Les Bains Title 2
Photo by Bill Harby

Art is the beating heart of Les Bains district

In this second part of our three-part look at the arts neighborhood, Les Bains, we’ll explore the various museums, starting with MAMCO (Musée d’ Art Moderne et Contemporain), which is the heart of hearts of the district.

This industrial space isn’t some rarified museum of precious, priceless art. It’ s a working, thinking-out-loud gallery of experimental visual (and sometimes literary) ideas. The exhibits here tend to ask questions that may not have apparent answers.

In the same building are the galleries of the Centre de la Photographie Genève. The boldness of the revolving exhibits here will leave some viewers baffled, even angry (WTF?!). Others will be inspired as their concepts of the photographic arts are blown apart.

This building is also home to the Centre d’Art Contemporain Genève, which offers generous support to emerging artists. 

MAMCO expo
Photo by Bill Harby

The world and wristwatches: two museums

There are two other dazzling museums within Les Bains, each totally different from the other. 

The aforementioned MEG is a compact yet boundless exploration of world cultures through art and artifacts. See our Urboxed story here.

A visit to The Patek Philippe Museum will make time stand still for aficionados of fine timepieces. The most expensive watch ever sold brought a pretty centime at auction in November: CHF 30.6 million ($31 million). Obscene? No, the money was donated to a charity for muscular dystrophy. That watch was a Patek Philippe. 

You probably know this brand if you’ve ever dropped five or six figures on a wristwatch – or even if you just admire such timeless treasures from the far side of a display case. Either way, you’ll be hypnotized by the daily public tour (French or English) of the Patek Philippe Museum.  

The first floor has a large collection of handmade Patek Philippe timepieces from the company’ s beginning in 1839. Each one is a work of astounding art and engineering. Some show beautiful hand-painted rotating lunar phases and maps of the night sky. But, alas, none of these expensive watches can alert you to your day’s appointments like that cheap digital watch you may wear.

Which is why the tour guide has an oft-repeated answer to the inevitable question: Why pay so much for a mechanical watch when digital watches also keep accurate time and do almost everything else short of making a cappuccino? “A Patek Philippe is a work of art, an heirloom that can be handed down through the generations,” says a guide with a thin smile. 

The museum’s second floor displays remarkable historical timepieces by various watchmakers, including watches with exquisitely detailed enamel paintings. One watch face features the real wings of a butterfly.

Les Bains Hall
Photo by Bill Harby