Lausanne Makes a Big Bid to Become a Swiss Art Destination with a Brand-New Museum District

Please don’t mind the gap between Lausanne’s nine-platform train station and Plateforme 10, the city’s brand-new museum district, where three local institutions recently merged to become one.

Billed as one of the few museum districts in Europe, this cultural campus takes up 270,000 square feet (the equivalent of 5 football fields) of a former train repair station and includes the institutions Cantonal Museum of Fine Arts (MCBA), the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts (mudac), and Photo Elysée, Cantonal Museum for Photography.

About $206 million were invested in this project; 40 percent came from private donors. The operating budget amounts to $27.5 million dollars, including $21.5 million in funding and subsidies. Lausanne may not receive the same level of attention in the art world as Zurich or Basel, but with Plateforme 10, the city is hoping to significantly raise its profile.

“It’s great to see how Plateforme 10 has turned small regional museums into one dazzling institution,” said a spokesman for the site on the day of the inauguration.

The MCBA used to reside in the Palais de Rumine, which is still home to the museums of zoology, archaeology, and geology, as well as one of Lausanne’s libraries. It was to be relocated to Bellerive, an area on the shores of Lake Geneva, but the project was nipped in the bud. Instead, it moved next to the train station in 2019, where it is now set in a building designed by Catalan architects Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga.

Out front is Xavier Veilhan and Olivier Mosset’s The Crocodile, a train-shaped wooden structure that weighs in at 6.8 tons. After applying separately, the artists eventually joined forces to make it. Parked outside the MCBA for now, it may eventually change location on the campus.

Xavier Veilhan and Olivier Mosset’s The Crocodile (2019) was newly commissioned for Plateforme 10.

Up until now, mudac, which specializes in design, glass, ceramic, contemporary jewelry, and graphic arts, was nestled in the Maison Gaudard next to the Cathedral of Lausanne, a medieval building that was later converted into a school. As for Photo Elysée, home to a dozen complete collections of works by Sabine Weiss, Jan Groover, Nicolas Bouvier, Charlie Chaplin, Hans Steiner, and more, it used to be inside an 18th-century house, which served as a church until the 16th century. Both institutions are now united in a building imagined by Portuguese architecture firm Aires Mateus. The slightly angular opening that cuts the facade across evokes a welcoming smile.

Each institution will present (until September 25) an exhibition about railroads and trains. This display relies on multidisciplinary crossovers. For example, visitors will come across sculptures by American artist Chris Burden in the three museums. And the Photo Élysée, which is mainly known for its collection of 1.2 million photographs, is also showing painting and sculpture—an opportunity that a representative for Photo Élysée said the museum welcomed. Meanwhile, the MCBA is showing some of best-known works in this show, with 60 masterpieces on view by Giorgio de Chirico, Edward Hopper, Paul Delvaux, and others that speak to progress, speed, and sexual stamina.

Paul Delvaux’s Solitude (1955) is among the works featured in the MCBA’s show.

The mudac part of the show, titled “Let’s Meet at The Station,” introduces trains as meeting points. The display pits archival footage from the Swiss federal railway network against artworks by Christian Boltanski, Salvador Dalí, Sophie Calle, and JR. The window behind Takis’s introductory installation overlooks a rented railway where will a privately owned train will be parked for three months. It will be customized by a graffiti artist, whose identity remains a secret.

The three shows are accessible with one ticket that is valid for three months and is “transmittable” which means someone else may borrow and use it. The hope, with Plateforme 10—or P10, as locals seem to have already renamed it—is to boost visitorship and to turn Lausanne into an attractive cultural hub. Can Plateforme 10 succeed in that way? Its future certainly seems bright.

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