20 Exhibitions to Visit in Switzerland this Winter

by Paul Joseph  |  Published December 5, 2022

Wintertime is always a busy period for Switzerland’s array of museums and cultural venues – and this year is no exception.

(Photo: Franca Candrian, Kusthaus Zürich)

In both the country’s main cities such as Zurich and Basel, and further afield, Switzerland’s museums play host to a huge number of temporary and permanent exhibitions throughout the year. If you’re visiting this magical European country over the coming months and would like to check out an exhibition during your stay, we’ve picked out 20 of the best set to run throughout winter.

Aristide Maillol: The Quest for Harmony

Aristide Maillol is widely considered the most important French sculptor of the early modern era, after Auguste Rodin. A major and influential figure, Maillol created sensual art that embodies the values of clarity and balance of forms, making him a consummate artist of the classical tradition. Focusing on the highly productive period before the First World War, this exhibition brings together over 140 works, including sculptures, paintings, decorative objects, tapestries, and drawings. Also on display are paintings by contemporaries such as Paul Gauguin, Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard, revealing the closeness of Maillol’s relationship to them.

The Kunsthaus, Zürich / Through 22 January 2023

Forever Jade: Chinese Jade Miniatures from Four Millennia

Two badgers symbolizing conjugal bliss, China, Qing dynasty, reign of Qianlong (1736–1795), nephrite, 5.2 x 5.1 x 1.7 cm, of Reinhard J.C. Hoeppli Collection, deposited on permanent loan by the Swiss Confederation

Jade has been closely associated with power and status in China since earliest times, with emblems of rank made of jade part of court etiquette as early as the 1st millennium BC. The allure of jade peaked in the 18th century, when artisans skilfully exploited the material’s natural qualities such as changing hues or the presence of inclusions. Objects were crafted in the shape of animals and plants, with their designs revealing breath-taking delicacy. This exhibition invites visitors to discover jade miniatures from the museum’s collection. The figurines are accompanied by large-format photographs by the Zurich photographer Felix Streuli, whose images bring the objects to life, unveil their spirit, and reveal minute details.

Museum Rietberg, Zürich / Through 22 January 2023

Baroque: Age of Contrasts

The cultural epoch of Baroque that flourished in Europe from the early 17th century until the 1750s was a time of enormous contrasts: opulence and innovation on the one hand, death and crises on the other. Switzerland played its part in all this radical change: Swiss architects designed major works throughout Europe, Swiss artists and scientists were part of international networks, and the worldwide circulation of products and knowledge had life-changing impacts. The exhibition presents beautiful objects from Baroque architecture, garden culture, fashion and art, focusing on the historical context of these items in order to illuminate this creative epoch in all its glorious ambiguity.

Swiss National Museum, Zürich / Through 15 January 2023

Being Jain – Art and Culture of an Indian Religion

(Photo: Museum Rietberg, Zurich)

Offering a new take on the religion of Jainism, this exhibition features lavishly illuminated manuscripts and imposing sculptures that reveal Jain ideas and ideals that evolved over many centuries. The exhibition also examines contemporary practices among this small, but economically influential religious community that is found around the world, yet is hardly known outside India. Furthermore, it will explore the contribution that the living tradition of Jainism with its long and varied history can make to resolve the fundamental challenges the world faces today: climate change, rampant consumerism, ethnic and religious intolerance, and social inequality.

Museum Rietberg, Zurich / Through 30 April 2023

Torn modernity: The Basel purchases of “degenerate” art

In the summer of 1939 – just before the outbreak of World War II – the Basel museum director Georg Schmidt offered the art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt 6,000 francs by telegram for Franz Marc’s painting “Tierschicksale”. In the end he bought it for 6,900 francs, along with 20 other masterpieces of European modernism by Marc Chagall, Lovis Corinth or Oskar Kokoschka. Each of the 21 works shared the same story – they had been vilified by Nazis as “degenerate” and removed from German museums. The exhibition sheds light on a particular moment in the city’s history of collecting, without shying away from the reality of how the Basel collection benefited from the Nazi regime.

The Kunstmuseum, Basel / Through 19 February 2023

Earth At Its Limits

(Photo: Kulturama Joanna Lesniewska)

Over thousands of years, humankind existed without leaving a profound mark on the environment. In the meantime, our constantly growing need for space and natural resources is putting pressure on ecosystems around the world. This exhibition explores our role in nature and how humans have impacted the planet in a way that is understandable, vivid and both serious and playful. Through interactive displays, it shows how humans are changing the natural cycles by overexploiting land, oceans and freshwater, as well as by producing pollutants and emissions.

