Pathways of Art

How Objects Get to the Museum

An illustrated reader on the highly topical subject of tribal art in the museums of the Global North


Title Information

Edited by Esther Tisa Francini in collaboration with Sarah Csernay

1st edition

, 2022


440 pages, 245 color and 48 b/w illustrations

17 x 27 cm

ISBN 978-3-03942-097-1

In collaboration with Museum Rietberg Zürich


Non-European artworks in European and American museums have become the subject of controversial debate. How exactly these collections of art from Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Oceania have been amassed in the Global North over centuries, and how such works continue to be acquired and traded today, is under close scrutiny, and claims for their restitution to the places and people of their origin are voiced loudly.

Zurich’s Museum Rietberg, one of Europe’s most renowned museums of non-Western art, has undertaken an extensive exhibition project to explore the thoroughly ambivalent history of its own collection. The essays in this illustrated reader published in conjunction with the exhibition investigate the pathways along which objects traveled to the museum. They shed light on how the meaning of these artifacts has shifted in the course of the transfers. And they demonstrate the importance of provenance research for learning comprehensively about, and taking a critical approach in, the assessment of the complex biographies of artifacts. Pathways of Art offers an important contribution to the current debate about the status and impact of non-European art in the Global North. It aims to foster awareness of the colonial and postcolonial contexts of trading and collecting such artworks and to help establish new museum narratives.

Contributions by Johannes Beltz, Annette Bhagwati, David Blankenstein, Martin Brauen, Alice Cheng, Sarah Csernay, Eberhard Fischer, Antje Grothe, Nanina Guyer, Mira Jossen, Kim Karlsson, Brigitte Koyama-Richard, Axel Langer, Michaela Oberhofer, Cecilia Pardo, Christian Prager, Alexandra von Przychowski, Esther Tisa Francini, Khanh Trinh, and Rosine Vuille.


Esther Tisa Francini, born 1972, is an historian and head of archives and provenance research at Zurich’s Museum Rietberg.


Sarah Csernay, born 1984, studied art history and literary studies at the Universities of Zurich and Bern. She works as a research assistant in provenance research at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich.


Deutsche Ausgabe

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Large shouldered jar decorated with dragons, China, Ming dynasty, Xuande mark and period (1426–1436), cloisonné, 62.1 × 54.5 × 42.2 cm, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, U 5, on permanent loan from the Alice and Pierre Uldry Collection © Rainer Wolfsberger

Large, winged mask, kepong, Papua New Guinea, New Ireland, 19th century, wood, painted, raffia, fruit capsules, textiles, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, RME 405, donation from Eduard von der Heydt © Rainer Wolfsberger

Nell Walden with her collection in her apartment in Berlin, ca. 1925, Handschriftenabteilung, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Preussischer Kulturbesitz © bpk

Finial in the form of two lions with two heads, Iran, Luristan, 8th century, B.C., bronze with green patina mounted on a reddish wooden base by Inagaki, object dimensions: 14 × 7.7 × 1.3 cm, base dimensions: 2.5 × 6.7 × 5.4 cm, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, 2020.531, donation from Malte and Janie Peters, Schindellegi © Rainer Wolfsberger

Chamba Rumal mit Krishnas Hochzeit / Chamba Rumal with Krishna’s Wedding, India, Himachal Pradesh, 18th/19th century, cotton, silk threads, 56 × 92 cm, Museum Rietberg, Zürich, RVI 643, donation from Georgette Boner © Rainer Wolfsberger

Photograph of the tsesah mask, 2003, Bamileke Master of Bamendjo, Batcham region, tsesah, Cameroon, Bamileke, Bamendjo, 19th century. Wood, 72 × 51 × 37 cm. Museum Rietberg, Zürich, RAF 721, donation from Eduard von der Heydt © Rainer Wolfsberger

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