Acquisition of the Werner Nekes Collection

A Joint Initiative To Preserve The Unique Werner Nekes Collection In Germany

The Werner Nekes Collection, with around 25,000 objects on the history of the visual arts and viewing, is one of the largest collections of its kind in the world. It is as unique as it is outstanding in its diversity and breadth. It not only documents visual culture since early modern times, but also deals with early forms of visual storytelling from a global perspective and includes objects from numerous continents. Thanks to the joint efforts of three institutions and eight sponsors, this collection could be preserved for Germany and made accessible to the public: The Theaterwissenschaftliche Sammlung of the University of Cologne, the DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, Frankfurt am Main, and the Filmmuseum Potsdam, as an institute of the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF, jointly aquired the collection in summer 2020.

The acquisition of the collection was funded and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, the Cultural Foundation of the States, the Hessian Cultural Foundation, the Hessian Ministry of Science and Art, the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg, the Adolf and Luisa Haeuser Foundation for the Promotion of Art and Culture, the Dr. Marschner Foundation and the Ostdeutsche Sparkassenstiftung together with the Mittelbrandenburgische Sparkasse in Potsdam.

The aim of the three institutions is to jointly document the collection and make it accessible to the public. A digital platform will serve as an instrument for research and documentation of the collection. Selected objects from the collection will also be on display in the permanent exhibition of the DFF in Frankfurt am Main, in the show depot of Filmmuseum Potsdam and in various North Rhine-Westphalian museums. Plans for a larger special exhibition are currently being developed in collaboration with the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne. In addition, an exhibition from the collection’s holdings will be curated and will tour worldwide.

The History of the Werner Nekes Collection

The collection offers the unique opportunity to study visual cultures since early modern times. It allows the exploration and mediation not only of the prehistory of film, but also of the history of viewing and audiovisual perception to a previously unattained historical depth.

Part of the collection is a library with a total of 5,550 books. It includes printed works dating back to the 15th century. The spectrum ranges from instruction manuals, brochures and handbooks to historical research literature as well as illustrated and luxury volumes. In addition to exceptional and rare copies, the library also includes more recent research literature. The graphic arts collection of the Werner Nekes Collection (15,500 objects) includes high-quality prints (often entire series and sets, for example of peep show views), commercial art and optical games of all kinds (photographs, hand shadows, postcards, etchings, engravings, lithographs, posters, distorted images, anamorphoses). Among the approximately 2,400 optical apparatuses are peep-boxes, magic lanterns with a large collection of magic lantern images, phantasmagorias, perspective and shadow theaters, as well as optical toys and early film equipment up to the first mass-produced television set from 1926 in a wide range.

The Exotic Dancer, Clam Shell Mutoscope Reel, around 1900
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Helmut Buchen, Anna Wagner

One Collection, Three Locations

The three institutions take possession of parts of the collection in accordance with their shares (Cologne 50%, Frankfurt 29%, Potsdam 21%), yet they always keep the collection in its entirety and unique composition in mind. Each of the three institutions receives a selection of exhibits that represents the entire collection in the spirit of Werner Nekes. The universal character of the collection will thus be visible and comprehensible at all three locations. In addition, each institution will have the opportunity at any time in the future to lend objects that are in the care of one of the other partners. A joint database will keep the collection together and allow all cooperation partners, researchers and the general public to carry out their research.

English Podcast „Everything is film“ // Part 2

DFF Director Ellen Harrington about the acquisition of the Collection Werner Nekes


Video thumbnail image: Martin Engelbrecht, Earthquake in Lissabon (General view), Hand-colorised copperplate engravings, Augsburg around 1760.
© Rheinisches Bildarchiv, Helmut Buchen, Anna Wagner