The museum was reconceived in 2012 under the direction of Roger M. Buergel. Expanding on the coffee museum founded by Klaus J. Jacobs, the focus until 2021 was on researching and displaying global trade routes and their colonial entanglements. Coffee was joined by other products and commodities crucial to the history of modernity, including cocoa, opium, silk, crude oil and rubber (caoutchouc). Decolonial perspectives on the multiple origins of the present were probed in thematic exhibitions in which art played a key role.  

3 Apr 2021 - 27 Jun 2021
While school came to an abrupt halt last spring some teenagers wanted to continue researching on their life stories that had brought them from Syria, Afganistan, Thailand or Ukraine to Switzerland.

How should I learn?

Theme Talk

27 Jun 2021 3:00 pm
With Eliana Sousa Silva, Margherita Moscardini, Li Mu, Dias & Riedweg, Francesca Ceccherini and Roger M. Buergel
About the artistic part of learning processes, be it in school or in real life.
20 Jun 2021 3:00 pm
With Yann Stricker and Roger M. Buergel
About the self-image of neutral Switzerland and about the relationship between humanitarian work and politics.
14 Nov 2019 - 5 May 2020
The film footage of the “MS Basilea” gives us reason to ask about the stories written by ships. "A Ship Will Not Come" is dedicated to the small stories and rather inconspicuous events. Stories that allow a view of the whole.
25 Oct 2020
With Damian Christinger
Which bodies do ships convey and how do they fit into a global history?
4 Oct 2020
With Hira Nabi (live from Lahore), Adnan Softić and Roger M. Buergel
On the dramatic aspects of the dismantling of ocean liners in Gadani (Pakistan).
13 Sep 2020
For children (5 to 10 years old), unaccompanied by adults
Stories we hear en route are inspired by the adventures of the Swiss merchant navy and other things from the exhibition.
6 Sep 2020
With Alessandro Vanoli (live from Bologna) and Roger M. Buergel
Migration and migratory flows in the Mediterranean Region as starting point for the myth of «Europa».
5 Jul 2020
With Mauricio Dias, Walter Riedweg and Roger M. Buergel
On improvised forms of cooperation with young people and other (rather difficult) actors.
5 Apr 2020
With Christina Wild und Yann Stricker
29 Mar 2020
With Hira Nabi
On the dramatic aspects of the dismantling of ocean liners in Gadani (Pakistan).
10 Mar 2020 6:30 pm
With Hannah Baader, Armin Linke and Roger M. Buergel
The search for traces on the ocean floor, maritime ecology and the limits of international law.
3 Mar 2020 6:30 pm
With Lea Haller
A conversation about world trade companies, money flows and the nation's self-image.
2 Feb 2020 3:00 pm
With Bettina Schuler and Roger M. Buergel
On the reasons why the best part of cinema has found its home in the museum.
12 Jan 2020 3:00 pm
With Mamadou Diallo and Roger M. Buergel
On colonial and postcolonial realities in Africa today.

Story Journey to the Sea

Children's Event

15 Dec 2019 3:00 pm
For children (between 5 and 10 years old)
Stories we hear en route are inspired by the adventures of the Swiss merchant navy and other things from the exhibition.
11 Dec 2019 7:00 pm
With Sophie Mauch
Departing from the stories written by ships in the exhibition we'll explore the world on the water, on different kinds of floating constructions, and see what inspiration we find to tell stories of our own.
24 Nov 2019 3:00 pm
With Eza Komla, Dierk Schmidt, Adnan Softić, Sophia Prinz and Roger M. Buergel
Artist Talk about the artistic approaches to historical truth
16 May 2019 - 3 Nov 2019
Rather than draw on identical notions of “nations”, “epochs” and “cultures”, the Johann Jacobs Museum’s World Exhibition aims to bring into focus the interspaces and interdependencies at the heart of historical and contemporary objects, films and works of art – as well as a number of things that actually elude identification altogether.

Last Exit — Occident

Theme Afternoon

3 Nov 2019
With Beat Wyss
Beat Wyss takes stock of World Exhibitions from a Eurocentric perspective.
29 Oct 2019
With Vera Wolff
Lecture and discussion on material aesthetics and raw materials trade in the World Exhibitions era.
6 Oct 2019
With Sophia Prinz
Lecture and discussion about social and artistic forms of perception.
24 Sep 2019
With Moritz von Brescius
Lecture and discussion about a multifaceted material without which modernity would be unthinkable.
17 Sep 2019
With Monika Wagner
Lecture and discussion about the painting that inspired the exhibition at Johann Jacobs Museum.
7 Sep 2019
An interactive sound installation by the ARK collective will ring out on Zurich’s longest Night of Museums. The musical patterns tell of life along the old colonial trade and migration routes, of the “Yellow Pacific” and the “Black Atlantic”.
14 Jul 2019
With Roger M. Buergel
This lecture outlines the global aspirations (and perils) of two prominent art exhibitions: documenta in Kassel and the Venice Biennale.

