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  • Writer's pictureAlexa Bouhelier-Ruelle

Exhibition: The Bally Foundation settles in Lugano, opening with 'Un Lac Inconnu'

The Bally Foundation announced its new headquarters at Villa Heleneum in Lugano last April, coming back with a new exhibition until September 24, Un Lac Inconnu.


Exhibition view of Un Lac Inconnu
Mel O'Callaghan, Respire, Respire, 2019 - Exhibition view of Un Lac Inconnu, Bally Foundation, Lugano, Switzerland, 2023. Image by Andrea Rossetti

Easily one of the most beautifully placed exhibitions, 'Un Lac Inconnu' plays as much with its environment as it does with the exposition space. Located on the shores of Lake Lugano, Switzerland, in the heart of a lush garden characteristic of Ticino and surrounded by the mountains of Monte San Salvatore, Monte Generoso and Monte San Giorgio, from April, the Bally Foundation has been moored in the heart of a 1930s building that is entirely oriented towards the landscape: Villa Heleneum. Drawing on the narrative potential of this exceptional setting, its history and myths, the Bally Foundation’s inaugural exhibition highlights the existing porosity in the relationship between interiority and exteriority.


Un lac inconnu (An Unknown lake), is first and foremost an invitation for the landscapes and surrounding nature to penetrate the interior of the place, to take possession, resonate and overflow it in order to break down the boundaries between inside and outside, and to question our different relationships with the environment. Giant flowers open the doors to this inner garden, followed by half-human, half-plant figures, slugs, feathered beasts or any other landscape, real or fantastical, remembered or future, imagined or imaginary. But more than an experience that encourages observation and recognition of our surroundings, Un lac inconnu is above all a dive into ourselves.


1) Wilfrid Almendra, Le mouvement de la danseuse, 2022 Exhibition view of Un Lac Inconnu, Bally Foundation, Lugano, Switzerland, 2023. 2) Vito Acconci, Bodies in the Park, 1985 Exhibition view of Un Lac Inconnu, Bally Foundation, Lugano, Switzerland, 2023. 3) Petrit Halilaj & Álvaro Urbano, 27th of March 2012 (Forsythias), 2020 Exhibition view of Un Lac Inconnu, Bally Foundation, Lugano, Switzerland, 2023. All photos © Andrea Rossetti.


Faced with the landscape at a standstill, the phenomenon of contemplation allows for synchronicity: a common vibration between what is happening outside and inside, deep within each of us. This introspective inaugural exhibition takes its title from the words of Marcel Proust when he attempts to describe the meticulous exploration of the human soul and its underlying unconsciousness in his book, Le Temps Retrouvé (Time Regained). An intimate landscape this time, well hidden in the depths of each of our beings, which sometimes emerges without us being able to control it, notably through words and slips of the tongue that evade rational thought and reveal our most elusive states of mind.

Haim Steinbach, Close your eyes, 2003 ; Tania Gheerbrant, Twin in the clouds and other stories, 2023 Exhibition view of Un Lac Inconnu, Ball

Un lac inconnu is particularly concerned with giving body and voice to the underlying: to the subconscious, to memory, to the cracks and images that inhabit us, which are equally wonderful and disturbing. The inner voices of the lake, those of Villa Heleneum, their geographies, their memories, their histories and their myths—as well as our own—are thereby interwoven in a superimposition of narrative and temporal frameworks halfway between dream and reality. Bringing together more than twenty international artists, Un lac inconnu is a poetic wander through submerged and emerged landscapes. An attempt to connect with oneself and the world.

The Origins

Built between 1930 and 1934 on the site of the former Villa Caréol, Villa Heleneum is an emblematic place in Lugano that has hosted various activities combining art, research, and outreach throughout its history. At the origin of this extraordinary place is a mysterious character: Hélène Bieber, an elusive Paris dancer and patron of the French workshops frequented by Picasso, among others. Born in 1890, Hélène Bieber was a cosmopolitan and cultured personality who had the ambition of creating a cultural and social emulation in the heart of Ticino in the 1930s, probably in the vein of the Monte Verità community. Taking the neoclassical architecture of the Petit Trianon of Versailles as her first model, she collaborated with the architect Hugo Dunkel to build her ‘Heleneum’. Unfortunately, due to the economic crisis of 1930 and the Second World War, Hélène Bieber’s project could not achieve its ambitions and the Villa was inhabited only sporadically.