KULTURAMA Museum des Menschen / Through 16 July 2023

Art Brut & Comics

“Art Brut” (translated to mean “raw art”) and the French comics known as “bande dessinée” are two seemingly irreconcilable French expressions. On the one hand, works reflecting the solitude of a practitioner indifferent to the supposed tastes of the public; and on the other, a creative style often associated with the public’s most popular heroes, those mass culture icons in a variety of media. However, many Art Brut creators have seized upon the imagery and codes of the comic strip, freely adapting them to their own imaginative needs. This exhibition bring together various institutions and private collections, offering an exhilarating plunge into this “otherworld of comics”.

Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne / Through 26 February 2023

Riding the Olympic Wave

(Photo: Courtesy IOC)

Since their inception, the Olympic Games have evolved with the times and been a true reflection of the social, political and cultural context of their era. The sports programme of the Games echoes and sometimes even anticipates emerging trends and the aspirations of society. Six new Olympic sports and disciplines have recently made, or are set to make, their debut on the sports programme of the Olympic Summer Games: 3×3 basketball, BMX freestyle, breaking, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing. This exhibition explores this evolution and showcases these six sports and disciplines, along with the social, cultural and artistic settings in which they flourish. It addresses the challenges and opportunities they bring to the Olympic Games, and how the Olympics are perceived by younger generations.

The Olympic Museum, Lausanne / Through 5 March 2023

Celestial, terrestrial, animalic

More than 600 animals crawl, fly, swim and hop through this magical festive exhibition – a testament to the variety of creatures that enlivened Christmas trees 100 years ago. Through an assortment of ornaments, mostly made in Germany between 1880 and 1930, visitors are given insight into the diverse array of techniques used in the early Christmas tree decorations industry: animals made of Dresden cardboard feature alongside Gablonz and Victorian Christmas decorations, candy containers and glass-blown objects. Meanwhile Filou the Christmas dog is on hand to guide younger visitors through the exhibition.

Spielzeug Welten Museum, Basel / Through 19 February 2023

Mirror, mirror

(Photo: Swiss Science Center Technorama)

Mirrors are among the most familiar objects of our everyday routine: they’re in the bathroom, waiting for us in the morning, they help us when driving and they reflect the visible light in lamps and illuminations. This exhibition brings together over 40 enjoyable and thought-provoking experiments from the virtual world behind mirrors, allowing visitors to experiment with the phenomena of reflected images – often with unexpected results. As well as conventional flat mirrors, the exhibition features spherical and concave mirrors that create astonishing reflections. Other highlights include the Cube to infinity, in which you find yourself in what seems to be a giant hall – with thousands of images of yourself.

Swiss Science Center Technorama, Winterthur / Through winter 2022-23

Inside the Dante Factory

Created to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, one of the great figures of global literature, this exhibition shows Dante as you’ve never seen him before. The term “factory” is intended both to interpret Dante’s work as a giant laboratory as well as referring to his ongoing “creation” over the centuries. The exhibition is divided into three threads; the first brings visitors closer to Dante through famous readers of his works; the second reconstructs what is likely to have been Dante’s library and the poet’s “dialogue” with the texts he read; the third leads visitors to Dante’s writings themselves. Among the other gems on display is an original copy of the famous portrait of Dante by Sandro Botticelli from 1495.  

Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cologny / Through 8 January 2023

Splendid Sleighs

(Photo: Swiss National Museum)

In the 17th and 18th centuries, sleigh rides were mostly a treat enjoyed by wealthy families. Following the example of the royal courts of Europe, these privileged groups had themselves transported through the winter landscape in magnificent conveyances. Appearance was every bit as important as the outing itself, because these sleighs were one thing above all: a symbol of status. The contraptions were ornamented with heraldic animals, scenic views of various locations or family insignia, and were a lavish and colourful tribute to their owners. This exhibition showcases a unique collection of sleighs that have been made down the ages, demonstrating how the form of transport has evolved over time.

Landesmuseum, Zürich / Through 2 April 2023

Graphics of Expressionism

In the material and technical conditions of graphic art, Expressionist artists found ideal conditions for their demands and requirements for a new conception of art. By means of expressive lines and reduced surfaces, graphic art thus shaped the artistic work of an entire generation of artists. Beyond the large-format, colour-intensive paintings of Expressionism, this exhibition invites visitors to come closer to the expressive power of impressive works of art by artists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Otto Mueller, and Werner Neuhaus in a close-up dialogue in lithographs, etchings and woodcuts.

