The Bonn Women's Museum

The Bonn Women's Museum – World's first squatted Museum

The Bonn Women's Museum
© Wikimedia Commons Autor: Hans Weingartz

Marianne Pitzen is a self-effacing artist who found a need and filled it. Pitzen was born in Stuttgart on 29 May 1948 and held her first official art gallery exhibit no more than 21 years after her birth.  Obviously, Pitzen wastes no time getting done what needs to be done.  The need she found in the late ’70s was a lack of female influence in the art world and her solution was the founding of the Bonn Women’s Museum—which now addresses not only the need for more female influence in the world of art, but also numerous feminist issues that touch upon the emotional, psychological, spiritual, physical, social, and educational oppression of women.

The implied rationale is that it is utter foolishness to hamstring 50% of a nation’s talent in order to adhere to a crippling, grotesque, absurd, destructive, and pervasive philosophy of male chauvinism.

The Founding of the Bonn Women’s Museum

In 1981, artists and architects collaborated in the creation of a place for women’s art and women’s history in a vacant department store in Bonn’s old town.  “Actually, we intended that it should be a museum only for that summer,” said Pitzen, and the Bonn city fathers had agreed; however, rather than withdraw from the vacant department store several months later as agreed, they remained.  It was the world’s first squatters’ museum and, since then, the Bonn Women’s Museum has become an integral part of the Bonn museum landscape.  In retrospect, Pitzen confirmed that “we could not immediately tell the city what we had planned.”

The Museum in Danger

On 12 October 2014, Die Welt reported that Pitzen, an avowed feminist, is simultaneously a product of and a proponent of the women’s movement in Germany and throughout the world.  She frequently organized quite effective demonstrations against male domination of the art world.  This growing awareness led inexorably to her founding the Bonn Women’s Museum in 1981—the first of its kind in the world—only to have the Bonn city fathers push for its closure no later than 2019, despite Pitzen’s having won a €3,000 prize from the Foundation of Obstreperous Women and the political support of Ute Schäfer, the then-Minister for Family, Children, Youth, Culture, and Sport of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (15 July 2010 – 01 October 2015).

It took three years for the city to capitulate to Pitzen and her confederates and Pitzen is now the director of the officially recognized Bonn Women’s Museum and she continues in that capacity to fight the good fight.

Spotlight Exhibitions at the Museum

One of the Bonn Women’s Museum’s signal exhibits spotlighted by Die Welt (26 July 2014) was the plight of single parents, particularly single mothers, in the wake of their shabby treatment by federal and state legislators.  The federal and state governments—the administrations (officials and bureaucrats), the legislatures, and the judiciary—discriminated against single-parent families (20% of German families) vis-à-vis financial maintenance as well as income taxes and social law.  Single parents led lives of quiet desperation and Pitzen sought to rub the public’s nose in it.  “Making women’s problems visible is one of our most important tasks,” said Pitzen and backed up her commitment with an exhibit devoted to single mothers, holding that single mothers’ situations needed to be examined within the context of their history.  Of particular concern was the government’s paternalistic attitude toward single mothers and toward so-called illegitimate births.  Preferring to put a square peg into a round hole (“etwas Unmögliches machen wollen”), the government, stuck up to its waist in the repressiveness of the 18th and 19th centuries and still in organized religion’s thrall, assigned a father, i.e., a magistrate, to such children, thereby treating the mothers like children as well.  Pitzen’s efforts to liberate women and enlighten men put the fox into the henhouse (“den Bock zum Gärtner machen”).

Since its establishment, the Bonn Women’s Museum has sponsored more than 500 thematic exhibits—it prefers temporary exhibits in order to keep its messages fresh and relevant to visitors.  Its main cultural and academic thrusts continue to emphasize the contribution of female artists and art, both domestic and international, against a virtual relief map of art history and women’s history and in conjunction with simultaneous and, sometimes, spontaneous events.

Famous Artists at the Bonn Women’s Museum

The museum’s collection includes works from such legendary female artists as Käthe Kollwitz, Katharina Sieverding, Valie Export, Maria Lassnig, and Yoko Ono, a library-cum-archive focusing on specialist topics, including feminism, feminist politics, post-WWII art, and numerous other linked subjects.  The museums advisors regularly organize workshops, seminars, meetings, and other events of particular interest to female artists and the advisors have been instrumental in establishing similar museums worldwide.  For example, Berlin’s Frauenmuseum is linked with the Bonn Women’s Museum, which also supports the prestigious Gabriele Münter Prize for female artists and which regularly hosts art and design fairs and maintains its own publishing house, studios, and galleries.

The Bonn Women’s Museum is at Im Krausfeld 10, 53111 Bonn; telefon +49 228 691344.  Its hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 1400-1800 and Sundays 1100-1800.  It is closed on Mondays.  Admission fees vary:  Individuals, €6,00; Concessions & Groups of 5 or more, @ €4,50; and Students, €3,00.  The museum’s URL is http://www.frauenmuseum.de/ and its eMail is info@frauenmuseum.de.  Don’t merely visit this museum.  Start your own in your city.

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