There is a perfume called Museum, available at discreet boutiques. When you daub it behind your ears pearls attach, shimmering and pendant from tiny diamonds. Your neck grows long and swans into the darkness of evening above a silk dress sewn from the sky of early dusk. Every word spoken, from the mouth delicately suspended above the long white neck, has the quality of pronouncement. What your eyes light upon is anointed, pedigreed, and placed on a pedestal. This girl with the pearl is the ultimate docent. She has ridden alongside the robber barons and hauled the world’s worth home, there to catalog objects that always aspired (without knowing it!) to become artifact. She finds it charming to be confused with the girl in the Vermeer, the girl hanging in the Louvre and adored by millions.
Because of the internet, which appears in the palm of my hand every five minutes, I cannot help but compare myself to that Girl. Behind my ears is simply the after-scent of shampoo from Walgreens. I wear jeans and a puffy jacket, and sterling silver ornaments, buried in unstyled hair. If I was to de-acquisition a chunk of statuary and remove it from its pedestal for my personal collection I would be hauled off to jail and my friends would leave me. Nothing says have and have-not like a museum.
The Seattle Asian Art Museum tries to meet this situation head on, so to speak, while being appropriately oblique. In the Room of the Beheaded Buddhas, each head of the half-dozen is clearly displayed as a trophy. The only thing missing is the bloodied chisel. Says the placard: These fragments of figures also reflect the difficult reality that the historical art market supplied such small, portable and alluring objects to collectors under the circumstances of colonial expansion and other forms of cultural imperialism. Explore our smartphone tour for further discussion. Should you flinch at the phrase “cultural imperialism,” remember that the museum is not running for higher office. It is simply telling it like it is.