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#1 raymondsinger

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Posted 22 July 2017 - 03:49 PM

Someone recently asked my thoughts on museums within the United States that would be interested in taking on a high quality sword for loan. While I've worked with the Morikami Museum over the years to assemble several nihonto-related exhibitions, I'm not familiar with any museums who would be actively looking or at least receptive to displaying a Japanese sword on a long-term basis through a loan. if anyone here has a suggestion please let me know. Without going into specifics the sword is one which would be very worthy of display.

Much appreciated,
Ray

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#2 Curran

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Posted 22 July 2017 - 04:09 PM

Forgive the terseness of the response, but this is something where the bureaucratic legal, financial, and accounting issues largely = *No*

 

In the USA-

   public museum     = very unlikely to happen.

   private museum   = quite possible, but depends.

 

Sometimes university museums are shockingly good and open minded.

For a top level item, approaching a museum like http://carlos.emory.edu/

via a vector like http://history.emory...avina-mark.html

might make it happen.

 

Other universities like the Fogg Museum will very politely /or not/  tell you to go away.


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#3 raymondsinger

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Posted 22 July 2017 - 04:19 PM

Thank you for the feedback Curran. There was a time just two years ago where the Morikami had a serious interest in a permanent display of Japanese Swords. This was to accompany a major expansion of the museum space. Unfortunately shortly after there was a change of management and there is no longer any interest in objects in this category. It is really a sad turn of events because, knowing what could potentially be loaned from collectors in this area, the museum would have had a display of exceptional quality.

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#4 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 23 July 2017 - 04:14 AM

Robert Benson has loaned a significant number of blades to the Honolulu Museum of Art, Ray, which puts on an exhibition every few years. None of our other local museums have Nihonto, to my knowledge.

 

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#5 Surfson

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Posted 23 July 2017 - 06:24 AM

I know of at least one museum that has a world class collection that they virtually never put on display.  The swords are sitting in the basement in drawers gathering dust and rust.  I'm afraid that we NMB enthusiasts are a rare breed and most of the population at large doesn't get it, other than incredible armor or swords with strikingly beautiful mounts.  Recently a NMB member organized an exhibit in an eastern european city - I wonder how it went?  


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#6 Peter Bleed

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Posted 23 July 2017 - 07:01 PM

This thread presents a number of my "hot button" interests:  1) the general weakness of museum leadership,2)  the emerging lack of interest in historical material culture, and 3) the bleak future of sword collecting,

Let take these in reverse order.

3) Sword collecting has become very well organized. Throughout history, Japanese swords were always pretty well ordered, but with the changes of the Meiji era and then the collapse of the post-War things got chaotic. The last  50-odd years have re-established order. There are a couple of really pretty well ordered Museum collections, but the major organization has been handled by individual collectors. Sorting thru the jumble of "war souvenirs"  collectors made order and decided what is "good". This drove prices up and was a great deal of fun. As a result, the woods are now  full of 70 year old collectors have have nice holdings of "good stuff." There is also a fair amount of interest in swords. what is lacking is a cadre of 30 and 40 year-olds able to absorb those "old collections" when they reach "actuarial maturity" - ie. when the old guys die. In this situation I think it is easy to predict that collapsing collections may recreate a bit of chaos as heirs will dump collections carelessly. I also assume that the reduced wealth of the next generation of buyers - even if they are knowledgeable - will cause sword prices to fall.

2) I do not want to be critical of youth. Still, it seems than young folks these days are not very interested in "old stuff" and what used to be called "authenticity." Having a "real______" just doesn't seem particularly important when you can google anything you want - -  right now,...  for free! This is especially true when it involves  dealing with old people who have rigid rules about really expensive stuff.

