A Different Form Of Art Worship In Museums

This morning I saw Artsjournal had linked to a story about the seizure of a statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which had apparently been stolen from Turkey. More and more frequently there have been questions about the provenance of objects in museum collections. According to the NY Times story, the statue, which was on loan to The Met is among 18 objects in the museum’s collection that have been filed for seizure in the last three months.  The museum isn’t the only one having its collections scrutinized:

In addition to the Met, the authorities seized items from the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum and the Fordham University Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art, according to court records.

This article reminded me of a recent story on Hyperallergic about a classical Cambodian dancer who had been kicked out of the Met for dancing in front of religious objects which had been looted from her country. She discusses how dancing barefoot before the statues created by her ancestors is an appropriate form of worship. She had done so at the museum about 10 years ago, but when she repeated the act this last February, a guard stopped her.

As is appropriate, I removed my shoes (though, it being winter, I was wearing stockings) and approached the statue of the god Harihara. I prayed for his safe and prompt return to his homeland. I prayed to the four directions and then moved on to the main gallery. About two minutes into my brief dance, a member of the museum’s security team approached me and stated that I wasn’t allowed to dance there without permission. He also instructed me to put on my shoes….If I had simply walked to each statue and prayed, I doubt he would’ve felt compelled to stop me. Something about my rhythmic movement, silent and subdued as it was, set the guard on edge. One of the people recording the video told me that he found my danced prayer so powerful he was shaking.

When I first read that last line, I thought the guard was shaking from the power of the dance. Later, I realized that it might refer to the person doing the recording.

While there is an implication that dancing before the statues might be possible with permission, though perhaps not given the fact she was chased from the museum stairs when she was interviewed about the experience, I wonder if we might see start to see similar acts in galleries and museums as awareness and questions about how legitimate the methods of acquisition were.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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