Since 1952, the Museum Rietberg has brought together unique art made by the world’s very different cultures – but how did it get here? What routes did it take? What modifications in material and changes in meaning did it undergo on its travels?

The exhibition Pathways of Art traces these routes and shows across some 20 stations who was involved in the trade and respective acquisitions and who owned the works before they entered the museum.

Its focus, then, is on the question of provenance, that is, the objects’ stories of origin, with emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. Closely linked with these object biographies comes a rich variety of encounters and connections between individuals, institutions, and even countries that the exhibition seeks to examine more closely.

An important aspect concerns the mode in which works were presented, along with the issue of aestheticization and musealization. Central to this is the question of how an object comes to be seen as art. The exhibition additionally considers the different types of knowledge associated with a work of art: what type of understanding inscribes itself into a work, how is it transmitted, modified, and reconstructed?

The exhibition considers all these and other aspects. With its critical examination of the origins of its collection, the Museum Rietberg seeks to contribute to a debate of public interest about the approach it takes to its collections and their historical background.

The extensive and illustrated catalogue, published by Scheidegger & Spiess in English and German, in which twenty authors explore the museum's collections from different perspectives serves as a reader to the exhibition. Ed. Esther Tisa Francini, with the collaboration of Sarah Csernay, paperback, approx. 440 pages, 200 colour and 50 b/w illustrations, CHF 39, available on site and via