1) Museum professionals have tended to act like other collectors. They assume the role of "experts" and use law-like rules about what is worthwhile and what is good It is good because THEY say it is. They get money because THEY say they need it. They also get away with errors and inactivity because they operate largely in secret. Those old rules are changing, tho. Detroit very nearly dumped its Museum (and I wonder if they have all of their promised retirements fully funded.) If we are entering an era of small government and tightened budgets, it seems safe to predict that Museums will face hard times and that many Museums will have to jettison old collections. The reality is that museum professionals have not been effectively in making the public aware of why historic material culture deserves preservation.

I am quite philosophical about all of this. If WE want to do something, I think serious collectors will have to try something new and different. "Giving"  collections to "Museums" seems foolish, unless WE also establish the wherewithal in the museum to do do the right thing with the collection.

Peter


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#7 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 23 July 2017 - 08:01 PM

I wish there was some way to really impact the way museums run their operations, but I haven't seen one. I have two local museums as long-time (20+ years) clients, & there are simply no hard-&-fast rules that they play by.

 

One museum has the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts in the world, & I happened to be with the Director when they "discovered" a huge crate that contained a collection they had been given nearly 50 years earlier. He told me that he had no idea they had it, & that they would have built a building to hold the collection...back when they had funds. The crate was at least 10 feet tall, 25 feet long, & 8 feet wide, so if a major museum can lose something like that, what do you think would happen with a sword collection? Probably Shinsakuto would be Nihonto by the time they found it again!

 

If there were enough of us in one place, we could start our own museum, but I have no idea how it could be funded.

 

Ken

 



#8 Darcy

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 07:47 AM

Build a museum. 

 

They are going to do one in Montreal.

 

You could rotate through collections. 

 

One thing though with the museums pushback is that notability is a requirement and collectors don't want to hear their sword is not notable. 

 

The old guys too, they have squirrelled away some treasures but there is also suriage shinto Jo-saku stuff, a lot of waks, some of them did not care for them after accumulating them. They were rusty 20 years ago and they are rusty now. They got used to dumping mediocre things onto wide eyed newbies looking for guidance and used that money to upgrade.

 

Then they looked around at the shows and... everyone is bald(er) fat(ter) grey(ing). 

 

Did the exact dumb thing, focused on the present, didn't think about the future. Accumulated HUGE PILES of mediocre stuff. That stuff spiked in volume and is coming down. In some cases nearly unsaleable. They are not going to want to deal with those realities now. 

 

Its that the prices were exaggerated when they were selling to the clueless and when they had money to spend with each other they paid exaggerated prices then the whole thing hit a wall a few years ago. They wanted to sell junk to buy mediocre, wanted to sell mediocre to buy good, but there was no food chain and they won't sell unless they get a profit. 

 

End result = economy comes to a grinding halt. 

 

People whine about no new collectors, but these guys are definitely coming. 

 

It's the same as Sears whining that the customers have gone. No, the customers are still there. They are just not going to fly to Sears for two days. They're online. They can learn and price compare and figure it out. 

 

Where the real howling is that they can't sell a mediocre thing to a fresh noob off the street for 10x the acquisition cost. New guys are learning faster lessons that took my generation a decade to learn. They are skipping over the problems then. 

 

Like in rural China when they roll out phone service they ain't gonna be doing it with telegraph poles and copper wires to everyone's house. It's going to be 2017 mode with the lessons of what people need: high speed mobile and home networks. Voice is of near zero importance now for a system that used to be voice only. 

 

So they bypass a whole generation of problems. 

 

And this is what buyers do now. There's a lot of buyers of great things that nobody knows about. They don't join NMB, too busy, they are in other countries than English-specific. Some of them read but don't post. Some will have 20 Juyo and 5 Tokuju in their collection and all of serious smiths, bound together with a theme. They are not going away.

 

But they are also not going to buy anything mediocre.

 

So yeah there will be a repricing event. It's already happened, just the other shoe has not dropped, when these guys get rid of all the Chu-jo stuff they accumulated and find out that the people who would buy it won't pay their price, and the people with money to buy it are completely disinterested. 

 

This is why I have been harping in private and public that mediocre is a danger zone. Enter at your own risk. 

