‘This is not revenge’: how Europe’s largest Asian art museum sees restitution and repatriation and the importance of East-West dialogue – cialisdfr
‘This is not revenge’: how Europe’s largest Asian art museum sees restitution and repatriation and the importance of East-West dialogue
‘This is not revenge’: how Europe’s largest Asian art museum sees restitution and repatriation and the importance of East-West dialogue

“You don’t immediately enter India or China: first, you are in Cambodia.”

A courtyard of Khmer sculptures from Angkor, Cambodia, at the entrance to Guimet. Photo: Guimet National Museum of Asian Art

This entry is partly a result of Cambodia being a protectorate of France from 1863 to 1953, but also a reflection of how the Guimet houses operate not only from the largest Asian nations, but from across the continent. from Afghanistan all the way to Japan.

“When you’re in China you have Chinese art museums, when you’re in India you have Indian art museums,” says Linz. “When you go to Southeast Asia, you always have the national art museum. The idea of ​​Asian art is more of a European or Western vision.

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Linz is traveling from Paris to Hong Kong this month to speak at the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority’s first International Cultural Summit in Hong Kong, where he will participate in a panel discussion titled “Rethinking Museum Interpretation in a Global Context.”

And as such, Linz, who took up the mantle of Gimme in 2022 after years as director of the Louvre Museum’s department of Islamic art, has not shied away from questions of restitution and repatriation.

“For me, this is an important issue,” she says. “I’ve often seen museums that don’t want to talk about it, saying, ‘No problem. Everything is fine.’

“It’s a real, important challenge these days in Western museums, not just for Asian art, but for African art and anyone whose collections were developed in the 19th and 20th centuries.”

Works in the Musée Guimet’s Asian art collection at the museum. Photo: Guimet National Museum of Asian Art

The president of the museum believes that if a cultural asset was indeed stolen or acquired illegally, it should be repatriated accordingly: “It should be returned if it is proven to have been stolen.”

But, as is the case with Guimet, the answers are never black and white. Provenance is key to determining and understanding whether objects have a place in museums beyond their place of origin.

“The important thing is not to refuse to talk, but rather to talk a lot about how our collection arrived at our museums,” says Linz. “Because when you talk exactly about the history of the collections, the ways in which they arrived at the museum, for example at the Musée Guimet, you can see that the story is more complex than just the idea that everything was stolen and brought to the West by illegal traffic.

“Musée Guimet is a special situation in this context because we were fortunate to have a scientific collaboration with Cambodia that started at the end of the 19th century,” she says.

“The discussion I have with the minister of culture in Cambodia, for example, is to say, ‘Let’s promote your heritage together. We have millions of visitors coming to Paris.”

Guimet in Paris. Photo: Guimet National Museum of Asian Art

Guimet is planning an exhibition in 2025 of more than 100 sculptures from the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. “We have to be smart together,” says Linz. “This is not revenge. The solution is not to return everything.’

Guimet also works with institutions in mainland China for major exhibitions.

In 2021, he partnered with the Shanghai Museum, which showed West Meets East: A Cultural Conversation between Chinese and European Ceramics.

This year, Guimet is organizing an exhibition dedicated to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China.

My chance is that my brand is Asia. I am convinced that I need to develop this network of philanthropy in Asia

Yannick Linz, President, Musée Guimet

Linz recently asked Maria Mok Kar-wing, director of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, to be part of its advisory committee for Guimet, and Mok will also moderate the Hong Kong International Cultural Summit “New Ways of Cooperation and Sharing” in the post-pandemic era: international perspectives” panel.

“When I arrived as head of the Musée Guimet,” says Linz, “I felt it was also important in this context of tension to prove that museums can create dialogues, not just conflicts. Museums are a wonderful diplomatic tool for developing dialogue between cultures.”

A Hong Kong collector named Richard Kahn, for example, donated a blue-and-white two years ago mapping a vase that dates to the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Linz calls it the “Mona Lisa of the Musée Guimet”. High praise indeed, given that the museum has an extensive collection of imperial furniture, terracotta objects, bronze vessels and Dunhuang paintings.

Its collection is one of the largest collections of Asian art in Europe, with the only notable rivals in size being the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, both in London.

The museum houses works from all over Asia, from Afghanistan to Japan. Photo: Guimet National Museum of Asian Art

Most European collectors in the 19th century were upper middle class, meaning they had room in their homes for decorative art. Interest in Asia was generated after many saw Asian art at exhibitions in Paris or traveled to Asia themselves.

“They weren’t fascinated by things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to see,” says Linz. “But when they saw in the Paris market, in a merchant’s shop, very nice objects, such as terracotta jars or porcelain vases, which they could imagine in their houses, they began to buy.

“So here, when you see the Chinese collection, of course you’ll see small pieces of decorative art or porcelain. This is one of the most important collections here because this is usually what you can find in the market and what you can imagine in your apartment.

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Although public institutions in France were funded entirely by the government in the past, funding has decreased in recent years, which is why Linz is also looking to reach patrons from Asia.

“Of course, like any country, France is also in a weak situation from an economic point of view,” she says. “You can imagine that the Musée Guimet is not going to convince someone who has just given a lot of money to the Louvre to give to Guimet as well. But my chance is that my brand is Asia. I am convinced that I need to develop this network of philanthropy in Asia.

“Every time I come to Hong Kong, when I visit the museums – the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Palace Museum Hong Kong or M+ – I first of all admire what has been done. We share with the different directors of these museums the same vision, the same type of questions for educational projects, for how to develop storytelling.

“For me, coming as the head of this museum today, in a world of tension and conflict, it is very important to show the history of dialogue between Asia and the West.”

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