Abstract: Museums and collections, as “institutions of rationalism” (Udo Gößwald), have long been focused on the materiality of the object. Provenance research, which has been placed on the political agenda in recent years as a reaction to long-lasting demands for restitution and which has expanded in content from Nazi looted property to cultural property confiscations in the SBZ/DDR to colonial contexts, is changing the way museums deal with objects in this respect. Consequently, museum interest has shifted from the object itself, i.e. from ‘classical’, purely disciplinary object research, to the interdisciplinary investigation and mediation of often complex object contexts: How did this object come into the house? Who owned and collected it? How can legal or ethical contexts of injustice be represented? By increasingly focusing on the immaterial contexts of preserved museum things, museums and collections can succeed in breaking free from the “identity compulsion of the 19th century” and repositioning themselves as decolonised “schools of alienation” and “places for experiencing alterity” (Peter Slotderdijk).
Slotderdijk’s astute dictum from 1989 currently coincides with the much-discussed demand on museums, not least in the context of restitution demands and provenance research, to show attitude and assume responsibility, to intervene as a discursive cultural institution and to question museum routines. In the main section, this article discusses how the “mediation of the invisible with the visible” (Gottfried Korff) can be realised in the museum’s field of activity of exhibiting: The spectrum ranges from the curatorial level (multi-perspectivity, reflection on authorship/authoritarian interpretive sovereignty, things as actors, new conceptual approaches) to the design level (sensitive exhibit presentations through information on demand/trigger warnings, social design) to the didactic level (comment/feedback stations, participatory elements, decolonising and post-representational educational work).