 

By all means people, run out and buy up all those problem or mediocre blades that are being ejected onto the market as fast as possible. There is a reason they are being ejected out as fast as possible. 

 

Treasure sure is taking its time to come up. No race required there if you have one.

 

A museum won't happen because it needs a madman who will make it his life to see it built, and involves money. Few people will extend money for such a thing. And a museum of mediocre items doesn't work. You need good items. Which means real security in a real building and insurance and ... you're running a business. 

 

If someone was smart they would get some property in Las Vegas and build it there. But really not going to happen without the madman.


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#9 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 07:53 AM

Yeah, what he said...in spades! :thumbsup:

 

Ken

 



#10 Katsujinken

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 08:33 AM

This is why I have been harping in private and public that mediocre is a danger zone. Enter at your own risk.


Every older collector I have met – every single one – has paid dearly to learn the lesson(s) Darcy is trying very hard to give away for free here. I hope folks are paying attention!
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#11 Jean

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 08:56 AM

Undoubtedly, the collection taste/interests have changed/moved over the last decades, what was a collecting object 20 years ago is no more one.
For example, furniture. Young people prefer going to Ikea and buy a pine chest of drawers for 400$ rather than buying a 19th century mahogany one for 200$ which will last forever. The first one even if more expensive is expendable and you can change it when you want.
Mahogany is now out of fashion, people will prefer collectible from the 50's to 70's. My country house kitchen in SW of France is made of formica, very kitch/mildly ugly, but worth a lot of money because it has become collector.

The market antiques taste change every other decade or even faster...
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#12 IanB

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 11:54 AM

As a former 'museum person' and an 'old guy who has accumulated a few items'  I feel I must reply to this thread. I can only speak about museums in the UK, and yes, items do go into basement stores, and yes become unavailable or unknown to enthusiasts. But how different is that to a sword entering most private collections?  How many NMB members publish lists of their collections or make them available in some way for study by enthusiasts? It is also true that items in private collections do eventually re-surface on the market, but how many emerge in the same condition as when they were acquired?  Far too many end up in shirasaya, divorced from their koshirae, have their original tsuba changed or their hilts re-bound? Generally this would not happen to a sword in a museum, or if it were to be re-polished and put in shirasaya, as happened at the British Museum, it would remain with its koshirae catalogued under the same number. Why do so many swords, armours and the like owned by museums never see the light of day? In many cases the answer is that they have to compete for display space. In a typical museum only a fraction of their collection can actually be put on display. When the Royal Armouries lived at the Tower of London the fraction was around 8% and that percentage had to be the choice made by the curatorial staff. It may come as a shock to NMB members, but not that many museum staff have the same passion for Japanese arms and armour as we do. Despite this, items in many museum stores are looked after if not actually loved.

 

As for museums taking swords on loan for display - yes it happens but it can lead to all manner of complications and negotiations between the owner and borrower. Not least of these is the matter of insurance. Have you thought what the insurance bill is for a major museum? In the case of the Royal Armouries Museum where I worked, all items taken on loan had to be insured whilst in the museum's care. Most museums are running on shoestrings and have to think very carefully about what they spend. Having said all that I fully admit there are plenty of instances where items in museums are neglected and even destroyed through lack of care or just plain ignorance. However, the same is true of some private collections that end up languishing in descendant's garage or basement after a collector dies. Sometimes nice surprises do emerge. Just this week I learned about a very important collection that includes an armour and swords presented to a diplomat that has languished unknown in a museum since the 19th century. The only item I have seen an image of an armour, which is not in pristine condition, but at least it has survived and its origins are fully recorded. Part of that collection fell into private hands a while ago and has now disappeared and is unlikely to ever resurface with any form of provenance. There are many reasons to deprecate museums, but they do good sometimes. 

