Showing posts with label Washington DC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Washington DC. Show all posts

May 17, 2013

Padma Kaimal, author of "Scattered Goddesses: Travels with the Yoginis" traveled to museums to study the legacy from a lost temple in South India



Kait Murphy (ARCA '11) in front of 10th
century 
Kanchipuram yogini
at the Sackler Galleries of Art in
Washington D.C. 
Kait Murphy (ARCA 2011) interviews Padma Kaimal, the Author of “Scattered Goddesses: Travels with the Yoginis” which examines the cultural history, theft, and reunion of South Indian temple sculptures.

What happens to sacred objects lost over the centuries? What stories can they tell? Does their meaning change? Padma Kaimal, professor of art and art history and Asian studies at Colgate University, dreams of reuniting 10th century goddesses from a temple in South India. She chronicles the journey of these objects and their collective meaning.  Their creation, dispersal, theft, sale, and museum acquisitions paint a colorful history that has been pieced together to explore how and why objects travel around the globe.

In Kaimal's new book, "Scattered Goddesses: Travels with the Yoginis," we can look at the storied past of most (but not all) goddesses that once graced a now-lost temple in Kanchipuram, India.

Through Kaimal’s outreach to museums and scholars around the world, 19 sculptures re-emerged from the original 64 in museums and private collections planting the beginnings of a reunion and telling the tale of their travels, theft, sale, and current locations.

Some highlights from an interview with Padma Kaimal:
KM: How did you get involved in this project? 
PK: I became involved while looking at another 8th century monument in the same region and noticed the goddesses were really important.  Starting in 2003, I emailed museums and a bunch responded and invited me to look at their files. They would email scans of their images and I started diagramming and mapping where they all were. 
KM:  What is the history of the statues? 
PK: The only information to go on for dating them is from their style and comparison to carved objects in northern Tamilnadu in the first 3 quarters of the 10th c.  Sometime between the 10th c -19th c, the temple was broken into and each of the goddesses was damaged to some degree with features hacked off like their noses and hands.  Evidence from other research shows that all other religions were afraid of this sect of Hindu tantric goddesses.  This was a secret sect so most people viewing seductive powerful women were frightened and didn’t understand their message. 
At some point in the early 20th century, seven goddess sculptures were salvaged and reassembled into a new temple.  In 1926, a poor laborer reported to a French archeologist about interesting objects he found.  This archeologist sent photos and descriptions to an art dealer back in Paris, which traced the objects directly from India to France. 
Back in Paris, France, C.T. Loo was the single most important art dealer with access to Asian art. His markets were Europe and the United States.  He had high standards for the works he acquired. He re-educated museums on what they needed to be buying in terms of high art.  He got the museums on board and changed the collections.  His goal was about the art preservation and education in addition to being a profitable businessman.  Loo was behind the French archaeologist’s research in India and he paid his travel and room and board to find art.  Also perhaps involved in the acquisition of these objects was the British director of the Madras Government museum.  He was probably aware of the extraction and was able to retain two of the objects so that they would stay in Madras (now Chennai), India.  In 1926, Loo began to sell the objects to various collectors and museums with the last one sold in 1960. 
With the dispersal of the objects, the book exposes fragments along the path and helps   connect the vectors to figure out where the objects were and ended up.  There are still two goddesses that haven’t been found and it is thought that they are in private hands somewhere.  Further research will help continue the chase.  There is theft and rescue in this story but there is no separation between the good and bad guys.  The same people were acting with motives we admire as well as those we deplore. The goddesses will always be somewhere else, even if they are some day repatriated to India.  All trace of their original home has been lost. 
KM: What is the status of the project?
PK: I am continuing to travel around to the different museums I went to for the research where the statues are located. Now some of these museums want me to return to share with their communities the stories of these objects on permanent display. But they are displayed by themselves and have lost their context. 
One of my current projects is to go to each museum and re-contextualize the objects for curators and communities and those who support their museums.  I want them to be on board and know they have amazing objects.  Since government funding is disappearing and museums rely more on local buy in, that education is important. 
Some places identify the museums as the bad guys in cultural property theft appropriation, which is an unfortunate tendency of the blame game.  Museums are the last stop and we have to think about the whole chain of transport and extraction as well as the museums themselves. How do we support the museum’s responsibility and their response to the histories? We need to support them so they take care of the objects.  We also need to convince them to tell the journey of objects in the display.  Adding photographs and describing the long road of their history are important factors in leading to a reunion. 
KM: What's next?
PK: I will continue to speak to museums as long as they want me and I would be happy to help to broker some trades to begin to reunite the objects.  Each museum has one or a few object from various sites.  It may be possible to facilitate some switches to reassemble the goddesses in an historical recreation.  When you see these goddesses with each other, it is very exciting and they mean something different together than apart.  They are variations on a theme and share the same basic physical format but with different objects in hand, seated on platforms, different hair and eyes.  When the pattern emerges, it makes clear that visualizing Shakti, feminine force/power, was the part of the intent of the artists. 
The Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art in Washington DC, have put together an exhibition on yoga as a tantric practice which will open this October 2013. Kaimal is a consultant on which sculptures might join the Sackler Gallery’s Kanchipuram yogini. The exhibition will be open October 19, 2013 through January 26, 2014. 
Details on the exhibit can be found: http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/future.asp

