Swiss museums during the closure

When Swiss Museums had to close their doors to visitors for the second time since the pandemic hit us, the idea of documenting this angle of these very special times started to grow in my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder what the museums would look and feel like with no visitors. As a theatre without spectators, would the museum spaces live out by themselves? How would it be to invert the roles and document them, these experts in documentation and memory?

I am an avid museum visitor, Swiss Museum Pass ambassador and one of TheLausanners. I therefore reached out to Swiss Museum Pass and Lausanne Tourisme and together we managed to reach many museums that were generous enough to allow me to take some photos and to speak with their employees over the last few weeks. In total, I was able to enter 13 different museums throughout Switzerland and to create this photo gallery.

My experience was very different from place to place: some had a feeling of emptiness, some had a very peaceful feel, and some gave me the impression of stepping into a different era.  Whether it be with blinds closed, only daylight or the lighting usually used for cleaning, it made me realize how a museum is also a scene, a show that can only live under one’s eyes… and I could feel the hope and anticipation of the museums to welcome visitors again.

During my visits, I noticed that many museums are located in a landscaped environment which was still being used. Even when they were physically closed, they still provided something positive to the population. Which was also true for my family who accompanied me on my road trips to the different museums, as it was the kids’ school holiday week. They were able to enjoy the sun, the scenery and relax in the museum gardens while I took my photos.

The lockdown created many challenges for the museums. The management of temporary exhibitions in particular was incredibly difficult, be it to keep lended works for longer periods of time, to manage the corresponding insurances or to reschedule and reorganize the upcoming events.

However, the situation pushed everyone to imagine new virtual projects and create online experiences such as virtual exhibitions, virtual tours, or even Zoom conferences. Some offered digital experiences and films to convey information about the life and work of great artists. Some created special events to highlight and use their outdoor spaces. Others took this downtime to do a major cleaning and carry out maintenance measures, while others transformed their exhibitions into workshops presented to classrooms.

All in all, imagination and innovation was the key point to keep the relationship with the visitors alive. And all museums agree on one point : they are eager to re-open and reconnect with the public.


Musée cantonal de zoologie, Lausanne

The history of the Musée cantonal de zoologie goes back to 1779. It moved to its present location in the Palais de Rumine in 1906. Inspired by the museography of the 18th and 19th century, the permanent exhibition has a decidedly old-fashioned charm. Its shark, with a length of 5m89, is the largest naturalized specimen in the world!

The museum has been open again since March 2.

“We could still open our museums for classes, so we still had a few visitors.” Chantal Ebongué – Communication officer


Laténium, Neuchâtel

Inaugurated on September 7th, 2001, the Laténium is the biggest archaeological museum in Switzerland. The museum and its park are built on archaeological sites dating back to the Upper Paleolithic and the museum displays the Bevaix boat, a 20m Gallo-Roman ship. In 2003, the Laténium received the European Museum of the Year Award.

The museum has been open again since March 1.

“We created, in a hurry, throughout the past summer, the Laténium Estival festival, with a program focused on exchanges between science and the performing arts and highlighting the idyllic setting of our archaeological park. It is by connecting with visitors, on a daily basis, in the exhibition rooms or in the museum café, that we fuel the passion that drives our projects. Consequently, the absence of visitors is very hard to bear morally. ” – Marc-Antoine Kaeser, Director Laténium

This view of the rocks inside the empty pond reminded me of sitting in a buddhist temple in Kyoto, the view perfectly directed onto a landscaped rock garden.


Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts (MCBA), Lausanne

The Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts was created in 1841. It moved to its new building, designed by Barozzi/Veiga, in 2019. Its entrance hall with views towards the Lausanne train station and the Léman, features the 14.5m high sculpture “Luce e ombra” by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone.

The museum has been open again since March 2.

“For reception and security, the closure was an opportunity to look at more logistical and organizational issues such as the review of certain processes. For communication, we used this closing time to think about new strategies, new partnerships, work on the graphic charter. We proposed a digital offer through our social networks and our website. As for the bookstore, it was a good time for annual inventory, optimal stock management, and reference checks.” – Lucie Borer, Marketing specialist

Collection de l’Art brut, Lausanne

We owe the existence of the Collection de l’Art brut to French painter Jean Dubuffet who, in 1971, donated his collection and archives to the city of Lausanne. The museum, located in the 18th century Château de Beaulieu, was opened to the public on February 26, 1976. 

The museum has been open again since March 2.

“We are finalizing the installation of our next exhibition dedicated to a Dutch artist, Willem van Genk, which was initially due to open on February 18 ….” – Sarah Lombardi, director Collection de l’Art Brut

With the lights only partially open, the museum space itself had a strong presence and was graphically very interesting.

Zentrum Paul Klee, Berne

The Zentrum Paul Klee features about 40 percent of Paul Klee’s entire pictorial oeuvre. The building was designed by Renzo Piano and completed in 2005. The 150m long glass front is composed of three arches that also separate the multi-disciplinary activities of the museum: art education, collection, research and administration.

The museum has been open again since March 2.

Zentrum Paul Klee was designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2005. Many people were strolling through the museum park, showing that even with the closure, they remain vital elements of the community.

Museum of Communication, Berne

The Museum of Communication is the only museum in Switzerland that deals exclusively with the history of communication. It is the successor of the postal museum founded in 1907 and still houses one of the largest publicly accessible philately collections in the world. In 2019, it was awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize.

