Looted art: Where do the pieces in our museums come from? | NDR.de

Status: 04/21/2022 2:44 PM

Boys’ bronzes, masks and human remains: Where do the objects in our museums come from? Katja Lempke, director of the Lower Saxony State Museum in Hannover, has closely followed the process over the past few years.

Mrs. Lembke, where did she actually come from, what can be seen in the State Museum, for example? What do we know about the history of the objects displayed there? Do you sometimes walk home and wonder where this or that thing actually comes from?

Katja Lempke: We have to distinguish very clearly from the section in which we are in the State Museum. As a multi-sector house, we have different fields: natural history, ethnology, archeology and art. In that regard, it always depends a lot on where you are at the moment. What is often discussed at the moment is the question of where the ethnographic things that come from the non-European context come from. But over the years we have also been affected by cultural property confiscated as a result of Nazi persecution in the art worlds. So it always depends a little.

By the way, I myself am an archaeologist, and when I walk into an archeology fair, I also think of one piece or the other and how it actually ended up in the collection. Even antiquities often found their way into German museums 100 or 150 years ago – but we’re only now beginning to understand how to do it.

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Katja Lempke, president of the German Association of Archaeologists, believes that the ancient monuments should be returned to their original sites. more

A few years ago, the movie “Woman in Gold” starring Helen Mirren was released. A story that shows the existence of these families, that injustice happened and that you have to have a great deal of legal stamina. Are there such cases in Lower Saxony?

lemky: Of course, we should always dig into our treasures to see if things are right with us. But it must also be said that in the beginning the focus was always on the region between 1933 and 1945, and at the same time it expanded for us. For example, if you bought something in 1980 that came from a Jewish family in the 1930s or 1940s, of course that should be checked as well. So the field is actually getting wider. And now there is also this large area of ​​\u200b\u200bethnographic collections, which we are taking a look at. We have a lot to do, that’s without a doubt.

Many museums have set up their own exhibitions of items whose origins are not clear. You’d be surprised how much it actually is. The average museum visitor has no idea how big the store is – so it has nothing to do with us. But that’s a different way to deal with it, isn’t it?

lemky: You always have to discern if we know where it came from. As a rule, we can allocate things culturally and temporally. But the question is: Who collected it? How was it collected? In 2017, we had a big exhibition called “Heikles Erbe” – we were pioneers in Germany. We analyzed quite a few items to see who collected them. So we started from collectors more than the things themselves. For it is very interesting that the same collector who later gave us things bought something at a fair price one day, received something as a gift the next day and went on a raid and plundered something on the third day. How will you differentiate between them today? Was the throne of a Cameroonian king given or stolen? This is often no longer apparent. And if you get something as a gift, that will be a problem. It would be a taboo for these countries and for these cultures if he simply brought him back. In this regard, it is really important to work together on such projects, to do research together and then find a solution that we hope will be sustainable for all parties.

The interview was conducted by Ocke Bandixen.

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This topic is in the program:

Culture NDR | NDR custom culture | 08/25/2021 | 13:00 “Oh the clock

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