January 25, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 - ,, 1 comment

National Press Club event: "Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World's Richest Museum" - Jan. 24, 2012

Jason Felch and Tanya Lervik (ARCA Alum)
by Tanya K. Lervik, ARCA Alum

WASHINGTON DC - Tonight the National Press Club hosted a lively panel discussion on the topic of looted antiquities as exemplified by the J. Paul Getty Museum debacle. The panel, which was moderated by the congenial James Grimaldi, investigative reporter for the Washington Post, featured Jason Felch (in person) and Ralph Frammolino (phoning in from Bangladesh) - the two authors of "Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum." The book is the culmination of five years of investigative reporting inspired by a Los Angeles Times series for which Felch and Frammolino were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. They were joined on the panel by Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum and Arthur Houghton, a former curator at the Getty Museum who spoke passionately on behalf of museums.

The discussion covered a wide range of topics – from the basics of international law and the ethical responsibility of museums to the specifics of various transgressions that occurred at the Getty. Felch and Frammolino described the scope of the problem and how they came upon the antiquities story while researching the lavish spending of a Getty executive, Barry Munitz. In the course of their investigation, they were approached by a “Greek chorus of Deep Throats” who informed them that the executive’s indiscretions paled in comparison.

Arthur Houghton commented on his experience at the Getty and recruited members of the audience (including yours truly) to illustrate the donation tax fraud scheme that he discovered was being perpetrated by one-time curator, Jiri Frel. Houghton was instrumental in putting an end to that practice, but he was also the author of the “smoking gun” memo often cited as evidence that the Getty Museum management was aware they were acquiring looted works in contravention of the 1970 UNESCO convention. Houghton also suffered some uncomfortable moments when the conversation turned to his role as the originator of the Getty’s controversial policy of “optical due diligence” wherein they would generally accept an antiquity’s provenance as provided by dealers without stringently investigating its validity.

Before entertaining questions from the packed Press Club Ballroom, the session closed with thoughts for the future. Gary Vikan of the Walters Art Museum proposed that perhaps the best way to address the perennial tug-of-war between art-rich/cash-poor source countries and art-poor/cash rich consumer countries would be to encourage a system of long-term loans. In the wake of the Italian government’s prosecution of former Getty Museum curator, Marion True, the Getty returned a number of important items, but the Italian government also agreed to lend the museum significant items to help fill the void.

Such a model could be used to perpetuate the objectives of “universal museums” aiming to display the breadth of human creativity without swelling the demand for looted antiquities. It would also encourage sharing of knowledge and expertise. Aggressively pursuing a series of long-term loans rather than permanent acquisitions certainly honors the value of our shared human heritage without the potential ethical pitfalls of purchase. Though long-terms loans address neither the issue of private collectors nor their museum bequests, it does give hope for the future. Tonight's discussion served to highlight the pivotal, complex nature of the debate and the far-reaching effects of the Italian efforts to repatriate looted antiquities.

