More on Bangladesh and the Mus ée Guimet

John C. Huntington huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Wed Jan 16 16:01:09 UTC 2008

Dear List,

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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