When Pierre de Coubertin revived the Olympic Games in 1894, he probably never expected to see the Olympic idea spread so quickly – and so widely – across the globe. And he certainly could not have expected that the place to store and archive the Olympic heritage would look like the new Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The museum is an embodiment of modernity: the whole site is perched on top of a hill facing Lake Geneva, and fuses glass, water and metal in a construction that exudes vision and future. ‘It’s almost like making your way up to Mount Olympus’, says Jean-Yves le Baron from L’Atelier du Paysage, the landscape architecture agency that designed the space around the museum.
Surrounded by over 8,000 square meters of meadows and outdoor space, the museum also boasts a beautiful sculpture garden that decorates the front entrance and features statues by the likes of Nag Arnoldi, Fernando Botero and Niki de Saint Phalle. These, however, are more than decorative items: their strategic position directly in front of the museum offers a glimpse of what’s inside and alludes to Coubertin’s original vision, where ‘the arts combined harmoniously with sport to ensure the greatness of the Olympic Games.’
And indeed, the new museum is a meticulously designed, impressive affair that symbolizes something beyond the discipline of sport. It took 23 months to renovate the building from top to bottom, give it an entirely new image and expand the collections and exhibition spaces. With over 1,500 items in the permanent collection, 53 video projectors and 50 interactive screens, along with an ambitious program of rotating exhibitions, the Olympic Museum promotes unlimited access to information, heralds a digital revolution in the world of museums, and reveals the profound influence that sport exerts on culture and society.
As Francis Gabet, Museum Director, explains: ‘We were determined to make the Museum informative, thought-provoking, exciting and inspirational. A global, reinvigorated and multidisciplinary project designed above all to encourage contact and dialogue.’
All this rings true inside the great, modern cube. Instead of showing off loosely connected items, the new museum tells the tale of the Olympic Games, and does so with great conviction, passion and precision – as expected from a team of Swiss designers. Lasers, screens and digital images cross paths with ancient figurines straight from Greece, de Coubertin’s original desk and notes, and Rodin’s The Athlete in a wide, representative exhibition hall that guides visitors from the Ancient Olympic Games towards their modern incarnation.
The story of the Games is nothing short of compelling. The original, the revival, moments of crisis and triumph, great victories and touching gestures – nothing is left behind by the Museum’s stunning panorama of the Olympic spirit. While the artifacts – Olympic torches, outfits from celebrated athletes, posters and many others – demonstrate the development of the Olympic Games throughout the years, the Museum’s main strength lies in its fully interactive, creative and engaging design. Interactive interfaces, films and audio tracks present Olympic history event by event, revealing fascinating facts behind each host city and the story of its Olympic adventure. Often inspiring and dramatic, the multimedia displays show off the Olympic heritage through clips from opening ceremonies, captivating speeches and entirely new material.
One of the highlights of the Museum is Inside the Race, a short film by Daryl Goodrich and an interpretation of the processes going on inside an athlete’s head once the race starts. The filmmaker behind the London 2012 films Inspiration and Sport at Heart combines art and sport once again in this stunning clip: as images of athletes and Games race across the panoramic screen with a soundtrack to match, the viewers are drawn into the process – and this is perhaps one of the most telling examples of how art and sport can connect in a harmonious, yet powerful symbiosis.
Goodrich’s film provides an introduction into the collection that follows: a collection that focuses on the personal stories of individual athletes, features face-to-face interviews with the champions and offers an insight into day-to-day life in the Olympic Village, including the total number of potatoes eaten by the athletes. This intimate part of the exhibition is a striking contrast to the grandeur of the Olympic spirit, but conveys the profoundly human, and somewhat surprising aspects of the Olympic Games.
And after all the medals and podiums are presented and the visit draws to a close, the Olympic Museum leaves the visitor satisfied and equipped with a new sense of knowledge – something Mr. Gabet calls ‘Olympism in the widest sense of the term.’
By Ewa Bianka Zubek