“Objects in Transfer” Exhibition at the Pergamon Museum

The Pergamon museum of Berlin organizes an exhibition titled “Objects in Transfer,” which questions modern assumptions about cultural boundaries, and the whole notion of a separate Islamic art

April 23rd, 2019
Elisa Vallette, News from Berlin
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Visitors of the Pergamon Museum, expecting to see Islamic art, might be surprised to see a painting of the Pope on an Arabian carpet. The exhibition “Objects in Transfer” provides some answers as it traces the transcultural influences of a wide range of objects; from plates, carpets, chess pieces, to an astrolabe, wall niche or cornice stone.

While usually museums establish distinct cultures, separating Western art, Islamic Art, or Byzantine art, the Pergamon museum offers an alternative perspective. It provides the incentive to think beyond a unique separate culture and realize transcultural influences over space and time. Sophia Vassilopolou, regrets that objects in museums « are accompanied by very little interpretation. The decontextualized presentation, focusing almost exclusively on the aesthetic and artistic elements of the objects, provides no space to discuss socio-cultural entanglements between regions, periods and the objects themselves ».

The Pergamon museum’s “Objects in Transfer” exhibition points at similarities, connections and, interchanges. As opposed to the essentialist conception of cultures, the exhibition highlights the complexity of societies. It questions modern assumptions about cultural boundaries. Indeed, people from diverse cultural horizons have always exchanged astrological, medical, technical and artistic knowledge. Stefan Weber, director of the museum, affirms “No object in our museums exists without migration—every object is an expression of transregional connections and the exchange of techniques, thoughts, patterns, fashions and ideas.

Among the objects, a jar from Syria, early fourteenth-century, belonged to King Charles V of France (r. 1368–1380); his inventory mentioned a jar filled with ginger from Damascus, and thus testifies to the circulation of such objects between the Middle East and Europe.
A zodiac plate from Iran, sixteenth-century, reveals not only the transfer of astrological knowledge from ancient Greece, but also the transfer of blue-and-white ceramics from China to the Near East.

Visitors are invited to learn more through interactive stations, touchscreens, or on their own mobile devices by means of QR codes and NFC tags. Floor arrows also indicated the direction, distance and, the name of the collection in which a related object can be found. The exhibition was developed with the Collaborative Research Center “Episteme in Motion” at the Freie University Berlin.

This exhibition proves that in addition to the migration of objects, people from different cultures have shared their knowledge, techniques, skills, ideas, etc. across time and space. Art objects manifest these transcultural relationships.


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