Black Abstraction

Theme Night

2 Jul 2019
With Adrienne Edwards
Lecture and discussion about the color “black” and its meaning and beauty in Ellen Gallagher’s painting “Kapsalon Wonder”.
25 Jun 2019
With Christina Wild
A tour focusing on the moments of bewilderment that make global exchange possible.

Country and World

Theme Talk

19 May 2019
With Andreas Spillmann
Talk with Andreas Spillmann (National Museum Zurich, Director) about the global challenges of today's museology.
4 Feb 2019 - 5 May 2019
The Side Exhibition offers deeper insight into the complex and entangled history of Southeast Asia. Works by Quynh Dong - an artist whose biography has its roots in Asia and Bern - dare to build a contemporary Bridge between Vietnam and Switzerland and explore the mystery of cultural identity.
13 Nov 2018 - 5 May 2019
An archaeological project for future remembrance
Tiffany Chung excavates in ruins and urban waste to reveal objects: children’s shoes, window frames, tiles and the like. The artist’s excavation site, called ThủThiêm, is an old city quarter in Saigon (Vietnam).
Tiffany Chung - Begleitausstellung

Strawberries from Vietnam

Theme Afternoon

5 May 2019
With Christina Wild
Introduction into the history of the plantations of Da Lat, French Indochina’s agricultural laboratory in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
16 Apr 2019
With Roger M. Buergel
An introduction to the work of Tiffany Chung
Tiffany Chung - Begleitausstellung


Theme Afternoon

7 Apr 2019
With Erling Kagge
Erling Kagge presents a highly contemporary version of silence, beyond cultural clichés.
7 Apr 2019
With StoryLabs
A session with Storylabs, in which Children and StoryLabbers will explore the experience of silence
26 Mar 2019
With Monika Dommann
Historian Monika Dommann in conversation with Roger M. Buergel
19 Mar 2019
“La 317ème section” (1965) by Pierre Schoendorffer and “Hoah-Binh” (1970) by Raoul Coutard
In preparation for the conversation with Monika Dommann we are showing the films “La 317ème section” (1965) by Pierre Schoendorffer and “Hoah-Binh” (1970) by Raoul Coutard.
5 Mar 2019
With Quynh Dong and Bruno Z'Graggen
Vietnamese-Swiss artist Quynh Dong speaks with Bruno Z'Graggen about her video works “Sweet Noel” (2013) and “Das Aquarium” (2007)

Tiffany Chung

Artist Talk

15 Nov 2018
Tiffany Chung in conversation with Roger M. Buergel.
7 Jun 2018 - 4 Nov 2018
The colliers made by Marie-José Crespin combine products of living and inanimate nature with the sometimes wondrous, sometimes terrible history of trade relations that have shaped the African continent for centuries.

Africa intertwined

Theme Talk

4 Nov 2018
With Andreas Greiner
Beads entered the African continent on caravan routes and became part of everyday life. How do we do historical research when our object of study is volatile and left almost no traces that come close to what we call “document”?
30 Oct 2018
With Manthia Diawara, filmmaker, cultural theorist
A lecture that seeks to explore the inbetweenness of ritual objects and artworks.
23 Oct 2018
With Christina Wild
Flamingo feathers and ivory beads will guide this talk to investigate animals and their migrations as artistic and historical actors.
9 Oct 2018
Passion Aissa Dione by Abdoulaye Konaté
Christina Wild talks about Abdoulaye Konaté's view of African culture.
1 Sep 2018
Sana Khanazi is a guest at the Johann Jacobs Museum for the longest night of Zurich's museums. Traditional sounds from Burkina Faso are translated into a new, contemporary musical style.
26 Aug 2018
With Kati Torda
Kati Torda shares her knowledge about beads and their function in the culture of Ghana
15 Jul 2018
Global Art History and the Challenge of Taste
Chika Okeke-Agulu in conversation with Roger M. Buergel about the comparability of Persian manuscripts, Mauritanian beads, Japanese lacquerware, Peruvian textiles, German woodcuts and Swiss embroidery

Beads and Trade Routes

Thematic Tour

3 Jul 2018
With Roger M. Buergel
Where do the beads lead us, when we trace them back to their place of origin?

Bare Life

Artist Talk

10 Jun 2018
With Romuald Hazoumè
Conversation on the legacy and survival of colonial structures, but also Africa’s contemporary possibilities and the aesthetic power of “making.”

