The Canton’s collection was not developed around from a pre-constituted core: it was conceived and configured according to the museum’s principles, namely a particular consideration for inter-disciplinary approaches between different forms of art, a reference to the region itself and its relatively unique characteristic of being a border and exchange area between the North and the South of Europe, and the integration of the local artistic milieu within the wider context of both the National and the International artistic fields.
For the creation of the permanent collection of the former Museo Cantonale d’Arte, the group of artworks selected as the State artistic heritage were subsequently combined with deposits from other Swiss museums, the Confederation and from the Gottfried Keller Foundation, in addition to many other loans, bequests and donations by private parties. During the Nineties, the collection also benefitted from the significant Panza di Biumo donation, qualifying the museum collection as one of the richest in Switzerland as regards works of Post-minimal and Conceptual Art.
A further contribution to the growth of the collection is offered by the Associazione Sostenitori del Museo Cantonale d’Arte (ProMuseo), which regularly acquires works which are then integrated into the collection as long-term deposits.
The initial core of the Collezione Città di Lugano is represented by Antonio Caccia’s bequest: a heterogeneous group of artworks including Nineteenth Century paintings of notable quality. It was from this bequest in 1903 that the first Civic Art Museum of Canton Ticino was born.
The collection is the result of a policy of acquisitions which was initially focused toward contemporary and local art, but subsequently expanded its scope during the Thirties, to include earlier centuries; later still, the collection was enriched by the deposit of relevant works owned by the Confederation, and also the Gottfried Keller Foundation, in addition to a series of significant donations. Particularly relevant are the 1965 Milich Fassbind bequest, which includes pieces by French artists from the latter years of the Nineteenth Century and the beginning of the Twentieth (Monet, Boudin, Vuillard, Derain, Rousseau, and Matisse etc.), the 1961 Chiattone donation, comprising the most important group of Umberto Boccioni’s pre-Futurist works, and that of Francesco Messina (47 pieces, of which 17 are works on paper, and 30, sculptures).
In 1978, the Aargauer artist Wilhelm Schmid donated his house, with everything it contained, including many artworks, to the City of Lugano, leading to the creation in 1983 of the modestly sized Schmid Museum in Brè. In 1980 the City of Lugano welcomed the Carlo Cotti Fund, including some one-hundred works by contemporary artists, and a rich selection of works by the artist from Lugano himself. In 1996, Aligi Sassu donated to the City an important nucleus of his collection, of around 360 pieces (217 paintings, 130 prints and 15 sculptures), which are managed by the Fondazione Aligi Sassu e Helenita Olivares.
In 2003, as a result of the aggregation of eight local communes, their heritage flowed into the civic collection: around 470 works, including paintings, sculptures and works on paper.
In 2012 the City of Lugano signed an agreement with collectors Giancarlo and Danna Olgiati for the deposit of an important group of works from their collection at Spazio -1, located in the underground of Central Park, near the LAC. The deposit includes works of great relevance for the history of art of the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, particularly the group of works related to Nouveau Réalisme which represent a unique example within Swiss collections.