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Successful conclusion to workshop on exhibition concept plan for non-European collections in the Humboldt Forum

11.04.2011
Ethnologisches Museum

The Humboldt Forum International Advisory Board convened for the first time from 6 to 8 April 2011. The expert committee consists of around forty renowned museum specialists and scholars from all continents. The board's purpose over the coming years is to provide a critical accompaniment to the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage's exhibition concept for the Humboldt Forum as it goes through the planning phase and to enrich proceedings with the competencies and experiences of its members.

Over the last few days the board sat down with experts from the Staatiche Museen zu Berlin (SMB) to discuss the existing exhibition concept plan for the SMB's non-European collections (Ethnological Museum and Museum of Asian Art) and check if it was up to date in all the relevant areas.

Hermann Parzinger, President of the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage, stated: 'I'm glad that our concept plan had a positive resonance in many points. At the same time I'm glad that in the intense and extremely frank discussions, many important suggestions for its development were put forward. We are in a position to profit enormously from the experiences of the assembled experts, many of whom have themselves in the last few years been crucially involved in the overhaul and restructuring of museums.'

In a series of twelve separate podia, the experts discussed matters on theory and practise in contemporary exhibitions of non-European art and culture. Initial subjects included the influence of newly constructed museum buildings on their content and what experiences one could draw from this regarding the Humboldt Forum, as well as general aspects, methods and theories relevant in the drawing up of exhibition concept plans. It was in this vein that questions were discussed as to whether to structure the exhibition geographically, thematically or chronologically, whether to incorporate aspects of contemporary life in the exhibition and how much sense separating the collections would make.

Further podia tackled specific questions on the display of objects with particular reference to separate geographical regions (Africa, America, Australia and Oceania, South-east Asia and Islam), as well as the development and expansion of the collections. One core aspect was the question of whether to incorporate the current situation faced by indigenous groups, a subject that was explored in more detail in a separate podium discussion in which particular attention was paid to the creation of ties and associations with such groups and possible international research projects. Three podia specifically dealt with various aspects of displaying non-European art, including finding a sensible way to integrate contemporary art into the exhibition. One podium discussion was dedicated to how the themes of colonialism, post-colonialism and globalization could be handled in the exhibition. On Friday afternoon a final discussion was held which included further participants in the workshop, including Okwui Enwezor, curator, artistic director of major exhibitions and author, who is also currently the appointed director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Thomas W. Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Martin Heller, cultural manager and project manager for the development of an administration concept plan for the agora in the Humboldt Forum, and Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum.

Thanks to its generous support, Stiftung Mercator was responsible for making the workshop possible. The workshop has been documented in a publication, due for release at a later date.