Photo courtesy of Jean-Marc Cherix and Musée Ariana

As Anne-Claire Schumacher, chief curator of the Ariana Museum, explains “ It is true that back in the 19th century the museum attracted a certain educated elite, however today our exhibitions are quite varied, dynamic and interactive. We have many families, teenagers and young adults visiting – as well as many tourists. We also organize very popular workshops for different audiences ranging from two to four year-old toddlers to residents of old age homes.”

Kaufmann wall
Photo courtesy of Nicolas Lieber and Musée Ariana

“Mur/Murs” (Walls)

But how do bricks and walls tie in with ceramics? As Anne-Claire Schumacher points out “the brick is in fact an integral part of ceramic techniques such as creamware, stoneware and porcelain. Ceramics is also a medium which uses the four elements: earth, fire, water and air. People usually associate ceramics with tableware, but it also includes sculpture and architecture”.

Ironically, in Switzerland today, bricks, which are an ecological building solution, are hardly used and students studying architecture are taught about concrete, wood and glass, but rarely about bricks.

The exhibition is a first for the museum – the first time they are touching the field of architecture and extending out into their grounds.

Inside the museum the exhibition shows the evolution of the brick from its origins (8000 – 7000BC) to the present day and reveals different techniques, uses and adaptations of bricks in various countries including China, India, Korea and Denmark. Jacques Kaufmann also experimented with transforming bricks into sculptures or installations. A key feature is “Floating Bricks”: 2500 small bricks suspended on flexible rods give the impression of a wheat field and show the brick as light and fluid rather than solid and rigid.

Photo courtesy of Rémy Gindroz and Musée Ariana

But from an architectural standpoint, the exhibition's five outdoor installations are the highlight. When approaching the museum you are first struck by two delicate brick panels outlining a bowl. Depending on the time of day and the light, these appear almost transparent, allowing the majestic museum building to stand out in the background. Once you actually approach the building you are, however, confronted with a more disturbing installation which seems to extend into the museum through a ground floor window. As several visitors commented, “it looks almost like a construction site and surely can't be part of the exhibition!”.

In the garden a very different installation and one which, by popular public demand, will remain as an integral part of the grounds, is the “Flight of the Fly”, a serpentine-like low brick wall which resembles a pencil line through the landscape and blends in perfectly.

The unusual mud fired large terracotta hut built with the help of students studying ceramics took over three days to fire. As for the last installation, “Bringing Down the Wall”, it is in fact a simple whitewashed brick wall on which visitors may express themselves with graffiti. On November 9, 2019, 30 years after the fall of the Berlin wall, the public is invited to watch it symbolically be brought down, The separate bricks will then be sold to raise funds for the local charity ARFEC (Association romande des familles d'enfants atteints d'un cancer).

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Lieber and Musée Ariana

A local institution with global appeal

The Ariana Museum has come a long way since its founder Gustave Revillod built it to display his vast collection. This grand 19th century building with neo-renaissance and neo-baroque elements has painted ceilings by the Genevan artist Frédéric Dufaux, sculptures by the Italian sculptor Luigi Guglielmi, Solomonic marble columns and impressive stained glass. Since its opening in 1884 it has become a landmark and is recognized as one of the principle ceramics and glass museums in Europe, with its vast collection dating from the 9th to the 21st century.

“Mur/Murs” fits in perfectly in the context of this museum. Walls are part of our daily lives and are constructed for different purposes - whether to unite or isolate, to welcome or give shelter or, on the contrary, to alienate or divide. Surrounded by international organizations, the walls of the Ariana Museum have always brought people together and Jacques Kaufmann has, through his exhibition, wanted to emphasize this fundamental role.

On a dedicated space to that purpose, visitors to the exhibition stick post-its with their own definition of the wall. One of these reads “A wall is a song”...

Photo courtesy of Nicolas Lieber and Musée Ariana
Photo courtesy of Nicolas Lieber and Musée Ariana