In 2010 Clémentine Deliss won the competition for the position of head of the Museum of Ethnology in Frankfurt. Over five years, aided by artists, designers, writers, anthropologists, and lawyers, she tried to initiate change within the museum’s institutional structure and reconsider the way it worked, as well as its priorities both within, and in its relationship with visitors. In this essay, she describes her unique experience of working on the transformation of a modernist understanding of the museum and its functions.
“Sometimes renamed museum of world cultures, the ethnographic museum is the most extreme rendition of a cultural institution that retains “colonial presence” even today. While I focus on the crisis of this particular museum, I hope to address other types of venues that hold collections and recognize the necessity to rethink their constitution in the twenty-first century. If museums have to be pioneering and fight against routine, habit, and conservatism, what model of critical and reflexive methodology can be deployed on existing, forgotten, soiled, or non-restituted collections?”