James Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific

The exhibition in the Kunsthalle (Art and Exhibition Hall) in Bonn focuses on the European perspective of the new world. In the spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, it seeks to bring together and crosslink for the first time research results from a wide range of disciplines, such as natural history, maritime history, art history and early ethnology. Cook’s expeditions into the South Seas brought about a fundamental change in the way Europe saw the world and ushered in the dawn of modern Europe under the auspices of the Enlightenment belief in the power of progress. A fascinating selection of some 550 objects and artefacts recount the pioneering voyages of James Cook and his international team of scientists. Many of the exquisite feather ornaments, wooden sculptures and other Oceanic artefacts are of incalculable value to art historians, since comparable objects have all but disappeared from the Pacific region. Made before the fateful encounter with the Europeans, these objects allow present-day Pacific cultures to assert or rediscover their own identity in today’s globalised world. The ethnographic items are complemented by magnificent paintings and drawings by the artists accompanying Cook on his voyages. These works capture the unique mix of euphoria and inquisitiveness that characterised the explorers’ encounter with the exotic world of the South Seas. Ship models, original sea charts and navigation instruments bring to life James Cook’s daring voyages into the unknown.