Salon distingué — Household Effects in Good Company

Contemporary art in conversation with the interior of Langmatt

Nadia Schneider Willen, Guest Curator

Preview, Saturday, 3 May 2014, 5 PM

4 May - 30 November 2014


Household effects — furniture, carpets, curtains, decorative objects: these are the items we use to decorate and design our living spaces; they bear material witness to our personal history. Inherited or purchased, household effects consist of objects that testify to both past and present. They may represent our family history and may also be things we consider useful, good or beautiful, mirroring how we see ourselves or wish to be seen by others. Ultimately, household effects are a means of constructing identity and defining social status.

Museum Langmatt is housed in a villa built by an industrialist in the early 20th century, which reflects the needs, values and tastes of a social class whose social standing and identity were closely allied with acquiring and living with works of art and precious cultural artefacts. In the exhibition Salon distingué — Household Effects in Good Company, the domestic character of Museum Langmatt has inspired inquiry into the way in which furnishings become art and art furnishings in an upper-class residence.

Ordinarily one might assume that a work of art is essentially an item to be displayed while household effects are defined by function. At Langmatt the distinction is blurred. Although the cultivated proprietors furnished their ideal home with the most exquisite antiques, they were nonetheless objects of daily use. Today‘s visitors may be able to sit down on some of the chairs in what is now a museum but there is no denying that the furnishings are no longer in use. They are carefully staged and exhibited, which lends them the status of a cultural artefact or even a work of art. In contrast, for the Brown family, the paintings, now unmistakably viewed as works of art despite the domestic context, were not only an aesthetic and cultural indication of status, they were also a form of interior decoration. The family lived with the works of art as part of their — undoubtedly beautiful — household effects!

During the exhibition Salon distingué — Household Effects in Good Company, visitors will encounter contemporary works of art in the surroundings of an early 20th-century upper-class home. The works occupy the rooms playfully and subversively, interfering with the furnishings and changing our perception of a historical setting that is already complex in its own right. The sculptures, objects, installations and photographs created by both internationally renowned and upcoming artists from Switzerland and abroad inquire, for instance, into the ideological significance of certain forms of design, explore their art-historical and social status or interpret objects by using them as surfaces on which to project feelings and attitudes. Other artists, working primarily with videos or the juxtaposition of text and image, examine the social rules and conventions that underlie a bourgeois lifestyle or even insert the stories of other families into a residence that clearly bears the stamp of the Brown family.

Salon distingué — Household Effects in Good Company reinforces the impression conveyed on touring the villa. Langmatt is more than a museum: it is a place that invites the production of scenarios and stories; it is a stage — but without the actors to bring the setting to life. The exhibition strikingly demonstrates who the real protagonists are today, namely the household effects and the art — and they are hardly at a loss for stories to tell!

Erika Verzutti


 catalogue of the exhibition with a text by Juri Steiner will be published by Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich.






Plakat ML


It is now a good two decades since the Villa Langmatt opened its doors to the public. Since then, thousands of people have visited the museum, built by Karl Moser in 1900/01 in the English country house style, and its exquisite art collections. After the exhibition of 1998, which was primarily devoted to the history of the collection of paintings, Meet the Browns focuses on the Brown-Sulzer family — Sidney William and Jenny Brown-Sulzer, as well as their three sons Sidney Hamlet, John Alfred and Harry Frank Brown.

Visitors will thus be guests of the Brown household, receiving access to the family’s former living quarters, workspaces and bedrooms. During the tour they will become better acquainted with the members of the family, who are presented to them from different perspectives. Records (letters, photographs, diaries as well as other documents and objects) preserved in the Langmatt archives, as well as loaned exhibits, will offer direct and at times surprising insights into the life of an important family of Swiss industrialists. In addition, contemporaries and scholars will provide an outside view of the Brown family in the form of video interviews featuring reminiscences and interpretations.

Founded in 1891, Brown, Boveri & Cie. — Asea Brown Boveri (ABB) since 1987— was the largest mechanical engineering company in Switzerland from 1910. Thanks to its technological prowess and world-class innovations in electrical engineering, the company grew rapidly and was able to gain a foothold in the most important industrialised nations in Europe before the First World War. As a partner, technical manager and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Sidney W. Brown made a decisive contribution to BBC’s success.

His wife, Jenny Brown-Sulzer, daughter of the senior manager of the Winterthur company Gebrüder Sulzer, also came from a prominent family of industrialists. She and her husband developed a passion for German and French painting, antique silver and historic porcelain as well as oriental art, which they cultivated for many years.

All three of their sons completed law degrees and thus did not follow in their father’s footsteps as engineers: the eldest, Sidney H. Brown, was active as a delegate of the International Red Cross during the 1935/36 Italo-Ethiopian War; he became Secretary-General of BBC in 1948. As the last surviving member of the family, John A. Brown bequeathed the property with its collections to the City of Baden, which established the Langmatt Sidney and Jenny Brown Foundation in 1987. John A. Brown was mainly interested in fine art and lived from his youth in Paris. Harry F. Brown also spent most of his life in the Ville Lumière as a composer, and maintained close links with Clara Haskil and Dinu Lipatti. Above all, however, he supported young musicians with his exceedingly discreet patronage.

In a parallel exhibition, the Baden Museum of History will be bringing to life the stories of families involved in the industrialisation of Baden: while some families adopted a paternalistic factory culture, others consciously distanced themselves from it. Both exhibitions show that family histories always move between opposite poles — the continuation of traditions on the one hand and the orientation towards new role models and ways of life on the other. 

Exhibition 1.4.-25.11.2012 also to be visited in 2013.