After its digital launch at the end of 2020 and partial opening in 2021, Berlin’s Humboldt Forum is now fully open, presenting new collection displays from the Ethnologisches Museum and the Museum für Asiatische Kunst. Last year saw the Humboldt Forum’s west wing open, including displays exploring Asia and Africa. The opening of the east wing in September 2022 completes the planned exhibits on Asia and Africa, and features new space devoted to the Americas.
One significant display in the new wing is that of the art of Benin, showcased across two rooms developed with the Ethnologisches Museum’s Nigerian partners. In August 2022, ownership of the more than 500 Benin Bronzes in the Ethnologisches Museum’s collection transferred to Nigeria. Some will remain on loan (and on view at the Humboldt Forum) for an initial period of ten years. A few historical pieces are on show in an exploration of the Kingdom of Benin, its conquest at the hands of British forces who sacked the royal palace and took many of the brass and bronze plaques and sculptures, the artistry of the objects, and their role in ritual and memory.
Elsewhere, large stone stelae from the Mesoamerican Cotzumalhuapa culture (dating back to AD 650-950) are joined by a vast contemporary installation by artist Mariana Castillo Deball, which references two documents recording tax payments to Aztec rulers in the 16th century, the Codex Humboldt Fragment 1 and Codex Azoyú Reverso.
Meanwhile, in New York, the Brooklyn Museum has finished the ten-year renovation of its floor exploring the arts of Asia and religious and secular art from Islamic culture, with the recent openings of the Arts of South Asia and Arts of the Islamic World galleries. Some items are on display for the first time in decades, including, in the South Asian gallery, a seal from the Indus Valley civilisation, carved stone windows from a Rajasthani building, and an embroidered tent panel that has been newly conserved. In Arts of the Islamic World, objects from Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America, such as furnishings from religious buildings and Qajar paintings from Iran, showcase different artistic developments across the world.
The displays are designed to provoke cross-cultural dialogues, and – with new cases – to be more flexible, offering the opportunity to rotate objects made of different materials. Joan Cummins, the museum’s Lisa and Bernard Selz Senior Curator of Asian Art, said, ‘All objects were chosen and interpreted with an eye toward deepening understandings of the many facets of Asian cultural heritage. Future rotations of artworks will reintroduce different elements of our fantastic collections to our visitors.’
Other reopenings include the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) in Belgium, after 11 years of construction and renovation. As well as paintings of Antwerp artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), the museum celebrates its collection (described as the largest in the world) of more-modern Belgian artists James Ensor (1860-1949) and Rik Wouters (1882-1916).
And in west London’s Holland Park, Leighton House, the stunningly tiled house and studio of 19th-century artist Frederic Leighton, reopened with new permanent displays on the artist and others in the neighbourhood, and a gallery devoted to drawings and works on paper.