Monday, August 30, 2010

Angkor Bronzes at the Sackler Gallery in Washington

“From whatever vantage point we look, if we are prepared to look historically, civilizations reveal themselves to be processes and not things.” These true words by Sheldon Pollock, a scholar of Sanskrit and Indian history at Columbia University, also apply to art.

As fixed and solid as they seem, art objects never stay still. They are not the same from one century, or second, to the next. Not only do they change in meaning and value through time, but they also change physically. With their molecules flying off into space, they grow lighter and smaller and, if we’re paying attention, more insistently alive.

So if on a visit to “Gods of Angkor: Bronzes From the National Museum of Cambodia,” at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, you imagine Buddhas and Shivas hovering and buzzing around you like so many emerald green hummingbirds — here, gone, here again — you won’t be entirely wrong.

This compact exhibition of 36 metal sculptures is literally about change, or rather about attempts to reverse and forestall it. Between 1975 and 1979, the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, one of the jewels of Southeast Asia, was all but destroyed. Khmer Rouge purges wiped out much of its staff; its buildings, abandoned, were disintegrating. The art that didn’t disappear was severely damaged.

In the decades since, the museum has struggled to become again what it was, but also something different, more modern. And other institutions have lent a hand in the recovery. In 2005 the Freer and Sackler galleries, collaborating with the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, provided financial and technical support for the Cambodian museum’s first metal-conservation laboratory, primarily for the care and study of the collection’s magnificent bronzes.

To read more:

There is also a photo slide show of some items of the exhibition available:

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