The redesign and reopening of the Weltmuseum Wien was part of a larger trend to rethink the relevance of historical ethnographic collec- tions and research in service of contemporary society. The museum hoped to depart from the classic geographic approach of presenting world cultures, to instead take a purely thematic approach, emphasi- zing the relations and influences between Austria and other cultures.
The new permanent exhibition consists of fourteen thematically inde- pendent exhibition halls that explore the art, culture, and belief sys- tems of non-European cultures as told through the lens of Austria’s history of cultural interaction, collecting, and ethnographic research. One encounters not only objects but personal stories of the people who collected, the reasons and means of collecting as well as the perspectives of source communities in their own voices.
The journey through each hall is non-linear, with deliberate breaks in formal presentation allowing for contemporary discourse. Rich layers of graphic and media content offer deepening levels of interpretation and differing perspectives on the collections’ meaning. Each of the exhibition halls has at its core a unique curatorial idea that the firm translated into a scenographic presentation, emphasizing the collec- tions and their interpretation while providing surprise and intrigue.
Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen declared that the new Weltmuseum Wien is not only intended to encounter others at eye level but also to “see ourselves with different eyes.” Director Steven Engelsman noted that forty percent of Austrians have a different cultural background than Austrian, and that he would like to see the “Weltmuseum Wien as their museum.”