Ian Bottomley


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#13 NihontoNewbie

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 02:18 PM

The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has a rather nice nihonto collection. Not sure about whether they would be receptive, but they do display some really nice examples.
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#14 Jean

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 06:18 PM

I do agree Ian, all depends on the storage conditions in the Museum reserves. Let's talk about Musée Guimet in Paris. It was closed for a couple of year, because the inside was going to be entirely rebuilt. The new Japanese section has lost 1/3 of its surface. The main piece of art is an armour which was bought thanks to a national subscription. There is only one sword left, they had 5 swords before, one of which was a koto Nagamitsu, what became of others, nobody knows, same for tsuba. 30 years ago, I translated for the American issue "le bulletin de l'association Franco-Japonaise" an article about a Japanese Christian portative altar, a tryptic with mother of pearl inlais, that the same Museum bought for a small fortune. This altar went directly in the reserves and has never been exposed.....
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#15 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 10:41 PM

 

How many NMB members publish lists of their collections or make them available in some way for study by enthusiasts?

How many NMB members publish lists of their FORMER collections, after their houses were broken into, & their collections stolen?

 

Ken

 



#16 b.hennick

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 10:55 PM

The JSSUS used to provide every member with a membership list with all addresses included. It no longer does that. I remember writing letters to people in cities that I was going to, asking to meet them and see some of their collection. People were quite happy to show their collections to a fellow collector. 

I remember visiting Willis Hawley in his home in California after he was robbed. He knew me, as we corresponded and I bought many books and monographs from him. 


Regards,
Barry Hennick

#17 Ken-Hawaii

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Posted 05 August 2017 - 11:04 PM

Burglary, maybe, Barry, but anyone who wants to rob us had better be wearing armor!!  :ph34r:

 

Seriously, it's very sad that if we share, we stand to lose what we treasure.

 

Ken

 


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#18 Gakusee

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Posted 06 August 2017 - 12:20 AM

New museums do get established. It requires a lot of money and commitment and a large dose of philanthropy. An example is the Mori Shusui private museum in Tayama opened by the magnate Mori not that long ago. It also hosts swords from some other people, not just Mori. I have not been there yet but have had the privilege of seeing and handling one of the Masamune displayed there and some of the other swords. The catalogue is mindblowing and if you visit the website, the Japanese version is full of eye candy. That museum is dedicated to Nihonto and related crafts.
In the Western world, various museums have great Japanese sword and armour collections. However, as Ian alluded to, unless the Japanese-section curator is personally knowledgable about and interested in displaying them, they will languish hidden away. Instead, other artefacts will be displayed.
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#19 Bazza

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Posted 06 August 2017 - 12:52 AM

I translated for the American issue "le bulletin de l'association Franco-Japonaise" an article about a Japanese Christian portative altar, a tryptic with mother of pearl inlais, that the same Museum bought for a small fortune. This altar went directly in the reserves and has never been exposed.....

Jean, having many of Msr Burawoy's publications I remember this very item and article.  I'm saddened to read such a rare treasure is buried out of sight.

 

Here in Australia there have been a number of Nihonto exhibitions hosted by art galleries (rather than museums) with good items from private collections tastefully and very well displayed.  Being personally involved by giving lectures and lending items I can attest to the consuming interest of the public, with such comments as "I didn't know there was SO MUCH in it!"  The "temporary" enthusiasm, interest and professional dedication was there on the part of the galleries and is highly commendable, but a long-term commitment???  Sadly, as worthy as it is Nihonto in the grand scheme of things these days appears to be a niche interest.  The legal problems of sword ownership also impinge here.

 

Some decades ago a young undergraduate in museology visited private collectors and wrote a paper concluding and alluding to many of the issues raised above.  Not a lot has changed in the interim.  Philanthropy is not only the preserve of the uber wealthy as many a private collector realises his/her commitment and sunk capital are never going to bring a financial return - its certainly so in my case.  The love of the art seems to be the driving force, a force that is patently obvious in this space.  All we can do is keep on keeping on...

 

BaZZa.


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