The museum has been open again since March 2.

“Digital access in particular was important to us even before Corona; this topic has of course become even more important. At the same time, on the other side of the coin, direct encounters have also become more valuable. In spring we broadcasted the exhibition via live stream, in November we took our content out onto the street with the Fresh Air Museum and since the beginning of the year we have been writing postcards and throwing them into randomly selected mailboxes in and around Bern. Our large temporary exhibition “SUPER – The Second Creation” would have opened in November and has now been closed for four months. It is of course frustrating not to be able to show such a great exhibition. We have now extended it until 2022 and of course had to adjust the rest of the exhibition planning.” – Nico Gurtner, Head of Marketing & Communication

Historical Museum Basel – Barfüsserkirche

The Barfüßerkirche was built between 1275 and 1309. It became home to the Basel Historical Museum after renovations in 1894. On its over 6000 square meters of exhibition space, it shows in particular the treasury of the Basel Cathedral, the Basel and Strasbourg tapestries,  and altars and ecclesiastical graphic works.

The museum reopened on March 2 and is currently showing the special exhibition “Grenzlinien” (Border Lines) about Basel during the National Socialist era.

“We used the time to carry out certain cleanings. For example, all ventilation ducts were cleaned here in the Barfüsserkirche. The digital offers were expanded during the period of closure; these offers will continue to be available in the future. Fortunately, we were able to extend the current special exhibition “Borderlines – Basel 1933–1945” by two months until the end of May.” – Eliane Tschudin, Communication employee

Monastery Museum Muri

Muri Abbey is a Benedictine monastery dedicated to Saint Martin of Tours and was founded in 1027. The exhibition in the Muri Monastery Museum takes a look behind the once so closed monastery walls, and tells numerous stories from the life of the abbots and monks.

The museum has been open again since March 2.

“Everyday life without visitors consists on the one hand of major cleaning and maintenance measures that can now be carried out. We have made individual offers available digitally – for example with “Caspar Wolf online”. Eleven small films convey more about the life and work of this important artist.” – Heidi Holdener, managing director Murikultur

The hundreds of years old cloister has lost none of its serenity. It was as if you could hear the silence.

House of Electronic Arts (HEK), Basel

The H3K is a museum for contemporary art in the field of electronic media, opened in 2011. In October 2014, it moved into the current premises, located in the Dreispitzareal, which were renovated by the architects Rüdisühli Ibach.

The museum has been open again since March 3.

“All H3K employees had their hands full even while the museum was closed. As a museum for media art, art in digital space is also one of our focal points. Some of the works from the collection are also network-based. With Net Encounters, we want to enable new formats for direct exchange between artists and audiences online. We also have numerous online workshops, such as the BitFabrik – a programming club for children. The H3K had to change the annual program for 2020 and 2021. Many international artists and visitors are currently unable to visit us, which is why we will continue to offer a hybrid program for everyone in the future.” – Elena Kuznik, Head of Communications

Kunstmuseum, Bern

The Kunstmuseum Bern was established in 1849 and moved into its current premises, designed by town master architect Eugen Stettler, in 1879. Its collection consists of over 3,000 paintings and sculptures as well as 48,000 drawings, prints, photographs, videos and films.

The museum has been open again since March 2.

The absence of the normal lights inside the Museum Café made me feel as if I had stepped into a movie set. The light from the skylights falling onto the bottle of desinfectant. Being at the right place at the right time.

Stapferhaus, Lenzburg

The Stapferhaus was founded in 1960 as a place of encounter and intellectual debate. It is known for its exhibitions on socio-political issues. Since 2018, they are on display in a new building, designed by pool Architekten,  right next to the Lenzburg train station. The building is designed to be constantly transformed: stairs and walls can be shifted, floors opened, the façade and forecourt can be altered.

The Stapferhaus has been open again since March 2 with its exhibition “Gender”. As the number of seats is limited, reserve a place online for your visit.

“The people at the front, i.e. from the reception and bistro, are currently on short-time work and are looking forward to the fact that the Stapferhaus will hopefully open again soon. The team has modified various workshops so that they can be held in the classroom. The Stapferhaus is happy to go to school! We are working on a digital offer for companies and groups that unfortunately had to cancel their trip to the Stapferhaus.” – Noemi Fraefel, responsible for communication and marketing

The Olympic Museum, Lausanne

The Olympic Museum was founded under the leadership of Juan Antonio Samaranch and inaugurated on June 23, 1993. It received the European Museum of the Year award in 1995 and is the second most visited museum in Switzerland. The building, designed by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jean-Pierre Cahen and Miguel Espinet in the style of classical modernism, have  been completely renovated by Swiss architects Brauen Wälchli Architects and Tekhne SA in 2013.

The museum reopened March 2 and present its new temporary exhibit “Celebrate Tokyo 2020 at the Olympic Museum!”

“Pandemic and postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games to 21 have doubly affected the planning of the Museum. As of March 18, the museum will offer a vast program dedicated to the XXXII edition of the Games. The empty spaces make it easier to shoot virtual tours and other services. It’s an opportunity to show the museum from new angles, to bring out the atmosphere of the place in a surprising way. This period was rich in lessons because beyond the operational consequences, the pandemic allowed us to be more creative, to test different initiatives, to reinvent ourselves.” – Aline Méan – Promotion Manager