The hidden treasure of Switzerland
Have you ever went somewhere and it felt like you discovered your own world that no one has seen before? Or got lost in a place which you don’t know but it just felt right to do it? There’s something brewing in the heart of the Swiss mountains. If you ever enjoyed this weird feeling then for sure you will enjoy the hidden treasure of Switzerland – the little village of Susch.
It is a town with less than 200 inhabitants in Graubünden in eastern Switzerland. What is so special besides the dreamy location and beautiful architecture? Well, it’s a place where the Muzeum Susch is. Architects Chasper Schmidlin and Lukas Voellmy transform a 12th-century monastery in the Swiss Alps into a private museum founded by Polish entrepreneur and long-time art supporter – Grażyna Kulczyk. Her personal collection has a central mission of tracing a matrilineage through art history. The architects worked with existing structures – the remains of the former vicarage, hospice, and brewery spaces – expanding and sensitively reimagining the interiors around the collection’s art, and composing site-specific moments throughout the complex. Their aim was to create a journey that respects and honors the existing architecture while working to highlight the artwork of chosen artists in the best possible way. Meanwhile, elements of the site’s natural rock formations remain exposed, connecting the museum to the surrounding natural landscape. They restored and expanded these existing structures to honor the heritage of the location while introducing their own minimal architectural interventions. mirroring the historical approach of the former brewery building, elements of natural mountain rock remain exposed, both inside and outside the museum.
The Swiss architects created exhibition spaces in the restored historic buildings – the magical grotto looking like underground spaces, as well as a innovative tunnel to connect buildings on the other site – it’s like you would teleport suddenly. The buildings are protected by local Cantonal Historical Preservation Law, so it was essential to preserve the structures in their original state and perform the main alterations internally. Monastery and brewery, with its area of almost 1.5 thousand square meters, serve modern art but also are a hub for the artists and conversations connected to the world around them. Muzeum Susch occupies the remains of a monastery that was established in 1157 on a sloping site next to a river in the Engadin valley, which is on the route of the ancient pilgrimage from Rome to Santiago de Compostela, which has a special, significant meaning as well. With little evidence above the surface, contemporary art gallery Muzeum Susch inhabits a new subterranean labyrinth beneath a traditional medieval monastery. In contrast to the shadows of the cellars, the domestic wood-lined rooms above are typically warm and Alpine, meticulously restored and converted into a restaurant, kitchen, staff offices, and a small library. A stunning double-height salon has been inserted into the house’s northern end, the enormous wooden window frames adopting the endearingly lopsided geometry of the old hay loft’s ancient roof timbers, and reveling in their misalignment with the carved balconies attached to the facade, like an askew eyeglass. In this amazing place, architecture, art and mountainlandscape patiently take it in turns to delight arriving people like pilgrims.. Some rooms are typical white boxes, but finely detailed, allowing the art to dominate; others frame the valley through deep windows like paintings;, the line between art, building, and rock blurs and bends, sometimes you may loose a track of what’s an actual building and what’s not.. In one underground vault, the mountain’s serrated innards are exposed, water coursing through its veins into a clear pool in the gloom, a memory of a Renaissance grotto water feature. Here, at the center of the Earth, it is the frozen might of the planet’s tectonic forces, carved in stone, that is the work of art. Rock fragments from the excavation process were processed and mixed with sand from the Flüela Pass river to form the terrazzo flooring within the galleries; everything feels like the nature would make this amazing landscape and possibility to us to admire what a powerful element it is.. Wood sourced from local forests is used for flooring elsewhere, as well as for the wood-paneled cloakrooms. The extraordinary views of the tree-bristled valley just about steal the whole show. All raw materials used to create the museum were taken from natural opulance of the surrounding.
Outside, landscape architect Günther Vogt designed the terraces revealed with the melting of the snow in spring. Otherwise, above the surface, little has changed in at least a hundred years – the existing built fabric rigorously protected by local conservation laws. Thickly plastered walls like untouched snowed slopes collide with the naked shards of bedrock escaping at the seams of the neatly stone-cobbled streets. Stairs emerge from the rocky outcrops before being quickly swallowed again.
