Lucie Folan & Bronwyn Campbell, Guest Editors
This special issue of TAASA Review explores Asian art provenance research and its relationship to collecting ethics, cultural heritage preservation, crime, repatriation and art-historical knowledge. It is a timely focus, as questions about the origins and ownership histories of Asian works of art are increasingly raised in the press and in academic and legal forums, especially in relation to the international trade in illicit art. While provenance research is essential in identifying and redressing the loss of heritage material that has historically occurred across Asia, it is equally important for an understanding of the legal art trade with its shifts in collecting methods, tastes and ethics, and for recovering details that enrich our knowledge of Asian art history.
The issue opens with an overview of the widely reported cases related to New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, charged in relation to temple robberies in India and the selling of stolen and illegally exported art to private collectors and international museums, including Australian institutions. Lucie Folan and Natalie Seiz, curators at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW), draw on firsthand knowledge to discuss the allegations and the implications for their respective galleries, both of which repatriated a sculpture as a result of the affair. They discuss the possible implications for Asian art representation in Australia, and the impetus for improved collecting standards and dedicated provenance research projects.
Museums are often negatively implicated in provenance discourse, cast simply as self-serving collectors of cultural objects that rightfully belong elsewhere. Articles by St John Simpson and Joanna Barrkman suggest a more nuanced reality, accentuating museum contributions to restitution, protection and preservation of culture. Barrkman writes about the collections compiled in Baguia, East Timor in 1935 by the Museum der Kulturen, Basel, and its value in understanding tradition and change in textile production in a region which has suffered devastating cultural heritage loss. Simpson outlines the destruction and looting of cultural material in war-torn Afghanistan, and the British Museum’s fostering of recovered works of art in anticipation of their safe return to Afghanistan.
The spirit of international cooperation is celebrated in Melanie Eastburn’s interview with Kong Vireak, Director of the National Museum of Cambodia. The discussion focuses on recent Cambodian restitution cases, particularly the efforts to reunify sculptures from fragments dispersed across international collections, realised through collaboration and shared heritage goals.
Broadening the scope, Natali Pearson’s article examines the issues of commercial underwater excavation and the complex ethics underlying museum displays of archaeological objects. The story of a Chinese ship’s cargo bound for the Middle East, wrecked in Indonesian waters and on display in Singapore highlights issues that apply on land and under the sea.
Tarun Nagesh and Russell Kelty look at provenance in the Japanese art context. Nagesh describes Queensland Art Gallery’s collection of netsuke acquired from Dr Gertrude Langer, an influential Queensland art historian and patron. Kelty thoughtfully introduces Japanese approaches to cultural heritage preservation. Underpinned by centuries-old traditions of caring for cultural treasures, the model ensures that Japanese art and its provenance is recorded, but made accessible to collectors worldwide.
Relevant for collectors, Bronwyn Campbell’s article explains some of the potential legal and ethical pitfalls of the art market, and the importance of provenance information in legitimising ownership and preserving art-historical and monetary value.
Charlotte Galloway considers the complexities surrounding the importation into Australia of Chinese antiquities and other cultural objects and the difficulties art experts face in working with officials to establish authenticity and legality. While provenance information assists art history researchers, conservators Andrea Wise and Claudia Motolese illustrate the role of science in establishing provenance, specifically the origin, age and significance of a group of Mien Fang paintings created in early 19th century Vietnam.
Internationally there is growing awareness of the movements of art objects, and the implications of places of origin, collecting methods and ownership histories. In the context of Asian art, the term provenance is now closely associated with illicit material. Sustained provenance research is therefore necessary to clarify the histories of individual works of art and shift the perception that all Asian material in Australia is suspect. It is hoped that this edition of TAASA Review cultivates interest in and appreciation of provenance research through articles that indicate the manifold applications of Asian art provenance research.
Finally, we are sure that all TAASA members will join us in wishing Melanie Eastburn, Curator of Asian Art at the NGA since 2004, all the best in her new role as Senior Curator of Asian Art at the AGNSW.
3 EDITORIAL: PROVENANCE - Lucie Folan & Bronwyn Campbell, Guest Editors
4 ART CRIME AND ITS AFTERMATH: AUSTRALIA’S RESPONSE TO THE SUBHASH KAPOOR CASES - Lucie Folan & Natalie Seiz
8 COLLECTOR’S CONUNDRUM: THE ‘PROVENANCE’ CHALLENGE FOR TODAY’S COLLECTOR - Bronwyn Campbell
10 SHIPWRECKED? THE ETHICS OF UNDERWATER CULTURAL HERITAGE IN INDONESIA - Natali Pearson
12 RETURNING CAMBODIA’S TREASURES: SCULPTURES FROM KOH KER AND BEYOND - Melanie Eastburn
15 ADAPTATION IN BAGUIA’S TEXTILES FROM 1935-2014: TRACING CHANGE THROUGH A MUSEUM COLLECTION - Joanna Barrkman
18 PRESERVING JAPAN’S CULTURAL HERITAGE: A MODEL APPROACH - Russell Kelty
20 CHINESE ANTIQUITIES, AUTHENTICATION AND LAW: THE ROLE OF THE ASIAN ART HISTORIAN - Charlotte Galloway
22 RESTORING AFGHANISTAN’S CULTURAL HERITAGE - St John Simpson
24 CONSERVING YAO SCROLL PAINTINGS AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF AUSTRALIA - Claudia Motolese and Andrea Wise
25 IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: SMALL TREASURES AND A GRAND LEGACY: DR GERTRUDE LANGER’S NETSUKE COLLECTION AT QAG - Tarun Nagesh
26 EXHIBITION REVIEW: THE EMBROIDERERS' GUILD OF VICTORIA’S THREADS OF ASIA - Susan Scollay
27 RECENT TAASA ACTIVITIES
29 TAASA MEMBERS’ DIARY: JUNE - AUGUST 2016
30 WHAT’S ON: JUNE - AUGUST 2016 - Compiled by Tina Burge