The Bally Foundation at Villa Heleneum

Throughout its history, Villa Heleneum has welcomed the aspirations of various personalities. Dance, music, arts, and sciences have followed one another in close connection with the original ambitions of the founder of Villa Heleneum, Hélène Bieber. Today, the Bally Foundation really aims to give life to the art and culture space project that Hélène Bieber had imagined for the villa. Directed by Vittoria Matarrese, Villa Heleneum will host a dense and diverse program: exhibitions, performances, festivals, screenings, discussions, residences, and workshops which the public will be invited to immerse themselves in and interact with. In a decompartmentalized way and in a desire for inclusion and abundance, the Bally Foundation will support all disciplines of contemporary creativity within this place full of history and creativity, from painting to video or sculpture, from fashion to performance, through research. By investing in a historic site and opening it to the public, the Bally Foundation proposes to be one of the anchors in the construction of the future of the city of Lugano, by establishing dialogues and acting on both local and international scales.

Mathias Bensimon, Le lac intérieur, 2023 Exhibition view of Un Lac Inconnu, Bally Foundation, Lugano, Switzerland, 2023 © Andrea Rossetti

A Natural Setting

Located on the shores of Lake Lugano, both Swiss and Italian, Villa Heleneum is a place of cultural and linguistic confluence between the north and south of the Alps. More than a strategic location, Villa Heleneum is a fully anchored building that faces the surrounding environment. Every floor and every viewpoint of the Villa opens onto Lake Lugano and its breathtaking horizon over the mountainous peaks of Italian Switzerland (Monte San Salvatore, Monte Generoso, or Monte San Giorgio). Inside the building, a sensation of the sublime and of fusion with nature overwhelms the visitor, as evidenced by the central staircase that leads directly onto the lake. To complete this tableau, the Villa Heleneum takes its place in a public garden full of Mediterranean harmony where different trees (such as cedars, cypresses, eucalyptus) and plants (from palm trees to ferns, camellias, glycines and roses) are mixed on an architectural promenade.

This opening marks the beginning of a new important phase in the foundation’s evolution. After 17 years, it will finally have a permanent home in an exceptional location on the shores of Lake Lugano. Since 2006, the foundation’s mission has been to promote art and culture by highlighting themes important to Bally, such as innovation, support for creativity, and environmental awareness. Throughout its history, Bally has demonstrated a committed social vision and a great willingness to work closely with artists, architects, graphic designers and creatives of all origins. Today, thanks to the Foundation, the story continues through a diversified artistic and cultural offer, which aims to support creativity in all its forms and in particular to support young artists with, among other things, a residency program, and to involve a wide audience around the Foundation’s project, including the local and international community as well as the cultural and academic institutions.

Un Lac Inconnu

Until 24 September

Curator Vittoria Matarrese

Exhibition Manager Alexandra Goullier Lhomme

Assisted by Isabella D’Aprile

Technical Manager Graziano Gianocca

Art handlers Yanik aus der Beek, Giacomo Galletti, Pablo Jörg,

Sandro Pianetti


Feauturing artists: Vito Acconci, Wilfrid Almendra, Caroline Bachmann, Oliver Beer, Mathias Bensimon, Angela Bulloch, Ligia Dias, Adélaïde Feriot, Karim Forlin, Tania Gheerbrant, Petrit Halilaj & Álvaro Urbano, Yannick Haenel, Rebecca Horn, Paul Maheke, Hélène Muheim, Mel O’Callaghan, Philippe Parreno, Elise Peroi, Constant Puyo, Emilija Škarnulytė, Haim Steinbach, Willa Wasserman



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