The Art Institute Of Chicago Links Up With India

In some art circles, as in economic circles, Asia looms very large — as competition.  Some worry aloud that the West may lose its influence over culture to China and India, that someday we’ll all be gazing at and buying art from contemporary Asian artists rather than American and European ones. And worse, that tourists will be prowling all over new Asian museums rather than our own. Bye, bye, the 5 million visitors at the Metropolitan Museum and the 8 million at the Louvre.

 I’ve always thought the hand-wringing was overdone, at least for my lifetime.

And this weekend, the Art Institute of Chicago hosted a delegation from India that is all about cooperation, rather than competition; it’s a welcome development. Although no dollar figure was disclosed, the AIC said that it had received “a major grant” from the government of India — the first grant ever made by the Indian government to an American art museum. In return, via the four-year Vivekananda Memorial Program for Museum Excellence, the AIC “will serve as a resource center regarding best museum practices for museum professionals in India; will create fellowships across many different museum departments for colleagues from India; and will send a group of Art Institute staff regularly to India to conduct workshops, seminars, lectures, and courses.”

Now, some may see this as selling our competitors the rope to hang ourselves with, as the old Soviet-era axiom went. I don’t — and the AIC certainly does not. It traces its relationship with India to September 11, 1893, when Swami Vivekananda spoke about religious tolerance at what is now the Art Institute at the first World’s Parliament of Religions, held in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition. And it’s thrilled with the lasting nature of it.

“It is a supreme honor to be recognized by the Government of India as a partner in the preservation, exhibition, and promotion of India’s cultural heritage,” said Douglas Druick, the director. 

On Saturday, the Art Institute also opened as exhibition loaned directly by the Government of India, The Last Harvest: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore (1861–1941) — novelist, poet, musician, philosopher and the first non-European to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1913) — was also a painter. Sixty-one of them are on view in Chicago, offering “a glimpse into the visionary mind of this influential thinker.”

One picture, all that’s up on the AIC website, is not enough to tell anything, and I haven’t found a review of the exhibition yet. But 

I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work.

And as I look around the exhibition schedules of U.S. museums for the coming months, I see more and more shows about distant cultures, which makes the life of art museums a lot more interesting.

Photo Credit: Untitled, 1934. Courtesy of the AIC

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