«Lion Monument 21»
A Multi-Annual Project by Kunsthalle Luzern 2017 – 2021
Kunsthalle Luzern took the 200th anniversary of the Lucerne Lion Monument as an opportunity to explore the world-famous monument in a multi-annual project using artistic means and a transdisciplinary approach.
From 2017 and beyond the actual anniversary on August 10, 2021, because of the pandemic, numerous exhibitions, performances, events and publications were devoted to various aspects of the monument. The process, as reflective as it was pleasurable and inspiring, took place over the course of five years, involving partners from the fields of culture, research, education and tourism, to bring Lucerne’s citizens closer to their lion, and, at the same time, to take this unconventional tribute out into the world.
The Lion Monument in Lucerne is one of the most popular and most photographed monuments in Switzerland. Over 1 million tourists from all over the world visit the carved stone monument each year. Most people have only a vague idea of the historical background to the romantic monument. The allegory of the dying lion is a memorial to the Swiss Guards who died during the storming of the Tuileries Palace in Paris by the revolutionaries on August 10, 1792.
The monument was erected on the initiative of the Guards Officer Carl Pfyffer von Altishofen, at home leave in Lucerne at the time, in honour of his fallen comrades. The commission went to no less important an artist than the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770–1844), who was enjoying Europe-wide fame at the time. His design was carved directly into the wall of the former sandstone quarry in Lucerne by the Solothurn sculptor Urs Pankraz Eggenschwiler and, after Eggenschwiler’s fatal accident at the site, by Lukas Ahorn from Konstanz. The project was financed by donations from court and aristocratic circles all over the continent. The monument was inaugurated after three years of preparatory work on August 10, 1821.
The Kunsthalle and the Bicentenary
Since 1996 – with a short interruption – the spaces of Kunsthalle Luzern have occupied the historical building of the Bourbaki Panorama. This places it in the immediate vicinity of the Lion Monument, and makes it, along with the Bourbaki Panorama, the Glacier Garden and the Alpine Diorama ‘Alpineum’, one of Lucerne’s tourist hotspots.
Kunsthalle Luzern took the 200-year anniversary of the Lion Monument as an opportunity to explore and address the topic of this world-famous monument using artistic means in the L21 multi-annual project. In a participatory process, a series of exhibitions and events took place starting in 2017 – a multidisciplinary range of activities that culminated in a detailed publication in spring 2022.
The innovative research plan brought together a great variety of perspectives, examining aspects of art, urban planning and tourism as well as history and military science, right up to contemporary forms of mercenaryism, nationalism and myth-making, commissioned art and artistic autonomy, emblematics, religion, literature and music, zoology and geology.
L21 invited artists to probe the multi-layered and even conflicted monument for discoveries from the contemporary perspective. The project, initiated in this way and developed through a process over time, was constantly documented as it progressed. It presented its findings and results in exhibitions, events, in electronic media and in the final publication “Lion Monument 21 – The Lion Monument of Lucerne Through the Lens of Contemporary Art”. The Lion Monument has thus been given a new face, or, to put it another way: Lucerne residents and tourists alike can – together with those involved in the project – discover unknown facets of the supposedly familiar Lion Monument. The dying lion has been – in a figurative sense – awakened to new life.
As one of the smallest, but most flexible and lively cultural institutions in Lucerne – and also located directly beside the site of the event – the Kunsthalle was predestined to initiate and coordinate this project. Partners from all areas of art, from tourism, culture, education and research were welcome and invited to collaborate.
The Lion Monument belongs to everyone; for that reason, the L21 project aimed to reach a wide public. It drew the attention of Lucerne’s residents to one of their trademarks, but also resonated beyond Lucerne, throughout Switzerland and the rest of the world, in the sense that this city is distinguished by an art-driven, critical and inspiring engagement with its history and its monuments.