FROM THE CURATOR

I’m not sure if this is a real collection or not, but this peek into it is very much a

celebration of collecting. As I collect more and more, I am more and more

convinced that being collected is the best thing that can happen to ancient

artefacts. I mean, being collected by individuals who make them a part of their

own lived experience, bridging immense gaps of cultural difference in the

process.

I like the process of sharing that goes on with other collectors, particularly today

when the internet makes it possible for me to be talking about these things to

people who share my interest and enthusiasm in dozens of different countries. Of

course, I like – in many instances, really love - museums too, but I’m bothered

by the huge quantities of artefacts that remain in their vaults with no one to

interact with. I remember looking at some bronzes in the storeroom of a museum

in California, wearing my obligatory cotton gloves which meant that I wasn’t

able to feel the quality of the bronze (touch being one of the most direct ways in

which one distinguishes old bronze from the fakes). They were probably never

going to be put on public display, nobody had even asked to see them for several

years before I did, and I thought: This is no place for a beautiful object to end its

days.

I say that knowing only too well that collecting is especially unfashionable in

progressive circles today. Acquisitiveness, appropriation, looting, the theft of

cultural property – that is how the activity is perceived. But I’m happy to argue

that the private collection is the best way for cultural artefacts to be studied,

appreciated and, yes, shared. Private collections are, in their essence, unstable

phenomena. The collector’s interests change; the conditions of her life are altered;

he needs the money or the space; and of course, the collector always dies. These

things come back into the public sphere, and are passed on arbitrarily, and in a

sense freely, by the process of sale or inheritance or gift.

They are here for a short time, in wholly unexpected relation to each other, to me,

and to you. We must enjoy them while we can!  

OXFORD, 1957
LAKE BAIKAL, SIBERIA, 1964
lADAKH, 1970
THAILAND, 2007