November 17, 2011

Part One: Conserving the Treasured Wall Fabrics of the Turkish Ballroom 2002-2007

Julia at work in 2004
Julia M. Brennan
ARCA Washington DC Correspondent

Part one

In 2002 the Turkish government launched the renovation of the 1606 23rd Street, NW mansion; every detail both structural and decorative. It took four years. I served on a team consisting of an architect, engineer, designer, curator, conservators and appraisers evaluating the ballroom wall hangings. The main question was how much life remains? Could they be aesthetically and structurally restored to validate the cost of conservation? Discussions included possible replacement with reproduction weavings from high scale design houses, to simulate the overall look but not historic techniques. Another option considered was having new ‘embroideries’ produced in Turkey. (Could that even be done?) Concerns about the structural integrity of the walls to prevent future damage were hammered out. Since the entire mansion was going to have a grand face lift, these textiles had to meet the same aesthetic bar. Otherwise, the inclination was for retirement and replacement with in a newer look, a ‘proven’ longer term wall treatment.

Detail of stains
Nearly 100 years in situ had severely damaged the 515 square feet of wall fabrics. Visible from the floor, about 25% of the fabrics were in severe condition - badly stained, disintegrating, falling apart, and truly disfigured. Huge black stains around window frames marked where the silks were completely rotted. From a cursory examination on ladders, it was evident that the silks and backing fabrics were dry rotted, huge holes proliferated, the stains and encrustations had deteriorated the multiple layers of fabric in areas, the roof and window leaks had leached lime and plaster into the fabric – in short it was going to be a huge challenge!

As a conservator, I truly valued the historic importance of the fabrics. If they were retired, they would never be seen again. It was a long shot that money would be spent to reproduce them accurately. And while not fully proven, I believe they are original to the house and date to circa 1880-1900. In fact, the wall fabrics have not been definitively dated. (No written records were found.) One appraiser in 2002 concluded that they were a mid-century Ottoman style of embroidery and wall covering. While we can conclude that they were installed in situ circa 1914, they could have been cannibalized and cut from earlier 19th century wall coverings from Turkey. Since architect George Totten had lived and worked in Turkey, it is not inconceivable that he purchased these specifically for the ballroom. They are an extraordinary complex technique of appliqué of silk sateen cutouts (think Matisse) on top of contrasting silk sateen ground, with each large motif outlined with a cording that was stitched and glued on. The pattern, an architectural niche containing a tall bulbous ‘vase’ shapes, alternates the red and gold silk, so the eye moves along as if following a series of decorative windows. Within each ‘vase’ or ‘tree of life’ elaborate floral bouquets are embroidered in blues, pinks, yellows and reds. More than 12 genus correct floral bouquets were identified throughout the fabrics. In spite of the blackened stains, holes and losses, the fabrics were definitely worth preserving.

Inserting silk panels
It was also evident that the wall fabrics had previous repairs and restorations. There were many fine elegant stitch repairs, that may date back to the 1800s, depending on the original date of the fabrics. Coarser darnings and glue repairs were obviously later. Laid over most of the panels, and stitched like large billowing pillow-cases, was a dark brown silk crepeline (sheer silk) that was hanging in crispy tatters. This campaign was probably executed in the 1960s or early 1970s, in an effort to hold in place all the falling bits. This technique of ‘overlay’ is still employed by textile conservators. In fact, it was employed in the new 2003 treatment, but with a different material. Silk crepeline is very fragile and usually more short-lived than the artifact. Most 30 year old crepeline treatments have failed, unless they have not been exposed. Unfortunately, no previous treatment documents were available from the Embassy or other partners. My work was entirely deductive.

De-installing panels in 2003
In the initial stages of conservation research, we took down one smaller panel for examination and analysis. This permitted deconstruction and analysis of the entire construction, techniques and fabrics/materials. Some of the panels were hung with curtain rings at 6” intervals. This is similar to the technique used to hang large architectural banners in Turkey and frequently used to hang large textiles and tapestries until the 1970s (until Velcro came onto the market). Traditionally a string was woven through the rings so that the long hangings could be unfurled and hooked up easily. Construction and historic research revealed that the wall coverings are surely related and descended from an earlier Ottoman style of architectural tent hanging. Professor Dr. Nurhan Atasoy has published extensively on Ottoman Imperial Tents. While these hangings are surely not 16th - 18th century, they derive from the tradition of the interior tent decoration, in both design and construction.

Tents were used for military campaigns, state ceremonies, outings, personal ceremonies, daily housing, and of course by tribal groups. The Ottoman army had extensive tents, elaborately decorated to project power, prestige and comfort. The walls of the tents were formed by rectangular textile panels sewn together, and the number of panels depended on the size of the tent. They were crafted to recreate tiled panels in a room or pavilion. (Atasoy) Depending on rank, the tent had various degrees of decoration. Some were richly encrusted, with silks, and sparkling threads and embossed leather.


