10 European Museums Showcasing Non-European Art

A man takes pictures of a statue during a media preview of the exhibition Osiris - Egypts Sunken Mysteries, which features some 300 objects retrieved from the depths off Egypts Mediterranean coast, at Museum Rietberg in Zurich
A man takes pictures of a statue during a media preview of the exhibition "Osiris - Egypt's Sunken Mysteries", which features some 300 objects retrieved from the depths off Egypt's Mediterranean coast, at Museum Rietberg in Zurich | © REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo
Andrea Hak

Globalization impacts all facets of society, including the art world. European art has long been in the spotlight, but these ten European museums highlight artistic masterpieces on a global scale.

1. Centre Georges Pompidou


Centre Georges Pompidou, Beaubourg, museum for modern art. Paris, France.
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The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris was one of the first museums in Europe to address the lack of representation of artworks from outside of Europe. With the 1989 exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, curator Jean-Hubert Martin sought to confront the condition he described as “one hundred percent of exhibitions ignoring eighty percent of the earth.” While the exhibition itself drew both praise and criticism, it also spurred debate amongst artists, curators and academics seeking to address this gap. Today the Centre’s vast collection contains artworks from more countries than any other museum in Europe and has continued to promote non-European artists through its exhibitions. This year the Centre celebrated the 25th anniversary of Magiciens de la Terre with an international symposium brining together academics, artists and curators from five continents to look back on the exhibition and to discuss the future of contemporary art.

Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain

The Fondation Cartier is another Parisian museum driving forward a culture of international contemporary. From its inception it has been dedicated to supporting new artists and those who have not yet gained recognition in Europe. This has led the Fondation Cartier be one of the first museums in Europe to showcase the work of internationally recognized artists such as Korean artist Lee Bul, Malian photographer Sydou Keyuta, Japanese neo-pop painter Takashi Murakami and Brazilian photographer Alair Gomes. The Foundation has also been successful in fostering original uncompromised creativity by commissioning works of art. This approach allows artists to realize projects without financial or spatial boundaries. As part of the programme, artistic residencies enable artists to not only create their pieces, but also to transform the exhibition space in which their art will be viewed.

Foundation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, 261 Boulevard Raspail, Paris, France, ‎+33 1 42 18 56 50

2. Institut du Monde Arabe

University, School

Institut du monde Arabe, 1 Rue des Fosses Saint-Bernard, 75005 Paris, France
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Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris was a project devised by France and League of Arab States to promote a deeper understanding of Arab culture in France, increase cultural exchange, and enhance relations between Europe and the Arab world. The Museum’s collection includes both historical pieces and an increasing amount of contemporary Islamic art. Cognizant of the European bias towards specific types of Islamic art, curators from the Arab world are often chosen to select artworks for the Museum’s exhibitions. As Ehab El-Labban, curator for the Museum’s 25 Years of Arab Creativity, explained, “Western curators of Arab art shows choose only political artists because in the past ten years there have been a lot of problems in our community… but there are many kinds of artists in the Arab world, and for this reason I have tried to be fair and choose from all directions.”

3. Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet


In 1876, art collector Emile Guimet devised the idea for The Musée National des Arts Asiatiques-Guimet as a museum dedicated solely to the art work of ancient Egypt, antiquity and Asia. The original collection was based on Mr. Guimet’s travels throughout Japan, China and India. Throughout the years the museum continued to increase its acquisitions, building the largest collection of Asian art outside of Asia. Recently, the museum has undergone a policy transformation that embraces contemporary art as well. As described by Director Jacques Gièt, “The museum is much more than a safe-deposit box for antiques.” Thus, the museum now displays works by contemporary artists alongside its classical collection arguing that these works can act as a cross historical dialogue that helps visitors to see the influence of the past on the contemporary, and to gain a deeper understanding of this increasingly influential region.

