Delight and Drudgery of Physical Activity

11.09.2020 to 28.02.2021

What do a sedan chair and a “lotus shoe” have in common with paintings and prints depicting scenes of work, hunting, games and sport? They all tell of the possibilities and constraints of movement experienced by those portrayed or of the owners of the objects on display, while also bearing witness to their status. The exhibition STATUS POWER MOVEMENT. Delight and Drudgery of Physical Activity highlights the potential of movement as a means of representing status across various cultural, temporal and geographical spaces.

Five exhibition sections examine how status and power on the one hand and necessity and duty on the other can be expressed through certain forms of movement.

A Foundation in Work

The first section focuses primarily on movement serving to secure livelihoods. Diverse exhibits ‒ ranging from leather shoes to a tile, and amphorae to prints ‒ tell of working people and their efforts to acquire food.

Off to the Hunt!

Continuing along these lines, the exhibition illustrates the transition of hunting from a movement, originally involved in securing livelihoods, to one expressing status, and associated with prestige and privileges in many cultures.

En Route in Style

For millennia, the ability to travel distances was determined by the physical capabilities of animal or human bodies. To this day it is important to move not only comfortably but also according to one’s status, as can be demonstrated by the brand-name trainers and the ornate sedan chair shown in the exhibition.

Sweet Idleness

The absence of goal-oriented, purposeful movement is explored in the fourth section. The exhibits ‒ including photographs with leisure themes, drinking vessels, board games from Babylon and a Game Boy Classic‒ provide insight into how certain types of movement, but also a demonstrative lack of movement, can represent social status in the context of free time and the pursuit of leisure.

Body (De)Formation

Finally, it is important to consider the deliberate influencing of the human body through movement or its intentional restriction. Cultivating the body, for example, through sport, which originally was part of aristocratic education in many cultures, is often reflected in the development of distinctive body shapes that signal physical superiority and performance. In contrast, the use of a corset, for instance, severely limits the body’s capabilities and can sometimes irreversibly damage its structural integrity.

Exhibition Project

The special exhibition is a collaborative project by young scholars at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Musikinstrumenten-Museum des Staatlichen Instituts für Musikforschung (Museum of Musical Instruments of the National Institute for Music Research). It brings together objects from diverse holdings in the various museums. The show, spanning different collections, allows novel interpretations of and perspectives on the exhibits, encouraging visitors to re-examine conventional ideas about movement.

The coronavirus pandemic makes movement even more topical, with the opportunities for movement currently severely restricted for people worldwide. The way we move, go to work, travel and spend our leisure time has changed dramatically. What was taken for granted just a few months ago now applies only to a limited extent. As an insightful review of the development of forms of movement through the ages and cultures, the exhibition offers new ways to reflect on movement as a privilege or a burden.

Exhibition Catalogue

The publicationSTATUS MACHT BEWEGUNG: Lust und Last körperlicher Aktivität (Frederik Grosser, Teresa Laudert, Silvia Massa and Philipp Zobel (eds.); 104 pages, approx. 50 illustrations, german only) accompanies the exhibition. The catalogue documents the exhibition project with 16 essays by staff trainees and a complete list of objects, offering an interdisciplinary, collection-spanning perspective on the relationship between status, power and movement.

Relief mit Darstellung Assurnasirpals II. bei der Löwenjagd, Detail, moderner Gipsabguss
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum / Olaf M. Teßmer
The James-Simon-Galerie and the Pergamonmuseum on the Museumsinsel Berlin
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / David von Becker

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Related Links

Tour through the exhibition "STATUS POWER MOVEMENT" in the Kulturforum (German)

„STATUS POWER MOVEMENT“ as an online exhibition in the Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek (German only)

Museum and the City: "Bewegung im Museum: Neue Ausstellung der Volontär*innen!" on the blog of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Exhibition catalogue (German only) in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin webshop