Atasoy, Nurhan. “Otag-I Humanyan: The Ottoman Imperial Tent Complex, Aygaz”, Istanbul, 2000.
Atasoy, Nurhan. “The Ottoman Tent”, www.turkishculture.org

Part two of this series will resume tomorrow on this blog.

Julia M. Brennan graduated from ARCA's International Art Crime Studies program in 2009.
www.caringfortextiles.com

November 16, 2011

Revisiting the Turkish Residence – The Ballroom’s “Ottoman style” Wall Fabrics

The Turkish Residence
By Julia M. Brennan
ARCA Washington DC Correspondent

This story is not about art theft or repatriation, rather it is a preservation account of a monumental project to conserve part of Turkey’s and Washington D.C.’s shared history.

Recently I had the honor of attending a lecture about the Perge excavations at the Turkish Residence in Washington DC. We gathered in the elegant ballroom, whose walls are covered with sumptuous arabesque and floral red and gold silk textiles. They are not just ‘wall fabric’, but architectural textiles; characterized by two-dimensional niches executed with a syncopation of color, pattern, and rich floral details. People wonder if they are painted, leather, old or new. The whole room radiates from the Ottoman-style wall fabrics. They draw you into a dance around the room, over gilt mirrors and carved doorways, the red and gold niches of red and gold silk vases, with flickers of subtle embroidery. They speak to another era and taste. In 2002, the Turkish Government launched a complete restoration of the mansion – every architectural, structural and decorative detail was addressed. I was given the contract to clean and conserve these fabric treasures. Four years later, when the renovation of the entire mansion was complete, the fabrics were reinstalled, restoring the original Ottoman-style sumptuous character to the ballroom. It was a stunning backdrop to the Perge lecture, and personally very gratifying to see the textiles beautifully restored, as they might have looked in 1914 when they first graced the ballroom.

1606 23rd Street NW was an eccentric and extravagant mansion when it was completed in 1914. Commissioned by Edward H. Everett, a Cleveland millionaire, philanthropist and industrialist, who like many barons, needed a Washington DC base for societal and political reasons. He had interests in oil, beer, and huge glass productions. Everett was the inventor of the ‘crimp’ bottle cap, made famous by Coca Cola. During the Everetts’s residency, their home was the scene for many parties, including musical events in the ballroom, “including singers from the Metropolitan Opera.” (The Sunday Star 9-9-56) His second wife, Grace Burnap, was an amateur opera singer. The house was a gem of The Gilded Age, encrusted with elaborate marquetry and parquet flooring, marble entrance hall, Mannerist paintings, Flemish tapestries, Oriental carpets, a stained glass conservatory, an Otis elevator and the first indoor swimming pool in the city. The 1915 tax assessment was $280,000. (The original building estimated that the cost of building would be $150,000.) No expense was spared.

The architectural design and interior decorations were entrusted to architect George Oakley Totten Jr (1866-1939). His international background and keen interest in architectural ornamentation, produced many lavish Embassy Row homes, combining Oriental and Occidental styles. He designed and built over 16 houses in Washington DC. Totten spent three years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts (1893-1895), lived and worked in Rome, Vienna, Madrid and London, and in 1908 resided in Turkey where he designed the American Chancery and a residence for the Prime Minister. Sultan Abdul Hamid offered him the position of ‘private architect to the Sultan of Turkey’, but the 1909 overthrow of the Sultanate ended that commission. Totten brought to his Washington projects all the elements of his exotic and romantic life, including probably the actual silk wall hangings in the ballroom. No doubt, working for the Sultan, he was exposed to the tradition of ceremonial tent hangings, exquisite Ottoman architectural textiles adorning houses and transitory encampments.

