A long-awaited museum opens, complete with agony and ivory

BERLIN – For nearly 20 years, Werner Kohl has followed the saga of the Humboldt Forum. Like many Germans, he has been watching and listening since 2002, when the government approved plans for a huge new cultural attraction in Berlin. It is almost two decades of debate, protest, over-spending and delays.

So on Tuesday evening, when he finally stood up in the building’s dark exhibition spaces, he was thrilled, he said.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day from the beginning,” Kohl said. “I’m here to see if it holds up.”

situated at Site of the demolished East German Parliament And Envisioned as Germany’s equivalent of the Louvre, Humboldt Forum was Originally scheduled to open in 2019, but ran into delays in construction. It is now opening in phases over the next two years.

In addition to the ivory exhibition, the Humboldt Forum is also presenting an exhibit called “”.Berlin Global, “About the relation of the city with the world; an idea show the search for human life after climate change; And Site dedicated to history.

The most disputed section of the Forum is still uncovered: the floor which contains thousands of ethnographic artifacts from different cultures, including a magnificent African throne and giant wooden boats from the South Pacific, many of which were acquired during Germany’s expansionist imperial phase. . Anti-colonial activists have argued that the Humboldt Forum has not gone far enough in examining the origins of its objectives.

In an agreement negotiated this spring, most of Berlin’s collection of Benin bronzes, which were scheduled to be on display in the building, were return to nigeria next year. But the process of deciding what the Forum should do about items with more obscure histories is likely to be a messy effort. On Tuesday, a group of anti-colonial protesters gathered outside to raise slogans such as “Protect Humboldt Forum”.

This week’s inauguration is the first for curators in what they argue is a forward-looking and inclusive way of showcasing artworks to a wider audience with colonial associations.

Although the Humboldt Forum held its official opening ceremony online in DecemberThe pandemic restrictions have forced it to remain closed to the public for now. Some have argued that a longer shutdown could benefit from it, giving administrators longer to resolve some of the $825 million building’s technical problems.

In May, Sudetsche Zeitung newspaper Cited a confidential memorandum from the head of construction of the project, Hans-Dieter Hegner, who said the systems that managed the building’s air-conditioning and security alarms were “still in very poor condition”, and that continued defects “endanger already established cultural artifacts.”

In an interview last week, the director of the Humboldt Forum, Hartmut Dörgerloh, said he was well aware of the fragility of some ivory items, which require careful monitoring of temperature, humidity and light, and that if conditions change too rapidly. If so, cracks may develop. “It’s demanding from a conservation standpoint,” he said. “We are exhibiting 40,000-year-old objects in Berlin for the first time, in a building that has been around for less than 10 years.”

But he emphasized that the climate control system in the area where the items are being displayed was fully functional, and none of the objects were in danger. “The climate in this region is very stable,” he said.

Dörgerloh said the show was an appropriate way to open the Humboldt Forum because it reflected his goal of “creating a space in which we can share experiences” rather than merely depicting cultures.

Featuring nearly 200 objects – including many spectacular pieces of jewelry, ornate sculptures and one of the world’s oldest preserved musical instruments, an ivory flute – the exhibition was organized in collaboration with the National Museums of Kenya. Dramatically, the space is painted red and mixed with loudspeakers playing the breathing of a dying elephant. Along with ivory items, the show also includes artifacts depicting colonial exploitation and abuse, and video monitors featuring interviews with people whose lives have been affected by the ivory trade, including a Kenyan park ranger and a safari Guides are included.

Alberto Saviello, one of the show’s three curators, said in an interview that his team felt it included a responsibility to include the voices of the objects’ countries of origin and to tell the objects’ stories, which “often about injustice and violence.” are in.”

Saviello explained that although none of the institutions that lent the objects for the exhibition – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – had no concerns about climate-control issues in the exhibition space, Some had reservations about the critical tone of the show. “We’re not doing it in a classical aesthetic context that emphasizes the beauty of works,” he said. “There were concerns that we were saying, ‘If you display ivory anywhere, it’s a crime.

Ultimately, Dorgerloh said, curators were able to convince concerned lenders with arguments about the educational importance of the exhibition.

Although public interest in the exhibition is strong, with all visitor slots reserved until the end of the month, the reaction in the German media has been mixed. Suddetsche Zeitung argued That the exhibition, which mostly features artifacts made in Europe, seemed like an attempt to divert attention from the debate about giving back the disputed objects on display in the building. Regional broadcaster RBB said That the curators had brought “striking, illuminating approaches to a complex subject” and that the exhibition was “impressive in its diversity”.

The visitors were evenly divided. Retired gallerist Nicolas Sonne, 74, said he was impressed by the building, but was overwhelmed by the exhibition. “These are incredible objects, but it’s too much at once,” he said.

“It might be better to have a separate exhibition about all the bad things associated with it,” Sone said.

Nika Goloma, 48, felt that the concept of the show was well chosen. “There’s a lot of people talking” about the Forum’s colonial stuff, she said, “and it shows that from the start, they’re not afraid to show it and say, ‘Look at it.'” Said, “I guess they had no other choice.”

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