The Museum of Cultures (Museo delle Culture or Museo Heleneum) is one of the museums that form 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.
The museum occupies the site of the first Caréol Villa, which was built by Johann Frederic Haflinger in the second half of the nineteenth 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.
Between 1969 and 1971 the Heleneum hosted improvers piano classes under the artistic direction of Carlo Florindo Semini, with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Franco Ferrara. Later on the Istituto Ticinesi di Alti Studi directed by Elémire Zolla and gathering archaeologists, anthropologists, art historians, philosophers, linguists, egyptologists and orientalists settled in the mansion house. Between 1971 and 1976 the Heleneum hosted the Istituto Dalle Molle di Studi Semantici e Cognitivi.
The Museo delle Culture was established in the Helenium in 1985, in order to house the collection of the the Swiss Italian artist and collector Serge Brignoni, which he had donated to the City of Lugano. The museum opened to the public in 1989.
The Heleneum park, which surrounds the villa, is a botanic gem where, thanks to a particularly mild microclimate, Mediterranean, tropical and subtropical plants are grown. The park's lakeside location means it 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.
The Museo delle Culture conserves most of the ethnic art works that Serge Brignoni collected between 1930 and 1985. Therefore, the collection states the link between the creative forms of the "South Seas"cultures and the artistic Avant-Gardes of the 19th century that were inspired by those objects coming from far away. The works are the result of an attentive selection which favours the best workmanship objects and is able to fully recognize the expression of a not yet civilised art. The genres and the geographical origins of the Brignoni collection works are mostly the same as those found in the leading European, North American and Australian collections from the first half of the 20th century. Moreover almost none of the “pieces” considered fundamental for the contemporary collecting is missing.
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 to 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 art works and objects, two big river boats, almost 6'000 pictures, 71 documentary films and more than 60 hours tape recording, collected by Alfredo and Emma Nodari during their journeys to Africa (notably in Congo) in the '50s and '60s. The most important art works of the collection, probably are two pillars from the BaKuba royal palace in Kasai (Congo), that are placed at the entrance of the Museum.
The permanent exhibition layout is designed as an imaginary geo-cultural journey through the different areas represented in the Museum collection. In every room the visitor can appreciate and understand the works on the basis of the following four themes:
The temporary exhibitions are organised in three different exhibition cycles. "Esovisioni"deals with the theme of exotism in early 20th century photography; "Dèibambini"focuses on the pedagogical and creative relationship resulting from the encounter between children and ethnic art; "Altrarti"increases and broadens a specific art and culture expression, taking into consideration many different values. An illustrated scientific catalogue is published for every exhibition.
The Museum activities are based on the 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 from Tuesday to Friday from 3pm to 5 pm. The Library catalogue is on-line on the Sistema bibliotecario ticinese (Sbt) website. 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 needs and for private specific consultancies. Specialised Museum staff offer many different educational activities as laboratories for children, guided tours, conference-tours and other activities that can be customised according to the user needs. By appointment, the Museum also offer a guided tour of the mansion house and the park. Besides, the Museum offers its rooms for meeting, special events, photographic sessions and movie shots.
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.