The Ballroom in 2003
In 1932, after the death of Mr. Everett, the Turkish government established their embassy at the Totten ‘palace’. The house was still pristine, and in it’s hey day, a gem of Washington ‘status’ architecture along the Massachusetts Avenue corridor. The Turks acquired the house with all the architectural and decorative décor, “buildings and furnishings” including paintings, fireplaces, wall coverings. Just after the Great Depression, the home was priced to sell. The Honorable Munir Ertegun served as the first Ambassador from the newly formed Republic of Turkey. His sons grew up in this house and in an avant garde musical environment. One of the Ambassador’s sons, Ahmet Ertegun, is known for founding Atlantic Records and signing the Rolling Stones. Given Ahmet’s charisma and love of music, he must have fallen in love with the ballroom with it’s elevated stage, Italianate windows and inset mirrors, gold and blue rinceau-panelled ceiling, carved rinceau double doors, and sumptuous gold and red silk Ottoman walls. It was an over-the-top blend of styles and textures, a perfect place to hold ground breaking jazz concerts hosting Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, and other Washington DC music greats. During the Ertegun period, the grand life of the ballroom continued with a renewed style and sound. In segregated Washington DC, local newspaper society columns at the time gossiped and criticized the frequent flow of ‘Negroes using the front door’ of the residence.

In 1999 the house became the Ambassador’s Residence, and after nearly 100 years it was suffering from both structural and decorative damage.

Reference:
“Massachusetts Avenue Architecture, Volume I”, Issued by The Commission of Fine Arts, Washington D.C. , 1973, pgs. 317-346

The next two blog posts will continue the story with the conservation of the wall fabrics.

Julia M. Brennan

November 10, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011 - ,,, 1 comment

Report from DC: American Friends of Turkey hosted lecture on the Sixty-Five Years of Perge Excavations

Ballroom of the Turkish Residence, Washington DC
 (Photo by Julia Brennan)
By Julia M. Brennan
ARCA Blog Washington Correspondent

The American Friends of Turkey hosted a fascinating lecture and exhibit about the excavations in Perge, Turkey last week in the elegant circa 1909 Turkish Residence in Washington DC.  The Embassy hosted a reception with delicious Turkish food, followed by the lecture. Incidentally, the ballroom of the Residence is famous for it’s post Ottoman embroidered and appliqué silk wall coverings. From 2003-2008, I cleaned, restored and then reinstalled these elegant turn of the century red and gold textiles. They create a spectacular backdrop for any function.

Celebrating 65 continuous years of archeological research, Istanbul University is touring a lecture series and photographic exhibit celebrating the fabled city of Perge, A UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was also a celebration of an important recent repatriation. Dr. Inci Delemen, a long time archeologist on the project, gave a sweeping and colorful history of the sixty five years of discoveries and history of this ancient site. Using both aerial views and close ups of specific structures, we were drawn into the once vast and robust Roman city.

Perge, located close to the Mediterranean coast, near the city of Antalya, was the capital of ancient Pamphylia. It grew from the prehistoric era into a thriving Roman city. For centuries, Perge was a thriving walled metropolis; with extravagant water canal system, roads, agora, mosaic encrusted baths, gymnasium, theatre and the best preserved stadium in Asia Minor. It is a remarkable case study for Hellenistic, Imperial Roman and Late Roman history. Perge had eight significant benefactors who kept expanding the city, and developing a sophisticated urban plan. One of these benevolent priestesses was Plancia Magna, hailed as the daughter of the city. Her statue is simply beautiful.

Istanbul University has embarked on a project to resurrect the columns within the city. Each column is ‘adopted’ by a patron, contributing the funds to revive the colonnaded streets. The Theatre, which is in excellent condition, contains life size colossi statues and mythological reliefs of Dionysus making offerings to Tyche of Perge. Throughout Perge, Istanbul University has unearthed and preserved a vast number of imperial portraits and marble statues. One of the most realistic was a bearded curly haired youth, Lucius Verus.

Post of Herakles (Photo by Julia Brennan)
Another find from Perge is the Heracles Farnese or ‘Weary Heracles”. Known to many who study and follow ‘orphaned’ antiquities, the bottom half of Heracles lives in the Antalya Museum. His top half, had migrated to the USA, owned by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In the 1990’s the Turkish authorities set out to prove that the upper body in Boston belonged to the Perge statue. The negotiations for repatriation took over ten years. In September 2011, the Boston half of Heracles returned to meet his other half, and be reunited in the Antalya Museum. This recent repatriation is a focal part of the lecture and exhibit tour of the Perge project.

Next chapter will highlight the restoration project of the Ottoman style wall textiles at the Turkish Residence.

Dr. Delemen will tour and lecture in Boston, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and Charlottsville, Va. For more information contact American Friends of Turkey or email them at info@afot.us

Ms. Brennan graduated in 2009 from ARCA's Postgraduate Certificate Program in International Art Crime Studies.