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15 February 2019 - 08 March 2020, VILLA MALPENSATA, SPAZIO CIELO (THIRD FLOOR)

A treasure found. New works from the Brignoni Collection


After 20 years, Lugano rediscovers some masterpieces from the Brignoni Collection. The Kunstmuseum of Bern has in fact donated 25 masterpieces of ethnic art belonging to the Surrealist artist Serge Brignoni, born in Ticino, to the MUSEC.
At the end of 1998, Serge Brignoni decided to donate part of his collection to the museum of Bern. In 2018, with great generosity and spirit of collaboration, the Kunstmuseum decided to donate to the Museo delle Culture these 25 masterpieces from Indonesia, Oceania and Africa, which are now reunited with the large collection donated by Brignoni to the City of Lugano in 1985, that were already preserved at MUSEC.


06. Brignoni atelier Parigi

Foto gallery

A treasure found

The idea to create the Museo delle Culture was born in 1984. At that time Serge Brignoni decided to donate to the City of Lugano what was left of his extraordinary collection of ethnic art, on condition that a suitable museum would be set up to display and preserve it.
The chosen location was the Villa Heleneum, a beautiful neoclassical villa on the lake shore, just at the beginning of the trail that leads from Castagnola to the old village of Gandria.
It took five years for a group of young scholars, under the supervision of Brignoni himself, to complete the task. Thus, on 23 September 1989 the Museum opened to the public.
From the very beginning Brignoni's "primitivist" conception conflicted with the more markedly anthropological vision of the group that had supported the opening of the Museum. Brignoni was somehow interested in underlining how the works exhibited at the Heleneum were part of the sources that had renewed the artistic languages of the twentieth century.
The young group of researchers, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity to build a centre of competence for non-western cultures and societies, as most other Swiss and European ethnological museums did.
It was not a simple difference of views: they were two real paradigms in comparison. On the one hand, the visionariness of the artist who had shared his passion for art nègre with Giacometti and Mirò; on the other, the idea of introducing an actor who would support the themes of multiculturalism and sustainability into the cultural fabric of Ticino.
The results of the first years of management of the newborn organization showed that both perspectives were probably too ambitious for the socio-cultural reality and local interests of the time. And if this caused on the one hand a progressive crisis of the project management (restarted only in 2005), on the other hand it led Brignoni to fall out of love with a creature that he could no longer see as really his own.
Of the original eight hundred works that he had planned to donate to the City of Lugano, 541 arrived at the time of the inauguration and another 127 arrived the following years. A fairly important part of the collection remained in his house in Bern and was sold or destined elsewhere.
The most important group of artworks that did not arrive in Lugano was donated in 1998 to the Kunstmuseum Bern which, in turn, shortly afterwards, decided to give it to the Musée d'ethnographie of Neuchâtel.
One of the achievements of the "rebirth" of the Museo delle Culture was to reunite Brignoni’s collection. This took over ten years of work. Ten years in which passion, quality and results of our research in the field of anthropology of art convinced everyone that the vision cradled by Serge Brignoni had finally found his home at Villa Malpensata and that, therefore, it would be worth reuniting what had been set apart.


The exhibition

Finding a treasure, after a long hunt, is certainly a great joy. The exhibition has therefore been imagined to give the visitor the opportunity to overlook the hidden meanings and the rich elements of which the work of art is, first of all, the material result. We tried, in other words, to share a joy with the visitor. Not only that of those who live the Museum as their own professional and human experience, but also what was probably Brignoni's joy: discovering and possessing expressions of creativity that expressed, to such a high degree, his aspirations and the ideals of an entire generation of artists in search of an escape from the figurative realism that had conditioned centuries of European art.
This is why the works are displayed as if they had just been unpacked. And for this reason, there is a long description next to each one. We have imagined the title of the label to suggest the emotion of those who, of the work of art, perceive first of all a unitary value. The content of the label has been imagined to lead the visitor to the discovery of some remote values of the work of art, those expressed by the original creator and the cultural context.




Exhibition Title

A treasure found. New works from the Brignoni Collection


MUSEC, Villa Malpensata, Riva Caccia 5 / Via Mazzini 5, 6900 Lugano


15 February 2019 - 8 March 2020