How do art and literature reflect culture

Art exhibitions are among the most important carriers of cultural foreign policy. Pro Helvetia repeatedly comes across the ambivalent relationship between nation and culture.

What is Swiss art? Is there any Swiss art? This question is not only preoccupying the history of art, it is also proving to be crucial for cultural foreign policy. Although the importance of national stereotypes for the assessment of artistic creation has waned, the artist's country of origin is repeatedly used as an evaluation criterion for exhibitions abroad. Indeed, in most countries, art plays an important role in the construction of national identity.

In Switzerland, the mobilization of art for the interests of the nation goes back to the last decades of the 19th century. From 1887 the federal government became active in the cultural field and tried to consolidate the founding myths with pictures, monuments and historical presentations. In the 1920s, Ferdinand Hodler's pictures were seen as authentic expressions of national character and became the most important reference for Swiss art abroad, too. The intellectual national defense that began before the Second World War uses art as the material of a national identity to be created, funded by the young institution Pro Helvetia.

In the first few years, this national orientation was decisive for Switzerland's cultural foreign policy. During the post-war period, the exhibitions organized by Pro Helvetia and the Federal Art Commission mainly serve to consolidate the most important components of the national self-image, including federalism and the principle of unity in diversity. This symbiosis between art and the nation dissolves in the 1950s, because the artists align themselves more and more to international trends and no longer attach importance to national borders. In 1962, the media theorist Marshall McLuhan created the most symbolic metaphor for this development with the global village.

Despite the increasingly clear distance between art and the nation, those responsible for cultural foreign policy did not completely renounce a national interpretation of artistic creation at the beginning of the 21st century. Globalization intensifies the contrast between the regional and the international and thus promotes the rediscovery of local identities.