Bündner Kunstmuseum, Chur / Through 31 December 2022

Escapism by Roger Eberhard

(Photo: Roger Eberhard / Courtesy Musee suisse de l’appareil photographique)

Zurich artist Roger Eberhard was highly enthusiastic about a particular Swiss tradition: collecting lids from cream coffee jars. The images on the tabs covered most genres of photography: landscape, still life, fashion, nude or architecture. For Eberhard, these covers fall into the realm of escapism. This type of representation includes images that allow you to forget the worries of everyday life when you look at them. Using a macro lens, he obtained high-resolution images with a high magnification factor. This exhibition features large format prints from the Escapism series as well as a projection entitled Coffee Break.

Musee suisse de l’appareil photographique, Vevey / Through 8 January 2023

Hail Caesar! Romans, Gauls and Germans on the Rhine

The Rhine river has been an important trade route and traffic axis across the continent since ancient times.  It also continues to serve as a red thread to show exciting aspects of the contacts between the emerging empire of Rome and the resident tribes of Gauls and Germans on the left and right of the bank. This exhibition shines a light on the importance of the Rhine for the early history of the region and the whole of Europe, highlighting the epochal turning point that came about as a result of Julius Caesar’s campaigns (58–51 BC), as well as exploring the political, cultural and economic relationships between the Rhine region and the high cultures of the Mediterranean region before Caesar’s time.

Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, Basel / Through 30 April 2023

Little table, cover yourself!

Eating habits in Switzerland have changed significantly in recent decades. The family together at the table – in the morning, at noon and in the evening – has become the exception, with eating together increasingly being replaced by the satisfaction of individual needs. This is evident when shopping, in the kitchen and at the table. This exhibition places an everyday topic in a historical context. What was the importance of nutrition in previous generations? How have needs, rituals and customs related to food changed? What will the food of the future look like? Among the items on display are objects related to cooking and eating, as well as a selection of children’s toys and children’s books.

Schweizer Kindermuseum, Baden / Through 31 December 2022

Isamu Noguchi

(Photo: INFGM / 2021, ProLitteris, Zurich)

Isamu Noguchi is one of the most experimental artists of the 20th century. In his diverse work, he made sculptures from a great variety of materials such as stone, bronze, aluminium, plastic and ceramics. As well as works on paper, he designed stage sets, lamps, furniture and public squares. This extensive exhibition explores Noguchi as a citizen of the world, who moved between the USA, Japan and Europe and merged different cultural traditions and technologies in his incomparable body of work.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern / Through 8 January 2023

The Antiques Collection

Historical Swiss brand Patek Philippe has gained legendary status within the watch world. Chronically more than 500 years of horological history, the Patek Philippe Museum is home to two fascinating collections that tell the story of watch-making and the decorative arts traditionally associated with it, such as engraving, enamelling, gem-setting, and guilloché work. Among them is The Antiques Collection, featuring Genevese, Swiss and European watches and enamels dating from the 16th to the early 19th century.

Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva / Permanent

Lubaina Himid. So Many Dreams

(Photo: Lubaina Himid / Courtesy Andy Keate)

An influential figure in contemporary art, Zanzibar-born British artist Lubaina Himid has constantly explored the possibilities that painting offers while questioning the narratives it conveys. In doing so, she’s drawn attention both to aspects of history that have been made invisible and to the extraordinary moments of daily life. Comprising brightly coloured paintings, monumental installations, and sound environments, this exhibition showcases her work, whose imagery and inspiration draw as much from her interest in theatre and opera, the history of Western painting and textile patterns from around the world, as from her exploration of colonial histories and their contemporary repercussions.

Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts, Lausanne / Through 5 February 2023

Helvécia. A Forgotten Colonial History

If Switzerland has never had countries placed under its domination, it has nevertheless collaborated with colonial powers in the appropriation of foreign lands and in the practice of slavery. Made in collaboration with photographer Dom Smaz and journalist Milena Machado Neves, it presents the inhabitants of Helvécia in Brazil, at the crossroads of a quest for identity and a search for the past of this former Swiss colony. During interviews with the inhabitants of Helvécia, Dom and Milena collected testimonies of their daily life while endeavouring to question the past of the village. The result is a photographic and audio-visual documentary, augmented with historical archives, all serving to lift the veil on a little-known aspect of Swiss history.

Musée d’ethnographie de Genève, Geneva / Through 8 January 2023