As the founder of Museum Folkwang, Karl Ernst Osthaus’s objective was to exhibit works of art and artefacts from various different cultures and historical eras – on the one hand, for general educational purposes and, on the other, to inspire and promote the shaping of contemporary art and design. He achieved this by making his collection of works accessible to the public in Hagen from 1902 onwards. The painter August Macke, a well-known visitor of the collector’s museum, summed up his impression: “He has the best modern works, also old things, a lot of Egyptian, Greek, Indian, Gothic and Italian art. We were mad about it all, jeck as people here call it.”
The combination of works of antiquity and non-European cultures with paintings and sculptural works of the European avant-garde was – and still is – a key feature of Museum Folkwang, which was initially located in Hagen and since 1922 in Essen. Over the decades, however, the collection comprising archaeology, global art and applied arts frequently underwent change and transformation: significant sales and purchases were made and war-related losses had an effect not only on the works themselves, but also on knowledge relating to them. The concept of showing European and non-European art side by side was maintained to a varying degree of intensity.
If we look at the collection today with its focus on several core areas – namely, works of antiquity, non-European pieces and objects of daily use – we can discern different concepts intrinsic to the collection which, on account of new acquisitions, were pursued and modified from 1902 to the 1980s. The selected works and objects exhibited under the title Collecting Worldwide reflect some of these concepts and developments.
Although perhaps not immediately apparent, the work Helm/Helmet/Yelmo by the artist duo Los Carpinteros contains an order prescribed by its place of origin and period of acquisition. Arranged on six levels, staggered honeycombs display the roughly outlined geographical regions of Africa, East Asia, Western Asia, Europe and the Americas. The works are arranged from left to right according to their date of acquisition (not always completely verified). With its vitrines, the installation Helm/Helmet/Yelmo creates unusual “kindred vicinities” by revealing a web of new references and comparisons. Works from Oceania are assembled beyond the helmet.
By arranging the collection in this manner, many questions relating to the objects arise: dates become unclear and geographical designations dubious – not to mention information regarding the historical function of the objects that is either completely missing or can barely be summed up adequately in a few words.