultural vocation.
Service de la culture
Place de la Palud
Hôtel de Ville
Case postale 6904
Phone +41 21 315 25 25
Fax +41 21 315 20 30
tl: Saint-François, Bel-Air
m1: Lausanne-Flon; m2: Riponne-M. Béjart