Museum of Cultures (Lugano)

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Museo delle Culture
Villa Heleneum dx.jpg
Museum of Cultures (Lugano) is located in Switzerland
Museum of Cultures (Lugano)
Location within Switzerland
Established 1985
Opening: September 23, 1989
Location Via Cortivo 24-28, 6976 Lugano-Castagnola, Switzerland
Coordinates 46°00′02″N 8°58′58″E / 46.000653°N 8.982847°E / 46.000653; 8.982847
Type Anthropology - Ethnic Art
Director Francesco Paolo Campione

The Museum of Cultures (Italian: Museo delle Culture or Museo Heleneum) is one of the museums that forms part of the Polo Culturale of the city of Lugano in Switzerland. It is situated in the Heleneum, a villa on the shore of Lake Lugano to the east of the city centre, and in the quarter of Castagnola. In 2016, the Museum will move to Villa Malpensata, a site closer to the center of Lugano, but still on the lake.[1]


The museum occupies Caréol Villa, which was built by Johann Frederic Haflinger in the second half of the 19th century. In 1929, it was sold to Hélène Bieber, originally from Frankfurt and a resident of Paris. Hélène had the earlier villa demolished, and replaced it with the current Heleneum. The new building, which was built between 1930 and 1934, was modelled on the Petit Trianon in Versaille. Hélène lived there until her death in 1967.[2]

Between 1969 and 1971, the Heleneum hosted piano master classes under the artistic direction of Carlo Florindo Semini, with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Franco Ferrara. After that, the villa was home to the Istituto Ticinesi di Alti Studi, directed by Elémire Zolla which gathered together archaeologists, anthropologists, art historians, philosophers, linguists, egyptologists and orientalists. Between 1971 and 1976, the Heleneum hosted the Dalle Molle Institute for Semantic and Cognitive Studies.[2]

The Museo delle Culture was established in the Helenium in 1985, in order to house Serge Brignoni's collection. Brigoni was a Swiss Italian artist who donated his extensive collection to the City of Lugano. The museum opened to the public in 1989.[3]

The Heleneum park surrounds the villa. Thanks to a particularly mild microclimate, Mediterranean, tropical, and subtropical plants are able to survive. The park's lakeside location offers a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. A landing stage within the park is served by a boat service, provided by the Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano.[4][5]

Brignoni Collection[edit]

The Museo delle Culture conserves most of the ethnic art that Serge Brignoni collected between 1930 and 1985. The collection shows the link between the creative forms of the "South Seas" culture and the artistic Avant-Garde of the 19th century that were inspired by those objects. The collection reflects Brignoni's selection of well-crafted objects that show an appreciation of art forms from a very different culture. The genres and the geographical origins of the Brignoni collection works are similar to those found in leading European, North American and Australian collections from the first half of the 20th century. Moreover, the collection includes all of the areas that are considered fundamental for a contemporary collection of the time.[citation needed]

Nodari Fund and Collection[edit]

In 2006, the Museo delle Culture came to an agreement with the government of the canton of Ticino on the Nodari Fund and Collection. This agreement states that Canton Ticino, owner of the Collection and the Fund, lends the Museo delle Culture, on a permanent contract, the whole collection and the documentary fund collected by Alfredo and Emma Nodari. The collection consists of a thousand works of art, two large river boats, almost 6,000 pictures, 71 documentary films, and more than 60 hours of tape recording. They were collected by Alfredo and Emma Nodari during their journeys to Africa (notably in Congo) in the 1950s and 1960s. The most important artwork of the collection are two pillars from the BaKuba royal palace in Kasai (Congo). They are placed at the entrance of the Museum.


The permanent exhibition layout is designed as an imaginary geo-cultural journey through the different regions represented in the Museum collection. In every room, the visitor can appreciate and understand the works on the basis of the following four themes:

  • A journey to the South Seas and the “discovery” of ethnic art (viewed from an ethical standpoint). It also relates to the interior “voyage” taken by European avant-garde artists and the actual journey undertaken from the West towards the “farthest” East. The intention is to point out the existence of a cultural and stylistic community (koinè) of the vast area from Eastern India to Easter Island, taking in Indochina, south-east Asia and the Hawaiian archipelago.
  • the culture of which the artists represented in the exhibition were an integral part of, and were distinguished by particular cultural, ideological and social structures. The monographs correspond to the cultures represented by the works in the museum: India, Indonesia, Borneo, Asmat, Maprik, the Papuasian Gulf and the Melanesian Island Chain, Sepik, New Ireland and Polynesia.
  • an emic approach to the understanding of different cultures - what the people have to say about themselves, rather than what is observed by outsiders.
  • a display of the style, with its salient characteristics and peculiarities, developed by the cultures represented in the exhibition.

The temporary exhibitions are organized in three different exhibition cycles: "Esovisioni" deals with the theme of exoticism in early 20th century photography; "Dèibambini" focuses on the pedagogical and creative relationship resulting from the encounter between children and ethnic art; "Altrarti" broadens the relationship between art and anthropology. An illustrated scientific catalogue is published for every exhibition.

Activities and services[edit]

The Museum activities are based on scientific research carried out by the Museum staff and other experts, together with museums, cultural institutions and universities worldwide. For this reason, the Museum often hosts seminars and higher education activities: lectures, refresher courses, and museography and anthropology laboratories. The Library and the Archive are open Tuesday through Friday from 3–5 pm. The Library catalogue is on-line at the Sistema bibliotecario ticinese (Sbt)] website.[6] By appointment, it is possible to visit the Museum stores where there is also the Conservation and Museum Technology Activities Laboratory, equipped for the Museum's needs and for private specific consultancies. Specialised Museum staff offer educational activities such as laboratories for children, guided tours, conference-tours and other activities that can be customised according to the needs of the user. By appointment, the Museum also offer a guided tour of the mansion house and the park. The Museum offers its rooms for meetings, special events, photographic sessions and movie shots.


  1. ^ "Museo delle Culture Heleneum - Ticino Turismo". April 7, 2016. Retrieved May 28, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b "Museo delle Culture - L'Helenium" [Museum of Cultures - The Helenium]. City of Lugano. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  3. ^ "Museo delle Culture - Breve storia del Museo" [Museum of Cultures - A Brief History of the Museum]. City of Lugano. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  4. ^ "Museo delle Culture - Il Parco" [Museum of Cultures - The Park]. City of Lugano. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  5. ^ "Timetable summer 2012". Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano. Archived from the original on 8 August 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  6. ^ "SBT01 - Catalogo cantonale del Sistema bibliotecario ticinese (SBT)". Retrieved May 28, 2016. 


Campione Francesco Paolo (ed.), The Brignoni Collection; volume one, Art through Methamorphosis; volume two, Catalogue of Works, Mazzotta, Milan 2007. ISBN 978-88-202-1848-5 and ISBN 978-88-202-1865-2.
Cometti Marta, Guida. Museo delle Culture di Lugano, Edizioni Città di Lugano/MCL (Antropunti/3), Lugano, 2009. ISBN 978-88-7777-043-1.
Vago Valeria, In viaggio per i mari del Sud. Guida per ragazzi al Museo delle Culture, Edizioni Città di Lugano/MCL (Antropunti/2), Lugano, 2009. ISBN 978-88-7777-042-4.

External links[edit]