The Metropolitan Museum’s Indian Connection

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Reception celebrating the signing of an agreement between the Government of India and The Metropolitan Museum of Art with the support of the Mellon Foundation for the Indian conservation Fellowship Program

Vinod Daniel, program manager in India for the Indian Conservation Fellowship Program; Carrie Rebora Barratt, Deputy Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Amb. Riva Ganguly Das, Consul General of India in New York; and Mariët Westermann, Executive Vice President for Programs and Research, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Behind the Scenes: The Met’s India Connection

Recently the Metropolitan Museum of Art came to India House, the Indian Consulate in New York. Several members of the curatorial staff met the Indian community over cocktails. Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced that The Met and the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India have reaffirmed their long-term cooperative relationship through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which renews for five additional years the two-way partnerships for sharing knowledge and expertise that have been established between the Museum and cultural institutions in India. (The MOU was signed in June by Shefali Shah, Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, and Mr. Campbell.)

Indeed, the connections between the Metropolitan Museum of Art and India run deep. Art from the Indian sub-continent has been collected by the Metropolitan Museum from 1891 right till the present times and it is one of the most comprehensive collections of Indian art in the western world.

 

To walk through the Met is to encounter every period of Indian history: The holdings of the Department of Asian Art include early, classical, and medieval sculpture, Hindu court (Rajput and Pahari) painting, and court and trade textiles. The Indian collection consists of some 1,250 works of art, of which around 350 are on view in the nine Herbert and Florence Irving Galleries of South Asian Art, the most extensive such displays outside of India. Indian art dating from 1500 to 1900 is represented by more than 1,300 pieces in all media in the Department of Islamic Art.

The Arms and Armor Department has rich holdings of Mughal and South Indian arms and armor, including a highly decorated armor of mail and plate from the period of Shah Jahan (dated 1632–33). There are also over 200 musical instruments from India in the Department of Musical Instruments, including rare instruments donated by Indian musicologist Sir Sourindro Mohun Tagore in the late 19th century.

1.Nidhi Shah—ChhatrapatiShivajiMaharajVastuSangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai—with furniture conservator Daniel Hausdorf, while documenting the condition of an Italian mid-sixteenth century carved and partially gilded cassone with nineteenth century additions. She divided her residency between the Metropolitan Museum and the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL) in the Netherlands. As part of her program for professional training, “Systems and Procedures for Art Conservation,” Ms Shah developed a template for tablet-based digital documentation.

Nidhi Shah—Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai—with furniture conservator Daniel Hausdorf, while documenting the condition of an Italian mid-sixteenth century carved and partially gilded cassone with nineteenth century additions. She divided her residency between the Metropolitan Museum and the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL) in the Netherlands. As part of her program for professional training, “Systems and Procedures for Art Conservation,” Ms Shah developed a template for tablet-based digital documentation.

Celebrating art links across continents

All this can be seen by the eye yet there are many back stories of the link between the Met and India and these behind-the-scenes stories are really ones to celebrate because they strengthen the ties between museums in the east and west and share knowledge of excellence.

The Ministry of Culture, Government of India and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York signed a Memorandum of Agreement on the Indian Conservation Fellowship Program in 2016. A pilot project was conducted in 2013 to 2016, and its success led to it being renewed for another five years till 2021.  Under this agreement The MET will work with Ministry of Culture to impart a broad range of knowledge on modern operations of museums like conservation, and planning of exhibitions.

2.Mandira Chhabra—formerly ChhatrapatiShivajiMaharajVastuSangrahalaya (CSMVS) and Himalayan Society for Heritage and Art Conservation, Mumbai, currently graduate student at the Courtauld Institute, London—while examining the base of a gilded and painted stucco figure of Vajrabhairava from Mongolia. During her tenure at the Metropolitan Museum, Ms Chhabra focused on decorated surfaces, incorporating both high and low tech investigative methods for examining, documenting, and treating Asian works of art.

 Mandira Chhabra—formerly Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) and Himalayan Society for Heritage and Art Conservation, Mumbai, currently graduate student at the Courtauld Institute, London—while examining the base of a gilded and painted stucco figure of Vajrabhairava from Mongolia. During her tenure at the Metropolitan Museum, Ms Chhabra focused on decorated surfaces, incorporating both high and low tech investigative methods for examining, documenting, and treating Asian works of art.

Through the agreement, the Ministry of Culture and The Met will continue to cooperate in the areas of conservation, exhibitions, academic research, information-sharing, public education, publications, museum management, and short- and long-term loans.

The Indian Conservation Fellowship Program, in particular, has forged important professional relationships between colleagues internationally and has provided critical experience that can be built upon in the future. This is with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,  providing educational support for museum professionals around the world.

The launch of the next phase of the Indian Conservation Fellowship Program marks the beginning of the new agreement. This major initiative—undertaken beginning in 2012 by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg (SRAL), with the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Government of India and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation—awards up to seven fellowships a year to conservators currently working in art and cultural heritage museums and institutions in India.

3.Kailas Abhiman Humane–Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad—Mr. Humane, a chemist by training who heads up the Chemical Conservation Laboratory for a large and diverse collection, learned mechanical methods for cleaning historic silver, which are more easily controlled than chemical treatments. Here he is cleaning a silver tray by the Britain silversmith Paul de Lemarie.

Kailas Abhiman Humane–Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad—Mr. Humane, a chemist by training who heads up the Chemical Conservation Laboratory for a large and diverse collection, learned mechanical methods for cleaning historic silver, which are more easily controlled than chemical treatments. Here he is cleaning a silver tray by the Britain silversmith Paul de Lemarie.

The current phase reinforces and expands upon the program’s goals and essential structure. Two new partners have joined the program: the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, Brussels; and the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, The Smithsonian Museums of Asian Art, Washington, D.C

So over the next five years there will be 35 new fellowships; annual seminars and workshops in India; follow-up visits by host supervisors at fellows’ home institutions; visits by the directors of the participating Indian museums to the fellows’ host institutions; and meetings of the advisory committee to organize and plan seminars, workshops, and interviews.

Definitely something to celebrate!

(with additional text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

4.Subhra Devi—Museum of Tezpur University, Tezpur (Assam), with Ellen Howe, a conservator who specializes in the study and treatment of ethnographic works of art. Employed in the curatorial section of a museum attached to the Department of Cultural Studies at Tezpur University, Ms Devi has been active in the documentation of traditional craft practices. She also has a degree in chemistry and has been actively involved in various conservation projects in India. Here she is examining a papier mâché stag mask from Tibet prior to stabilizing it for display in a special exhibition.

Subhra Devi—Museum of Tezpur University, Tezpur (Assam), with Ellen Howe, a conservator who specializes in the study and treatment of ethnographic works of art. Employed in the curatorial section of a museum attached to the Department of Cultural Studies at Tezpur University, Ms Devi has been active in the documentation of traditional craft practices. She also has a degree in chemistry and has been actively involved in various conservation projects in India. Here she is examining a papier mâché stag mask from Tibet prior to stabilizing it for display in a special exhibition.

5.Kalpana—Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad—Kalpana divided her time in the Museum between the Departments of Object Conservation and Textile Conservation. Here she is cleaning a glass chandelier with brass fittings in the American Wing’s Baltimore Room as part of the general maintenance of historic interiors and period rooms. This project allowed Kalpana to learn procedures regarding gallery work during visitors’ hours and the safe movement and rigging of works of art in fully installed galleries.

 Kalpana—Salar Jung Museum, Hyderabad—Kalpana divided her time in the Museum between the Departments of Object Conservation and Textile Conservation. Here she is cleaning a glass chandelier with brass fittings in the American Wing’s Baltimore Room as part of the general maintenance of historic interiors and period rooms. This project allowed Kalpana to learn procedures regarding gallery work during visitors’ hours and the safe movement and rigging of works of art in fully installed galleries.

 

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Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

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