The luxury company Bally has found what it’s looking for by moving into the sumptuous Villa Heleneum in Lugano, in the Swiss Canton of Ticino, whose doors opened on April 20, 2023. Founded in 1851 by Carl Frantz and Fritz Bally in Schönenwerd, Switzerland, the iconic shoe brand has had its Foundation for Contemporary Art and Culture for 17 years. Plunging into the roots of the history of the luxury company, the foundation echoes the emphasis on the founder’s essential values such as support for creation and innovation in various fields, sustainability, respect for the environment, and collaboration with artists and architects.
Since 2000, Bally shoes are handcrafted in the factory established in Caslano in Ticino. However, the brand was exported internationally very early on, opening a store in Montevideo (Uruguay) in 1870, Paris in 1879, and London in 1881. From the 1980s onward, the company began to establish itself successfully in China. Bally has won over many celebrities since its debut. Did you know that Austrian Empress Sissi wore Bally shoes on her wedding day? That Charlie Chaplin wore them every day? At the end of the 1920s, the company created the “Spartan” sole for the all-terrain boots of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first mountaineer to reach the summit of Everest. American astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon wearing boots made from components developed by Bally.
The company has never rested on its achievements and its reputation. By teaming up with innovative creative designers, it surfs the wave of trends with a combination of style and practicality. Since the 1920s, many collaborations have been set up with renowned architects and designers who have been involved in the creation of shops or posters: from 1928 with Mallet-Stevens in Paris and throughout France, then Le Corbusier in 1949. In 2014, the British architect David Chipperfield created concept stores in London, Beverly Hills, and Tokyo. The architectural firm Caspar Mueller Kneer was responsible for the first Italian concept store to open on the famous Via Monte Napoleone in Milan in 2019.
This summary seems essential to make the link with the creation of the Bally Foundation in 2006. The previously rather discrete institution has great ambitions: to promote art and culture by highlighting the values intrinsic to the company, adding an essential ecological awareness. Since 2006, the Foundation has continued to anchor and increase its influence in the Ticino region by collaborating with local institutions. One of them is the MASI (Museo d’Arte Della Svizzera Italiana) which exhibits, among other things, the winner of the Bally Artist Award, a competition open to all Swiss artists or artists residing in Switzerland. The Foundation supports established and emerging artists, notably by organizing bi-annual exhibitions and in situ installations. From 2024, the Villa Heleneum will welcome international artists as part of residencies.
The Italian architect and journalist Vittoria Matarrese took the reins of the foundation in November 2022. The former director of performing arts at the Palais de Tokyo also worked at the Villa Medici in Rome from 2008 to 2010. From 2005 to 2008, she was in charge of cinema programs for the TV5Monde channel. Thanks to her transdisciplinary career, she has worked in cinema, theater, and dance. Her work as a curator is undeniably motivated and inspired by this artistic melting pot in integrating with places and their environments.
Villa Heleneum was built between 1930 and 1934. An emblematic landmark in Lugano, it was first called Villa Caréoll. The neo-classical style of the Villa is strongly inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles. Hélène Bieber, of French origin, was present during its construction and she always had the idea to install a major cultural and social center there. Until today, the estate has retained its function of hosting events combining art, research and dissemination”. Beyond its aesthetics, was it not obvious to establish the Bally Foundation in this building that has always been steeped in art and culture? The renovation of the Villa was carried out by the architecture and design firm, Migliore + Servetto, which worked by taking into account the natural elements, the light, and the lightness of the building. It has 700m2 of space as well as a public garden planted with native trees, bringing it tranquility and harmony.
Un lac inconnu is the title of the inaugural exhibition at Villa Heleneum. “It refers to a metaphor used by Marcel Proust in “Time Regained” to define the subconscious. For me, this exhibition reflects a look at the inner landscape specific to each of us”, explains Vittoria Matarrese. The exhibition brings together twenty Swiss and foreign artists, each presenting a work created in connection with the theme of nature, the observation of the landscape, or more generally the landscape as a metaphor. Paintings, sculptures, installations, and videos made from various mediums and using recent technologies are on view throughout the interior and exterior spaces of the Villa.
The artists featured at the inaugural exhibition at Villa Heleneum are: Vito Acconci, Wilfrid Almendra, Caroline Bachmann, Oliver Beer, Mathias Bensimon, Angela Bulloch, Ligia Dias, Adélaïde Feriot, Karim Forlin, Tania Gheerbrant, Petrit Halilaj & Alvaro Urbano, Yannick Haenel, Rebecca Horn, Paul Maheke, Hélène Muheim, Mel O’Callaghan, Philippe Parreno, Elise Peroi, Constant Puyo, Emilija Škarnulytė, Haim Steinbach, and Willa Wasserman.
The exhibition is on view until September 24, 2023.
Cover image: Emilija Škarnulytė, Sunken cities, 2021