Marie-José Crespin

Artist Talk

8 Jun 2018
A conversation about Crespin’s career as a lawyer, her cultural activities in Senegal and the art of collier necklace-making.
13 Apr 2018 - 14 Oct 2018
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg
or The Museum of our Transcultural Present
Countless things make their way across the globe. The course of this migration can alter not only what these things mean, but the forms they take as well. What does a Croatian national football team jersey signal when worn by a boy in Al-Raqqah?
19 Sep 2016
Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg/ Deutschland
Rearranging Objects, Translating Experiences, Shifting Meanings. The multi-year research and exhibition project “Mobile Worlds“ begins with a large conference and a small exhibition.
8 Feb 2018 - 31 May 2018
Japanese Labourers on Sugar Plantations in Hawai’i
An invitation to cross oceans and genres of art, and to consider practices of framing and unframing in the narration of history.

Where is the art?

Thematic Tour

8 May 2018
With Hans Bjarne Thomsen and Roger M. Buergel
Does it make sense, in an increasingly globalized world, to talk of contemporary Japanese art?

Aiko Tezuka

Artist Talk

29 Apr 2018
Aiko Tezuka dekonstructs textiles to develop key elements of Japanese aesthetics.

Picture Bride

Movie Night

17 Apr 2018
A Japanese-American film drama from 1994
The film depicts in a realistic manner the situation of Japanese laborers on sugar plantations in Hawai’i at the beginning of the 20th century.

Global Music


3 Apr 2018
Japanese Plantation and Coalminer Songs
Thematic Tour with live performance of Japanese songs from the coal mines of Kyushu (tanko-bushi) and the sugar plantations of Hawaii (holehole-bushi).

Wagashi Candy


24 Mar 2018
Traditional Japanese confections made from sugar. With Tomoyo Jäger
Young people learn techniques to produce the colorful, artfully-shaped confections that are served in Japan during traditional tea ceremonies.
6 Mar 2018
With Christina Wild and Martin Dusinberre
Excursus on the fabrication, circulation, and transformation of one of the largest collections of ethnographic objects and photographs to leave the Pacific World in the 19th Century.
29 Aug 2017 - 28 Jan 2018
Curated by Marcelo Rezende und Eduardo Simantob
African Brazil, St. Gallen embroidery and a modernist utopia

Denise Bertschi

Artist Talk

5 Nov 2017
What was the Swiss presence on Brazilian coffee plantations all about and how does the situation in Helvécia look today?
18 May 2017 - 20 Aug 2017
Stealing the Trapeze or a history of Singapore, told from a sailor`s viewpoint.
20 Aug 2017
By Milica Topalovic
On Singapore’s transformation from a backwater colonial port to the new nation of industrial middle class housed in public high rises.
28 Feb 2017 - 14 May 2017
Curated by Wolfgang Scheppe
Chinese fire offerings and the cult of globalized consumption
9 May 2017
By Petra Martin
Money, Gucci shoes, Rolex watches, iPhones – anything that serves as status symbol is burned. Apparently status is useful in the afterlife as well.
17 Nov 2016 - 19 Feb 2017
Artists from all over the world reflect on the origins of a global present at a time when China, the new, global power of the 21st century, is just starting to constitute itself.
Partners: Suzhou Museum

Thomas Bayrle

Artist Talk

10 Feb 2017
Discussion about the aesthetic spirit that shapes everyday life in China.
2 Feb 2017
By Peter J. Carroll
The 1929 group suicide of four female student nurses in the city of Guangzhou belied for many a fatal weakness of youth unable to weather the vicissitudes of modern competition and progress.

China in 1937


30 Nov 2016
With Eugene Wang
What can the short epoch between the collapse of the last dynasty and the Japanese invasion teach us about contemporary and future China and its relationship to the world?
21 Aug 2016 - 20 Oct 2016
Suzhou Art Museum, Suzhou/ China
"Suzhou Documents" aims to access China’s artistic legacy and comprehend its environmental and technological challenges through the prism of the ancient city of Suzhou.
Partners: Suzhou Museum
14 Jul 2016 - 13 Nov 2016
How does Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer relate to anarchy? And what connects La Chaux-de-Fonds in the Jura highlands of Switzerland with Jingdezhen, the “porcelain capital” in China’s Jiangxi Province?
26 Apr 2016 - 10 Jul 2016
A book is dissected. Not just any book, but the novel “Terras do sem fim,“ a classic of Latin American literature. Layers of meaning uncovered in the process expose the blueprint of colonial cocoa production.
16 Jun 2016
With Francisco Godoy Vega
On the key experiences of Latin American conceptual art and their potential to activate a creative imagination of the present.

