Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, want to know about cultures and their history ?

Here you are going to learn a little about this amazing museum in Cologne, Germany. It is an anthropology museum, usually not my favorite kind as you know I am more of a contemporary art kind of person. However this one is mind-blowing. I learnt so much I stayed there a long time and I could have stayed longer if I had the chance !

First let me say that it was closed for two years, it reopened in 2010, they transformed it and changed the museography, the rooms, everything. This project started in 1995 when they decided to relocate the museum in central Cologne. Many obstacles and troubles made the construction difficult but eventually they managed to finish it. Historically the Museum, the organization (not the building) has been created in 1901. The first objects came from a private collection : Adele Rautenstrauch who wanted to comemorate her husband Eugen and her brother Wilhlem Joest a world traveller.

We know the history of the museum and its name, but….

what is an anthropology museum ?

Museums of Anthropology embody the encounter with other worlds and their appropriation in a very particular way. As cultural archives they collect, preserve and research material artefacts of societies from all over the world and convey a picture of these cultures in exhibitions and publications. (explained by the museum)

There are so much to talk about this museum but I really want to be clear and show the importance of HOW the collection is presented. For that matter the article will be divided in categories :

1- Interactivity : all the activities that are inside the permanent collections which you can play with and learn,

2- Scenography : how objects, artworks, items are shown to the public,

3- Pictures I took from the museum while walking around.

I hope this is clear enough and will make you want to visit this museum if you get the chance !

1 – Interactivity

Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumYou probably think: what ? this is just a library, nothing interactive here ! Well I am sorry to say this but you are wrong, appearances are not what they seem….

Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumTadaaaaa you can pull out the drawers ! this is probably meant for children but it is a lot of fun even for adults ! it is actually an ABC-book with all our food habits around the world.

By the way don’t these books look funny to you ? Look closely…

Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumRautenstrauch-Joest MuseumThere you have information on many anthropologists, scientists and their research.

In that same room you have an interactive book with a projector everytime you turn a page there is an explanation on a video and a voice over. Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumI really like when a museum manages to have electronics and non-electronics interactive spaces. It is important that we keep in mind that simple ideas are great too. A simple drawer in a library can be a really fun way to learn something.

Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumI really liked this room, on the walls you have different objects, weapons and items hanged next to timelines. And then you have this giant table, on several sides you have maps, objects inside the table that you can touch and these screens which you can moove and answer little quizzes. This room is dedicated to the 332 objects of the Massim Region the museum has in its collection.

A good question is written on the museum’s website, apparently a lot of weapons are shown (98) so what do we learn from that ? That the people who lived in the Massim region were violent ? or perhaps that the men in 19th century chose to bring back weapons and ignored the other artefacts.

Let’s move on to another room, this one had something nice for kids, of course they have a path for children with logos on the ground. But when i found this I thought it was (like oh-so-many other stuff) as interesting for children as it is for adults. Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumYou can bend over and smell the different types of tea ! As always it is a very simple idea but still, it works !

Next to this tea room you have this :

Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumThis is an interactive table on each side you have drawers with informations, sometime a little video, sometime just a slideshow  when you start it on the center of the table you have a map so you can view where it is in the world ! It is important to see this table as a place where people can gather before going to the rooms on the sides where you learn about ways of living around the world.

My last paragraph about interactivity is this space. It is about masks, while you learn about them and their meaning you can try them on.

Hey there !

Hey there !

2- Scenography

So if you don’t understand what scenography is, don’t worry it is quite simple. Basically it is just how collections are organized to be shown to the public, how people decided to dedicate this room to swords and another one to antique sculptures. Also it is why did we use a bookshelf this low, because we wanted kids to be able to see it. I hope I am making myself clear.

Let’s just show examples with the museum.

Two paths for a museum tour,  I believe one of them is for kids and the other one for adults.

Two paths for a museum tour, I believe one of them is for kids and the other one for adults.

An object behind a window, you can learn about its story  by listening with the headphones.

An object behind a window, you can learn about its story by listening with the headphones.

The room with the headphones is dedicated to "Crossing Borders", they decided to play with the scenario by adding a special scenography with boxes which contains artworks.

The room with the headphones is dedicated to “Crossing Borders”, they decided to play with the scenario by adding a special scenography with boxes which contains artworks.

Scenography can also be quite…well, big. It can be a way to adapt the transition between spaces. I enjoyed this one. Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumThe museum probably wanted to speak about doors, the use and the symbolic meaning for different cultures. What better way to integrate this inside the museum exhibition than to install doors that the visitor can push him or herself ? This way it feels more like a journey and when learning about the stories about doors in different cultures the visitor can actually visualize. Made possible by creating a plastic and solid representation so the visitor can touch the definition. When you cross these doors you think about what a door means to you, wheter you lock it or not at home during the day, if you hang something during the year on it, and what does it mean to other cultures and what they do with theirs. So Yep, I really liked that idea. And it is a separation between two rooms : “Understanding the world” and “Shaping the world”.

Speaking of transitions another one impressed me and I found it sensitive, thoughtfull and so well-done. Here it is: Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumSo it looks like just basic white curtains, actually there was also a white sofa and a light nice music. This is a space of transition to the room of “Death and after-life”, that room is dedicated to the rituals cultural groups around the world do to say goodbye to their loved ones. I found that the idea of progressively transitionning into that space was well-thought and interesting. As an Art historian I studied those rituals in college so I am used to it, but for many people it can be a little overwhelming. For me it was a very human thing to do and a step towards the visitor.

Here is the room I am talking about.

Here is the room I am talking about.

In this room something original is also done for the scenography, they placed showcases in the ground. Children and adults can see them.

Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumThere was something I didn’t enjoy, I had to find something ! I just thought it was unnecessary, on many showcases including the one above you had to stand exactly in front of it to see it, otherwise it was blurry. Rautenstrauch-Joest MuseumEveryone’s different so I am sure many people thought it was nice and original.

Ok I’ve told you about the museum, the interactivity, the scenography now…..

3- Walking around

enjoy a few pics I took at the museum which I think are nice 🙂

Javanese Gamelan ensemble with more than 50 instruments, located at the beginning of the exhibition.

Javanese Gamelan ensemble with more than 50 instruments, located at the beginning of the exhibition.

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum

FIgured Headdress, New Guinea, 1912

FIgured Headdress, New Guinea, 1912

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum

There would be so many more things to say about this museum, I had to make a selection of what interested me and what caught my attention.

Here is an interesting fact, the museum received some prizes. The most prestigious one is the Council of Europe Museum prize awarded in 2012, for its contribution to promoting cultural heritage as a vector of the common European values.

I hope you enjoyed our little tour of the museum !

to know more about it, the website available in English and German

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One response to “Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, want to know about cultures and their history ?

  1. Pingback: Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, ou l’histoire des cultures… |·

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