PHOTO: © Röntgenaufnahme des Gemäldes „Dame auf dem Sofa“ (ca. 1905) von Fritz Rhein © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie / Andres Kilger.

(Un)seen Stories. Suchen, Sehen, Sichtbarmachen

In the organizer's words:

The collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin contain countless objects with surprising, hidden histories and provenances. These stories and the methods museum makers use to research and tell them are the focus of the exhibition. The young curators and researchers present objects with personal significance and tell their often exciting or tragic stories.

Many objects - four approaches

Whether a 30 kg Reformation carpet, a forged van Gogh or dismantled façade elements of the Palace of the Republic: what at first glance appears to have nothing in common enables the discovery of emotional, surprising and exciting narratives through new perspectives, technologies, provenance research and cultural change. The exhibition offers four possible approaches to approaching what is shown: visible traces on the object, material investigations and restorations, historical and cultural changes in values and provenance research.

At first glance? Questioning the visible

The visible is the starting point for any examination of an object: what information can be gleaned from its appearance? For example, an unopened box of papyri found by the Egyptian Museum on Elephantine Island in 1907 can provide a great deal of information about the place of discovery and archaeological practices at a time when the papyri it contains could not yet be deciphered. Only now, over 100 years after it was filled, are the contents of this box being analyzed. The box itself is now a historical artifact that can be used to trace the papyri's long odyssey.

Scientific detective work by means of material analysis

Material analysis and restoration practices help to better understand the condition, structure and production techniques of objects. The restoration of the painting "Lady with Child" (1910) by Secession artist Fritz Rhein from the Alte Nationalgalerie, for example, not only brought to light a completely unknown work behind the canvas: the "Lady on the Sofa" (ca. 1905). X-ray examinations of the newly discovered painting also revealed that a third, mysterious composition had been painted over.

Changing perspectives through the ages

Works of art, artifacts and objects often undergo complex changes in value throughout their history. Their role and cultural significance can change completely. In the 1950s, for example, a Grafton saxophone from the collection of the Museum of Musical Instruments was derided as cheap and tasteless because of its acrylic construction. It was only later that it became a coveted collector's item, used by jazz greats such as Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman for recordings.

Apparently invisible: origin and history

Investigating the origin of collection objects usually involves extensive provenance research. Especially in the context of ethnological objects, narratives and testimonies in contact with the communities of origin are essential. The curators invite the researcher Nicolás Valenzuela Quintupil to retell the story of a garment pin from the Ethnologisches Museum that came to Berlin in the course of the displacement of the Mapuche in Chile in the 19th century: from the perspective of the descendants of these communities and their relationship to the object.

Exhibition catalog

The exhibition is accompanied by a digital catalog published by

Curatorial team

The exhibition is curated by volunteers from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz and the Musikinstrumenten-Museum.

A special exhibition of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the Kupferstichkabinett

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Price information:

Kupferstichkabinett: €8.00, reduced €4.00 / Kulturforum all exhibitions €20.00 reduced €10.00; free admission for children and young people up to and including the age of 18


Kupferstichkabinett Matthäikirchplatz 10785 Berlin

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