Provenance Research

in the Weltkulturen Museum

Provenance research is a crucial part of the work with the objects in the Weltkulturen Museum’s collections. In 2004, in the Ansichtssachen exhibition catalogue, anthropologist Hans Voges published research on the museum’s situation in the years under the Nazi regime. The exhibition Ware und Wissen (Foreign Exchange 2014/2015) critically reviewed and reappraised collecting during the colonial period. Oceania Curator Matthias Claudius Hofmann is presently researching a colonial period collection from the north-east of New Guinea. The collection, acquired by the museum in 1906, was assembled by an engineer working for the Neudettelsau Mission in 1904/05. Research scholar Arno Holl worked on the collection of Borys Malkin, a Polish-American anthropologist and entomologist collecting in the mid-twentieth century from various indigenous groups in South America.

As part of the exhibition COLLECTED. BOUGHT. LOOTED? Case Studies from a Colonial and National Socialist Context (16.8.2018-27.01.2019), the Weltkulturen Museum critically reviewed and reappraised the biographies of selected objects. Since 2017, Julia Friedel (Africa Curator) and Vanessa von Gliszczynski (South-east Asia Curator) have investigated objects and artefacts entering the museum collection during the colonial period or the years under the Nazi regime. The history of these objects clearly underlines the importance of a long-term analysis of the museum’s own collection history. At the same time, this illustrates the limits often encountered when reviewing the provenance of museum objects and how, in many cases, it remains impossible to reconstruct all an object’s contexts.

For this reason, the Weltkulturen Museum intends to intensify its research into these and other objects in the collection, and expand its research internationally. Such a project, though, requires additional personnel and funding. The German Lost Art Foundation has announced plans to develop project funding to research cultural goods from colonial contexts. The Weltkulturen Museum plans to apply to the Foundation for funding to realise long-term projects on provenance research into the museum’s own collection.

Here, you can find the HEIDELBERG STATEMENT that was also signed by the Weltkulturen Museum.