Museo Ralli Marbella

Located in Marbella, Spain, the Museos Ralli was founded by retired Greek banker Harry Recanati. During numerous visits to Latin America, Mr. Recanati became an avid admirer and collector of art from the region. This enthusiasm led to him founding five museums across the world, including Museo Ralli. The objective of Museo Ralli Marbella is to promote public interest of Latin American art in Europe. Though the museum contains a number of works by European artists, the bulk of the collection comes from Latin America. Furthermore, the Museum maintains its commitment to selecting works based on quality rather than the popularity of the artist. This policy makes the Museo Ralli a great place to discover the works of up-and-coming artists. In addition, with sister museums based in Chile and Uruguay, it can be assured that the Marbella establishment will continue to showcase the artwork of fresh new artists.

Museo Ralli Marbella, Urb.coral Beach, Rio Verde, N-340,km.176, Marbella, Málaga, Spain, ‎+34 952 85 79 23

4. Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona


Barcelona, Spain. Museu DArt Contemporani de Barcelona in Placa dels Angels
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The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona(MACBA) has made its mark in the contemporary art world by encouraging critical thought and cultural awareness through its exhibitions and public lectures. Like many public institutions in Spain, the financial crisis has been a hard blow to its funding, but it has overcome this difficulty by continuing to diversify its collection. While its previous acquisitions included many European works, it had also acquired a large collection of works from South America.

Museum of Contemporary African Art

Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art has been described by many as a ‘museum within a museum’, but really it is a collection of art that transcends both the traditional definition of a museum and its spatial requirements. The project spanning from 1997-2002 has been hosted in many different museums before finding a permanent home at the Tate Modern in London. Mr. Gaba’s project was conceptualized during his time working as an artist in France and the Netherlands, where he realized that European perceptions of African art were fixed on more traditional religious sculptures. This realization led the artist to create his own Museum of Contemporary African Art, which at once questions the structure of modern museums and raises the need for the inclusion of African contemporary art in European museums.

Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG, United Kingdom, ‎+44 20 7887 8888

5. Museum Rietberg


As Switzerland’s only museum solely dedicated to non-European art, the Museum Rietberg in Zurich has played a key role in generating public interest in works of art from Africa, Asia, America and Oceania. The museum has sought not only to display but also to educate its audiences in the culture and history of these regions through exhibitions highlighting specific dynasties, symbols and kingdoms. The Museum has also shed light on how historical cross cultural exchange has influenced European art through a number of exhibitions, including Ivories from Ceylon – Globalisation in the 16th Century; The Fascination of Persia – The Persian-European Dialogue in Seventeenth Century Art & Contemporary Art from Tehran; and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the Art of Cameroon. Recently, a new exhibition, Gastspiel, has brought the Museum Rietberg into the contemporary debate over how non-European art is presented and viewed by the European eye.

6. Reina Sofia


The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid has been undergoing a swift restructuring and conceptual campaign since 2007, led by its director Manuel Borja-Villel. The Reina Sofia has attempted to emphasize the existence of multiple histories of art based on different national and regional experiences. Following a reassessment and rearrangement of its collection in 2009, the museum resists the common tendency to place works from different parts of the world under a rigidly devised time frame for modernity, which does not properly express the context of the work of art. Due to Spain’s historically close relations with Latin America, the Reina Sofia also benefits from increased collaboration with museums and curators from the region, which has allowed it to borrow important collections and host seminars on contemporary Latin American.

7. ZKM


modern building of the ZKM, center for arts and media technology, Karlsruhe, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany
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The ZKM Centre for Art and Media Karlsruhe in Germany has been at the forefront of the call for a reconceptualization of the art world in Europe. Through its exhibitions, the museum encourages its visitors to adopt a contemporary, global, postmodern and post-ethnic view of today’s art scene. One of its projects, GAM – Global Art and the Museum, was developed to specifically focus on the impact of globalization on contemporary art. Through this project, ZKM has established a Global Studies program, a book series, and a number of conferences and exhibitions to spark public debate. GAM’s exhibition The Global Contemporary – Art Worlds after 1989 brought together over 100 artists to address the process of globalization in the art world.
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