Collector Grażyna Kulczyk, one of the richest women in Poland, is the brains behind this space – and the financial backer. This is her dream brought to life, from the unique architecture to the female-focused program. A longtime collector of women artists, Kulczyk aims to further their recognition and visibility through the curation of Muzeum Susch. The museum officially opened its doors to the public on January 2, 2019, with the inaugural group exhibition – A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women, curated by Kasia Redzisz, featuring thirty female artists—including Romanian artist Geta Brătescu and the US-born, Berlin-based painter Dorothy Iannone. Currently on show is a solo exhibition by Swiss spiritualist artist Emma Kunz, in collaboration with London’s Serpentine Gallery. Her “automatic drawings” and intuitive geometric forms are the ideal accompaniment to the dramatic forms of the gallery’s architecture, inviting quiet reflection in a setting that feels almost religious: a temple to art.
The exhibition spaces are defined by a series of permanent, site-specific installations by international contemporary artists, which engage directly with the site. each built-in artwork plays a part in shaping the evolving character and distinctive layout of the space, inviting a sense of choreography with temporary works on display. Installations play a fundamental part in determining the evolving character and distinctive layout. The 14 works on display communicate directly with the architecture of the building, the idiosyncratic structure of the site, and the surrounding alpine landscape. Among the 14 works are sculptures and installations by artists mirosław bałka, sara masüger, adrián villar rojas, and monika sosnowska. As the programming is partially determined by temporary exhibitions, the rooms are adaptable while still possessing strong distinguishing features that embed the art with the context of the surrounding nature.
Besides the exhibitions – there are many other activities waiting for guests – events, programs supporting new ideas and connecting people. Named the annual symposium, the same as the other foundation pillars, in Rumansch (the locally spoken dialect)— Disputaziuns Susch. Once a year event brings together scientists, artists, and thinkers to discuss and to come up with potentially contradicting but still complementary interpretations and explanations of the world we inhabit. The first Disputaziuns Susch in 2017 “On Reformation and Standards of Thought” took the 500th anniversary of the Martin’s Luter’s reformation sent to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz, in October 1517, was an invitation to debate what happened in the early 16th century when concepts of magic, miracle and divine intervention as epistemologies ceased to square with the burgeoning intellectual integrity of the time. Disputaziuns Susch 2018 was “Do they dream of electric sheep?”- challenging beliefs and re-examining assumptions about artificial intelligence. In 2019, The Magicians of the Mountain brought together scholars and artists in memory of the 90th anniversary of the Davos disputation in 1929 by Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger that marked a ‘continental divide’ (Peter E. Gordon), anticipating major philosophical debates to come. 90 years ahead, in Susch, 40 minutes away from Davos, once again in times of disorientation, disillusion, with radical movements on the rise, we were repeating the question that led the historical debate: Can the critique of reason grow into a critique of culture? What does it mean to be human?
Since 2004 Art Stations Foundation by Grażyna Kulczyk has been also providing extensive support to the development of contemporary choreography through its performative program based in Poznań, recognized internationally under the name Stary Browar Nowy Taniec / Old Brewery New Dance.
Besides that Susch is organizing series of podcasts “Promise no promises”, Woman’s Library and Woman’s Centre for Excellence. These are the ways of re-inventing, exploring the common language to understand the role of women in the arts, culture, science and technology which became really important for the founder – Grażyna Kulczyk.
The Muzeum Susch offers a warm welcome respite from the distractions of everyday life. While the pressures of the hustle of the city can make the focus for contemporary art difficult to find, in the Engadin Valley time has an altogether different way of standing still and making guests feel no pressure, coming as they are. Interior and exterior blend together freely here and there same as people coming may or may not; with floor to ceiling windows easing the connection between architecture and nature, freely showing the best heritage and landscape seen by the residents for hundreds of years. It comes as little surprise that a burnout clinic is the museum’s only major neighbour in the town, where patients seeking relief from the relentless daily grind come to relax and recover. The museum presents art as more than just something to be looked at; here, it takes on almost spiritual qualities, endowed with the power of healing for everyone who is looking for it. There is a quiet majesty to this place, and there is peace to be found within its centuries-old foundations.
In Michelin Star Guide someone wrote, that when the restaurant gets three Michelin Stars it’s a place that you specially book a table and flight just to get there – because it’s worth travelling half of the globe just tp taste this fine cuisine. The same is with Muzeum Susch – I’m giving it three stars – it’s worth planning whole trip to Switzerland just to come to this magical temple of art, oasis of thoughts and reminisence. Wherever you are connected to art or not; you can be sure that this place is one of a kind worldwide and nothing like you’ve ever seen.