La Germanistique mène à tout…”. Frans M. Olbrechts (1899 – 1958). In het wereldje van volkskundigen en etnologen
Summary: Frans M. Olbrechts (1899-1958) in the small World of folklorists and ethnologists
Frans Olbrechts started his career as a folklorist with a thorough study of Flemish incantations. But he is best-known as an expert of African art and American native culture.
As a student he met the folklorist Maurits de Meyer and owed him a lot. For his study of popular medicine he consulted with the Dutchman Martinus Anthoni van Andel. When studying at Columbia University (1925) professor Frans Boas brought him up to be an anthropologist.
Typically for Olbrechts’ research is his global approach of cultural phenomena: contextual, psychological and comparative. And this was quite progressive in those days and why he differed from most of his colleagues. Olbrechts too was interested in the identity of groups, but not as the ultimate goal, only as a insight into the origins and functioning of cultural diversity in the world. Hence his special interest in the way cultural phenomena evolve, geographically as well as historically.
Originally Olbrechts’ point of view was that folklore and (non-European) ethnology did not differ that much as regards their mode of expression and goal. But, as time went on, he had to accept that folklorists and ethnologist had grown apart and that this was to result in separate organisations, publications and networks. Everything suggests that he dreamed of a form of science encompassing the so-called ‘primitive’ as well as the presumed ‘cultural’ people.
B. DE MUNCK
Musea en collecties in conflict. Reflecties over (ethnografisch) collecties in hedendaagse musea
Summary: Museums and collections in conflict. Reflections about (ethnographic) collections in modern museums.
This article critically discusses the fact of moving existing collections ( the collections Butcher’s Hall, Museum of Folklore, Maritime Museum and especially the Ethnographic museum) to a new museum, namely MAS. Starting from recent opinion about museums and museum practices on one hand and objects on the other, it is said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to look upon a museum as a place where historical objects can be kept, researched and displayed. Museums, at least local or urban museums, are more of ‘centers of civic dialogue’, which means that the local community must have a say in the filling-in, for example through new material or
immaterial heritage. Thus, the existing objects and collections can be regarded as more of a problem than an asset. After all, they have been collected from the ideology of a dominant group and threaten to bring in the ‘look’ of that group into the new museum. The idea that they can be appropriated in and by the local community and can be given a new meaning (from below), is only partially true.
After all, the ‘material turn’ in social sciences have proven that 1) the objects (by their form, materiality, capacity) can’t be given any random meaning and 2) that the past of an object keeps playing an important role in it’s meaning. This is particularly true for ethnographic objects and collections, which, due to their specific ‘cultural biography’, can’t easily give another message than the one given at the time of their collection.
E. DE PALMENAER
Olbrechts en de Afrikaanse verzamelingen in Antwerpen (1930-1940). Van de Vleeshuiszolders naar het Museum aan de Stroom
Summary: Olbrechts and the African collections in Antwerp (1930-1940). From the “Vleeshuis” attics to the MAS(*)
Since 1936, Olbrechts becomes active in Antwerp. He is charged with the research and rearrangement of the ethnographic collections in the “Museums of Antiquities and Applied Art”, seated in the Butcher’s Hall (Vleeshuis Museum). At the same time, the Advisory Committee of the Vleeshuis Museum makes its first proposals to establish an independent museum, dedicated to non-western art.
Olbrechts also becomes a fervent supporter and, because of this, is called the “spiritual father” of the present Ethnographic Museum.
Records from the Report of the Advisory Committee show that not only the lacking infrastructure of the Butcher’s Hall but also Olbrechts’ ideological stance about the research and exhibition of the African art, have played a role in the origin of the Ethnographic Museum Antwerp. Postcards from the Butcher’s Hall illustrate the way where the upper floors were arranged as an “exotic” collection of curiosities” when Olbrechts appeared. In the meantime, at his request, the animal skulls will disappear. Furthermore, the Advisory Committee, stimulated by the success of his exhibition “Congo Art” (1937-38) held in the City Festival Hall at the Meir, will announce the need for a better housing of the popular collections to the Antwerp City administration. Finally, the concept of the Congo Art
exhibition will be discussed, giving a colonial perspective to a historic department about the harbor city of Antwerp some centuries ago.
(*) MAS (Museum aan de Stroom), a new museum in Antwerp about the river, the city, the port and the world
(www.mas.be, see “MAS in short” pdf).
W. VAN HOOF
De geest van Frans Olbrechts in het MAS? Een verhaal over stad, stroom, haven en wereld
Summary: The mind of Frans Olbrechts in the MAS? A story about city, stream, port and world
In 2007, the Antwerp City council decided to expand the MAS (Museum at the Stream) with ethnographic collections. This allows for a better rendition of the story of Antwerp, a port city in close contact with the world and vice versa. The author shows that the city museum has always been defined in a broad way. In the expanded MAS, the ideas “citizen of the world” and “diversity” are central.
The museum will take on the role of a go-between between different groups of people that live in the city. The museum wants to tell a socially motivated story but it also wants to free space for the history of the different collections it houses. We start from three different relations people have: with their environment, with others, with the spiritual. The thread runs through three departments in the museum: ‘images of the world’, ‘images of the city/stream/port’ and ‘images of each other’. The museum becomes a place where you look for how to fill in an identity in a complex environment. But it’s also a place where this identity is permanently put into perspective
by confronting the past and others.