Gonzalo Díaz

Artist Talk

19 May 2016
With Gonzalo Díaz and Roger Buergel
Gonzalo Díaz in conversation with Roger M. Buergel on the limits of representation and his work on “Terras do dem fim”
21 Jan 2016 - 17 Apr 2016
The exhibition explores the singular moment of Japanese modernization by taking a close look at the patterns on historical kimonos.
11 Mar 2016
From the “novelty patterns” on omoshirogara propaganda kimonos to modern Japanese history and back.
6 Feb 2016
An international panel discusses Japan’s modernization and its expression in art and design.
1 Oct 2015 - 17 Jan 2016
An experimental set-up of materials and forms without which Maya Deren’s “Haitian Rushes” cannot be understood.
16 Jan 2016
With Martina Kudláček and Michael Oppitz
An intensive look into the abysses of the transcultural experience and phenomena that cannot be translated.
10 Nov 2015
By Silvy Chakkalakal
How “foreign culture” as a place of longing, an alternate reality and contrast to modernity emerged as an ongoing motif in 1920s-era social debates in the United States.
7 Jul 2015 - 27 Sep 2015
The wave bridges epochs with no other obvious connection, incompatible areas of expertise and disparate realities. With the wave as our guiding motif we explore the Jacobs library to shed light on the present-day, transcultural mix stemming from trade relations and hegemonies, and the migration of people and things.
19 Sep 2015
With Alina Martimyanova and Damian Christinger
An exchange of ideas on wave iconography in Chinese and Japanese art.
20 Mar 2015 - 28 Jun 2015
Exhibition and boutique
Ines Doujak’s installation raises questions about the historical entanglement of dominance, power and revolt, racism and sexism. At the same time, it sounds out the poetic and imaginary resources of revolutionary resistance: indeed, of resistance per se.

The Whip


18 May 2015
Von Iris Därmann
The whip is an ancient instrument of command, submission and chastisement. Its sharp crack is a reminder that neither man nor beast can withdraw its involuntary labor or service for another human being without painful consequences.
9 Dec 2014 - 15 Mar 2015
The associative networks Allan Sekula constructs to capture and salvage maritime trade are as far-flung as they are finely woven.
Partners: Maumaus
28 Feb 2015
With Roger Buergel, Benjamin Buchloh, Manthia Diawara, Hilde van Gelder, Alberto Toscano
Conference in the context of the book presentation "Allan Sekula. Ship of Fools/The Dockers‘ Museum".
Partners: Maumaus
14 Jun 2014 - 30 Nov 2014
Exhibition Series
We follow Italian-Brazilian designer and architect Lina Bo Bardi on her journey through the Brazilian northeast and to the edges of her own perception. The aim of this trip was to deduce a picture of society and its emancipatory possibilities from the simple forms of a poverty-stricken culture.
30 Sep 2014
By Zeuler R. Lima
In his lecture Zeuler R. Lima introduces Lina Bo Bardi as a curator with a distinct interest in exhibitions as a learning experience.
12 Sep 2014
By Silvana Rubino
Why would the architect Lina Bo Bardi, who defined herself as a modernist and rationalist, concern herself with the cultural expression of an impoverished rural population?

Lina Bo Bardi


13 May 2014
By Roger M. Buergel
Excursus on one of the 20th century’s most important architects and future exhibitions at Seefeldquai.
12 Apr 2014 - 9 Jun 2014
With a film installation by Harun Farocki
A film and various coffee services made of silver explore the repressed history of European prosperity.
21 Jan 2014 - 8 Apr 2014
“A Season in Shell” follows the passage of the pink abalone from a co-operative of Somali fishermen via Dubai to China where its flesh is dealt as an exquisite delicacy and its shell refined into mother of pearl.

Somali Connections


19 Mar 2014
The Johann Jacobs Museum hosts the AOZ (Asylum Organization Zurich)’s “DiskutierBar.”
7 Sep 2013 - 12 Jan 2014
The Johann Jacobs Museum’s first exhibition provides a rough outline of some of the intercultural hybrid forms that have developed along global trade routes, which will largely determine the Museum’s exhibitions in years to come. It consists mainly of research materials such as 18th-century porcelain figurines from Meissen, archive material relating to Maya Deren and photographs by contemporary artists Lidwien van de Ven and George Osodi.