A Tale of Two Museums.

In a recent trip to Luzern, I had the chance to visit two museums—the Museum Sammlung Rosengart Luzern—and the Kunstmuseum Luzern. Frankly speaking, I was pretty torn between the two museums in the beginning. It being my first time in Luzern (and Switzerland, in fact), I wanted to limit my museum visit to just one time, and damn, it was hard to choose between the two. Rosengart Museum has all the big names: Picasso, Cézanne, Paul Klee, Matisse. That alone made me want to dive into it from my hotel (which, incidentally, was right beside it) and devour all the great works. On the other hand, it sounded like I should at least take a look at contemporary Swiss artists’ works since I was in Switzerland. I can always catch Picasso and Matisse somewhere else, no? I thought.

Luckily for me, we had a change in itinerary so I suddenly had an afternoon to myself, just to visit the museums. Even then, I thought to myself, I probably can only visit just one of them, given the time constraint. My argument for giving contemporary art a go won, and I headed for the Kunstmuseum Luzern (aka KKL Luzern) right after lunch.

I was disappointed.

To begin with, I’m not a fan of conceptual/ installation art, so I wasn’t carrying high hopes. Then again, I respect installation artists and their intentions and never intended to put them down. When I see installation art, I suppose, the only thing I need to decide if I like it is whether I feel a connection. Sadly, in the case of the art works in KKL, nothing spoke to me. (Though the works of Katinka Bock did leave an impression.) In two hours I was done, and after having coffee at the gorgeous cafe—the museum itself was an architectural beauty—I found myself able to visit the Rosengart.

And the Rosengart ended up becoming one of my favorite museums.

Besides its impressive collection of works by Picasso and Paul Klee, the museum itself was serene, understated, and cozy. Unlike the KKL with its state-of-the-art architectural backdrop, the Rosengart building is old with a touch of the grand, the staff formal and polite, and the fuss-free, technology-free crumpled notes for each visitor were quaint but helpful references for the enthusiastic visitor.

And the fact that it was quiet also meant that I often had an entire section to myself. And so there I was, poring over the notes and finding that piece of work which was so carefully annotated in the paragraph I was reading, and scrutinizing each of Picasso and Paul Klee’s works to my heart’s content. And there was hardly anyone behind me trying to look over my shoulder and non-too-subtly indicating that I was blocking the views of others.

For an arts lover, there’s no better afternoon spent like that.

In a way, the Rosengart Museum itself is like the works of art it exhibits—quaint, personal (the founder of the gallery apparently had personal connections with both Picasso and Paul Klee), and with character. Just as each stroke on the paintings reveal the character and the feelings of the artist behind it, so does the Rosengart Museum betray its personal affiliations with and its bias towards the artists. Which is totally fine, really. The KKL, on the other hand, is glamorous and trendy, but it is too impersonal. With the installations, I couldn’t—as much as I tried—grasp the internal struggles and emotions of the artists behind them from the pieces, and thus I couldn’t find a connection. Similarly, KKL was simply a huge modern space that housed the works and was itself (I may be exaggerating here—bear with me) cold and oblivious to the kind of works it housed. This was another one of the main reasons I did not enjoy the visit. Funny how two museums within the same town can be so different.

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There is no conclusion to this post—I’m mainly revealing my feelings towards two very different museums. Though I guess I can say, if you happen to be in Luzern, that I wholeheartedly recommend the Rosengart Museum. And unless you have spare time to kill, you probably don’t need to worry about visiting the Kunstmuseum.