Collecting is about relationships as much as it is about the works.

Collecting is often assumed to be a self-evident core activity of museums. But what does this involve, what are the associated elements and processes, and what are the requisite preconditions for it being able to happen? All these aspects frequently remain hidden from view behind the scenes.

Purchasing is not just about selecting, ordering and paying for objects. In fact, expanding a collection involves a wide range of tasks: developing a project in terms of its contents, making contact with people, organising the commission, transferring money and transporting goods, all of which necessitate detailed knowledge of the region, the appropriate linguistic skills, ethnological expertise and so much more. If purchases are to be a meaningful part of a museum’s concept, the curators of the various collections have to do the collecting themselves. This is an intrinsic part of an ethnologist’s role.

However, being the collector requires a dedicated acquisitions budget, which is something that municipal museums in Frankfurt have no longer had at their disposal in recent decades. That situation has now changed. Thanks to the funding negotiated by Frankfurt’s department of culture specifically to enable purchases by museums, in recent months we have been able to make three acquisitions in connection with our own research interests. All three purchases have one thing in common: their creation was commissioned by the museum.
Specifically commissioning Indigenous artisans to produce works means that these craftspeople or artists personally benefit from their work and can convey their own perspectives – which is critical in the debate on reappraising the colonial past. This means that as a museum we can use our own collecting to make a clear statement: that we do not want to represent a history written by Europeans, but are rather seeking to place the contemporary experience of our contemporary partners at the heart of our work.

Each purchase came about as the result of longstanding contacts, following a close examination of the various collections and research undertaken by the curators. The acquisitions are thus much more than mere additions to the collections – they are also communication, and initiating a dialogue and partnerships. This is about relationships as much as it is about the works.

Selected purchases can already be seen from April onwards in the new exhibition “Green Sky, Blue Grass. Colour Coding Worlds”.

Learn more about the exhibition here: