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Burmese Treasures Coming to New York

September 2, 2013
Melissa Chiu, center, museum director of the Asia Society, near a sculpture of Buddha descending from heaven at a museum in Bagan, Myanmar. Adam Dean for The New York Times.

Melissa Chiu, center, museum director of the Asia Society, near a sculpture of Buddha descending from heaven at a museum in Bagan, Myanmar. Adam Dean for The New York Times.

A fascinating New York Times story gives insights into the delicate negotiations involved in bringing scores of Burmese treasures to New York for a 2015 exhibition at the Asia Society:

“The show will be a coming out for Burma,” said Melissa Chiu, museum director of the Asia Society. “The country has been closed off for so many years, we hope the show will assume a bigger significance, and shed new light on material not seen before. Buddhism is the state religion and plays such a major role in daily life.”

02myanmar-map-articleInlineThe curators searched in the former capital, Yangon; in the new capital, Naypyidaw; in Prome; and … in Bagan, which from the ninth century to the 13th century was the center of a royal kingdom where the creative energy was so intense that nearly 2,000 brick and gilded temples were built across a vast plain. In Bagan, a popular destination for tourists imagining the glory days among faded temples, farmers still unearth ancient gold jewelry.

The antiquities hunt has the support of President Thein Sein. During a visit to the United States last year, he approved the loan of dozens of artworks for the 2015 show, ensuring that the curators were welcomed in usually off-limits inner sanctums. Of the estimated 70 objects planned for the exhibit, about three-quarters will come from Myanmar and the remainder from collections in the United States, Ms. Chiu said.

In exchange for the right to borrow the art, the Asia Society has pledged to provide training in conservation techniques to Myanmar’s museum employees, who must make do with a scant $100,000 budget that leaves the nation’s museums with little electricity, poor air-conditioning and no money for acquisitions.

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