14 IJCP 1 (2007)

handle is hein.journals/injculpy14 and id is 1 raw text is: 


International Journal of Cultural Property (2007) 14:1 32. Printed in the USA.
Copyright © 2007 International Cultural Property Society
DOI: 10.1017/S0940739107070014








Object Lessons1: The Politics

of Preservation and Museum

Building in Western China in

the Early Twentieth Century

Sanchita Balachandran*




Abstract: The preservation of cultural property is never a neutral activity; and
the question of who is to possess, care for, and interpret artifacts is highly politi-
cally charged. This paper examines how preservation was used as a justification
for the removal of pieces of immovable archaeological sites in the early twenti-
eth century, and became a tool for building museum collections. This study fo-
cuses on a collection of 12 wall painting fragments from the site of Dunhuang,
China, which were removed by art historian Langdon Warner in 1924 for the
Fogg Art Museum. The removal process resulted in significant damage to some
of the fragments as well as to the site itself, calling into question what is pre-
served: an intact ancient artifact or an ancient artifact scarred by and embedded
with its modern collection history? Using the Harvard collection as an example,
I explore the contradictions and legacies of early preservation ethics.

        Probably there is no thoughtful collector in America today who does
        not deplore the means by which some of his most valued treasures be-
        came available, at the same time that he cherishes and reveres them as
        great works of art of a universal moment.
                                                         Benjamin March2

*Objects Conservator in private practice, Baltimore, MD. Email: Sanchita@gmail.com

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The Harvard University Art Museums generously supported this research
through the Baird Fellowship and the Advanced-Level Training Program at the Straus Center for
Conservation. I am particularly thankful to Thomas Lentz, Francesca Bewer, and Glenn Gates for
their encouragement and advice throughout this study. I thank Abigail Smith, Martha Mahard, and
Joanne Bloom Toplyn of the Fine Arts Library at Harvard University for providing access to archival
documents and photographs. I owe a great debt to the staff of the Straus Center for Conservation,
particularly Henry Lie, Craigen Bowen, Kathleen Kennelly, Narayan Khandekar, Anthony Sigel, and
former interns Ige Verslype and Scott Homolka. I am grateful to Robert Mowry, Melissa Moy, and
Anne Rose Kitagawa of the HUAM Department of Asian Art. Finally, I would like to thank the anon-
ymous reviews of International Journal of Cultural Property, Francesca Bewer, Julie Hollowell, Robert
Mowry, and Anand Pandian for their attentive and thoughtful readings of this article.

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