A New Departure: The Museum of East Asian Art in Cologne
The Museum of East Asian Art, opened in 1913, was an affirmation of an enlightened dialogue with the world. Its purpose was to allow a new and undistorted view of the art of East Asia and provide modern intellectual stimuli for a Western society in cultural upheaval. Against the background of the chauvinistic colonial policy being pursued by the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II in China, the foundation of the museum in 1909 documented a striking rejection of delusions of German superiority. As a result of the devastating consequences of the First and Second World Wars, however, the legacy of the museum’s founders was brought to an abrupt end. It was only with the opening of the new building next to the Aachener Weiher in 1977 that a new start was possible following the destruction wrought by the war. Since then, the Museum of East Asian Art has been committed to the original idea of its founders.
Racism and colonialist thinking manifest themselves anew in every era, showing a different face each time. While Kaiser Wilhelm II spoke of China as the ‘Yellow Peril’, the Nazis for their part pursued a policy of mass extermination of the Jews. And today too, in the context of the refugee crisis, racist voices have grown loud. This shows clearly that the original mission of the museum never loses its relevance: with its exhibitions, the institution invites its visitors to value the art and culture of the Far East in the spirit of world art; racism in any shape or form has no place here.
The collection assembled by Adolf Fischer (1856–1914) and his wife Frieda (1874–1945) continues to form the core of the museum’s holdings. Their collection of Buddhist painting and sculpture, Japanese screen painting and coloured woodblock prints, Korean ceramics and lacquer art is regarded as one of the most important in Europe. Since the 1970s, the acquisitions of Chinese sacred bronzes from the collection of Hans-Jürgen von Lochow, of early ceramics from the collection of Hans Wilhelm Siegel, of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy from the collection of Heinz Götze and the permanent loans from the Peter und Irene Ludwig Stiftung have further enriched the museum’s holdings.
Not only does the collection enjoy international status, so does the museum’s new building, opened in 1977. It was designed in the 1960s by the Japanese architect Kunio Maekawa (1905–1986), a pupil of Le Corbusier. With its austere, clearly structured cubes and its integration into the park landscape surrounding the Aachener Weiher, the building takes up old Japanese traditions while developing a modern formal language with the cladding of stoneware tiles fired in Japan. The complex centres on a landscape garden designed by the sculptor Masayuki Nagare (b. 1923) with references to Japanese meditation gardens.
Since 2016 the monumental bronze ‘Usagi Kannon’ by Leiko Ikemura (b. 1951) has had a firm place at the end of the spacious foyer. The Bodhisattva with a childlike face and hare’s ears has a voluminous skirt that points to his protective function and invites children, in particular, to walk in. The figure was cast especially for the exhibition ‘All about Girls and Tigers’ and purchased for the museum with the support of the Kunststiftung NRW, the Galerie Karsten Greve and private donors.
As already intended by Adolf Fischer, the exhibits in the Museum of East Asian Art are not presented in the spirit of ethnography or cultural-historical documents, but in each case as artworks in their own right, illustrating specific period or individual styles. Fischer was of the opinion that European and East Asian art were of equal status. Research in the field of East Asian art history has shown that in China, a concept of art and an artistic aesthetic had been formulated much earlier than in Europe, a basic precondition for the appreciation of artistic work. As early as the fourth century China had art collections in which the items were assembled on account of their artistic and not their material value.
Tuesday to Sunday
11am – 5pm
Every first Thursday in the month
11am – 10pm
€ 9.50 / € 5.50
KölnTag on the first Thursday of the month (except public holidays): free admission to the Permanent Collection for all Cologne residents.
How to get here
Public transport: Tram routes 1 and 7 and bus route 142, alight at ‘Universitätsstrasse’
There is a car park at the museum
The museum is barrier-free. Disabled toilet available.