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New research programme Family of Objects

Family of Objects is a two and a half year study programme in the depot in which the collection will, in co-creation with the public, be investigated in terms of family relationships.

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The museum’s collection has around 151,000 (art) objects: from world-famous masterpieces to forgotten gems with stories that are more than worthwhile.

Imagine the collection as a family. One of those large families with lots going on under the surface. There is the matriarch, followed by other mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. There are children, distant nephews and nieces, amusing uncles, eccentric (great) aunts and in-laws, or relatives who aren’t really related - or perhaps they are. There are the black sheep and the prodigal sons. There is much love, but also much strife. There are stories known to everybody, but also secrets, skeletons in the closet and hidden treasures that deserve attention.

The collection is a wealth shared by everyone in Rotterdam, and at the same time its importance reaches far beyond the city’s (and country’s) borders. We would like to strengthen further the relationship with the public by actively involving (potential) visitors with the collection through interaction, story-telling and new knowledge production.

We will be doing this with Family of Objects, a public programme lasting two and a half years. In it we take a look at the collection,  in co-creation with visitors and a number of permanent partners, in terms of family relationships. We will be studying the relationships between the objects themselves and at the same time investigating all sorts of relationships between people and objects. The title of the project refers to Family of Man, the photo exhibition mounted in 1955 by artist/curator Edward Steichen for the MoMA in New York, which demonstrated what connects people with each other.

When you view the collection as one big family, it opens up a whole new playing field. Sometimes the family resemblance is obvious, for example because the works belong to a series or were made by the same artist. Other relationships often remain obscure. The aim of Family of Objects is to expose these new relationships and create a dialogue in which we search, conceive and tell the associated stories.  We are also hoping to find new ways of presenting the collection. 


We regard Family of Objects as a preliminary study for when the collection can once again be exhibited in the museum building. Before the closure, the collection was largely exhibited from an ‘art history’ perspective. But what does the public see, and what can this teach us about our collection? We hope we can involve the public more through interaction, dialogue and active participation. The collection provides the impetus for us to enter into conversation with each other about the things that matter to us. Moreover: together you know a bit more.  Everybody has a view on art. There’s no need to obtain a degree in art history before you visit Boijmans or any other museum come to that. 
Thanks to Family of Objects, viewers and visitors are transformed into ‘participants’ who become involved in an active and visible way with the depot and the collection with contributions for the depot app, the museum website and the depot itself. Captions with interpretations by children can be an example of this, and so too can short articles, a podcast, animation, artistic interventions or a short video portrait.In this way, the contributions to the collection by the public can be secured and visible. 

Would you like to help discover new stories - or make them up yourself - and pass them on?

The programme

Family of Objects consists of five thematic rounds, each lasting six months, in which participants (public and staff) create a genealogy of items in the collection. Factual information and academic knowledge will be interwoven with associative insights and imagination.  In this way, we hope to get to know better both the items in the collection and the public and to strengthen the link between the collection and the public.

The programme will last for two and a half years and is divided into five themes:

  • Now: Here is Maya! The presentation of the mother object in the Depot.
  • From September 2022: Maya is looking for a partner... Who do you vote for?
  • From March 2023: All in the family - the family grows
  • From September 2023: Arguments break out, about generation gaps and conflict
  • From March 2024: The love between man and thing

The term family is used in the broadest sense of the word and offers an open structure, like a frame story. In each round, a new generation or branch of the family is added and together we look for new relatives and their stories.

Fase 1: Maya partner

At the moment we are in stage 1, the stage in which Maya is presented and exhibited in the depot. Pupils at the Maria School, students attending the Melanchthon college and residents of the Louis Borgsate residential care centre are developing profiles and are looking, together with the Boijmans team, for items in the collection that could possibly be a good match with Maya.  From September, the candidate partners will be presented in the depot and voting can begin.  Who will Maya be starting a family with? We need your help with this. Download the depot app while visiting the depot and answer the questions we have about Maya. This will ultimately help us choose the perfect partner for Maya.

The contributions from the public and new information will be published on this project page on the website. Some contributions will be given a visible place in the depot and be added to our information system.

Fase 1: Maya  partner
Foto: Lotte Stekelenburg

This is Maya. She will play a central role in the first stage of Family of Objects, a public programme lasting for two and a half years whereby visitors and museum staff investigate together the relationships between items in the collection and enrich that collection with new stories. 

Maya, created by the Finnish ceramicist Erna Aaltonen, is a special case. There are tens of thousands of ceramic items, but for years on end, she has remained a loner. Now Maya wants to start a family and is looking for a partner...

Join in!

Maya is looking for a partner and we need you to assist us! But who exactly is Maya? We know a number of things about her, but not that many. What was her life like in Finland, what did she experience in Maastricht, what does she dream about? Maya will be presented in the depot on 7 June, and from then on, we will be asking a new question about her every week in the depot app. With your answers, we will build up a profile of Maya, so that, after summer, we can start the search for a partner. Will you help?

During your visit to the depot, scan the QR code near Maya to add her to your collection. From then on you can answer questions about Maya.


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