Exhibition | 02.03. - 27.06.2021

Virus– Crisis – Utopia


The idea of Utopia thrives particularly well in times of crises. A new exhibition at the National Museum Zurich explores this phenomenon – past and present. The coronavirus pandemic shows our world that usual normality pushes at its limits. The exhibition sheds light on present visions of the future, setting them in a historical context and linking them with current events.


Virus – Crisis – Utopia

National Museum Zurich | 2.3.2021 - 27.6.2021
published on 1.3.2021

The idea of Utopia thrives particularly well in times of crises. An exhibition at the National Museum Zurich explores this phenomenon – past and present.

Future visions for a better world usually emerge during a crisis. And in this day and age, it’s no different. Early in the 16th century English statesman Thomas More set out his vision of the future, featuring an ideal society where neither capital punishment nor major social disparities exist. His book Utopia was written in an age full of conflicts, pestilence and social tensions, and influenced European society for hundreds of years afterwards. There are scores of other examples from history of utopias and visions of the future that emerged during times of crises.

The coronavirus pandemic is the most profound seismic shift since World War II. So it’s no surprise that all kinds of interpretations and blueprints for the future are being thrown about. The exhibition ‘Virus – Crisis – Utopia’ spins together some of these future threads: Will there be a return to regional strengths? Is the line between humans and the environment shifting in favour of nature? Will vaccine research end the pandemic anytime soon?

A look back shows how vast the breadth of utopian thinking has always been: while some Utopias turned out to be prophetic visions with a high level of realistic possibility, others were purely fantasies. This is also the case with today’s post-coronavirus utopias. The spectrum ranges from the meaningful and ingenious, to the totally warped. But which is which?


Monument to nature’s attraction

The installation “FOR FOREST – The Unending Attraction of Nature” by the Basel-based artist Klaus Littmann after a drawing by Max Peintner aims to revive our awareness of the interaction between man and nature.

Photo: Gerhard Maurer

Early anti-vaccinationists

Early anti-vaccinationists feared that they would be transformed into a cow through the smallpox vaccine. Thanks to systematic vaccination, the world was officially declared free of smallpox in 1980. James Gillray, The Cow-Pock or the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation, 1802.

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Humane living

From 1960 onwards, the Swiss artist Walter Jonas developed the idea of an urban utopia: the inward-turning city of Intrapolis – a new, humane, and environmental form of urban planning. Walter Jonas, Intrapolis, c. 1969.

gta Archiv / ETH Zürich. Photo: Musée national suisse

A view of the exhibition.

Swiss National Museum

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Exhibition imprint

  • Overall management Andreas Spillmann
  • Curator, Project management Marina Amstad
  • Exhibition design Alex Harb
  • Graphics Teo Schifferli, Zürich
  • Cultural services and museum education Lisa Engi
  • Key Visual Marco Heer, Achtung! GmbH Bern
  • Technical management Mike Zaugg
  • Exhibition installation Bachir Ezzerari, Kim Badertscher, Janine auf der Maur, Ladina Fait, Marc Häggeli, Mike Roder, David Schwitter
  • Preparation and mounting of exhibits Peter Wyer, Véronique Mathieu, Simon d’Hollosy, Jürg Mathys
  • Logistics of objects David Blazquez, Christian Affentranger, Markus Scherer, Reto Hegetschwiler
  • Marketing and advertising Andrej Abplanalp, Alexander Rechsteiner, Carole Neuenschwander, Sebastiano Mereu, Anna-Britta Maag
  • Loans Maya Jucker, Angela Zeier
  • IT | Web Thomas Bucher, Ulrich Heiniger, Pasquale Pollastro, Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel
  • Translations Language Factory

Items generously loaned by

  • Klaus Littmann, Basel
  • Öffentliche Bibliothek der Universität Basel
  • Musée Longines, St. Imier
  • Archiv für Medizingeschichte Universität Zürich
  • gta Archiv / ETH Zürich
  • Zentralbibliothek Zürich
  • Zürcher Hochschule der Künste / Museum für Gestaltung Zürich