More on Bangladesh and the Mus ée Guimet
John C. Huntington
huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Wed Jan 16 16:01:09 UTC 2008
While Matthew is correct in that it is an absurdity that the Musee
Guimet copy pieces, in actuality, it is not an absurdity to be
worried about it. Maybe two decades ago the infamous collector Norton
Simon arranged to have a great image of a Nataraja taken form a
temple in South India for "repairs," had a copy made and put the
piece in display in his Los Angeles collection. Ultimate the piece
was returned and all involved were published as thieves and smugglers
in the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, but no persecutions
nor real repercussions. Simon even got most of his money back.
A colleague in India has recently made the point that the traditional
holders of religious art generally feel vulnerable to theft and
duplicity with the result being that temples, bhandars and other
traditional institutions have become increasing careful about access
and dealing with persons outside their immediate region.
The Norton Simon story, however, is widely known in Museum and art
circles in India and, I presume, Bangladesh. I imagine that they
would not make too fine a point about the real differences between a
private Major museum and the French National Museum. Both, regardless
of funding, are ostensibly public Museums with certain obligations to
their respective constituencies.
When we borrowed the objects for the Circle of Bliss from Nepal, we
met with a great deal of resistance and only prevailed at the last
possible second, largely due to my colleague, Dina Bangdel's family
reputation and personal connections in the government.
Thus, I must venture that the Bangladesh govt. probably simply
decided to err on the side of safety. the great Vajrasattva Bronze
on the cover of the Catalogue is one of the great treasures of the
Indic world and, as an museum professional and art historian, I
cannot argue for a moment that it should have been loaned to anybody.
John C. Huntington
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