Collecting Culture: Himalaya through the Lens

Alsdorf Gallery

Collecting Culture: Himalaya through the Lens looks at European and American representations of Kashmir and the Himalayas. By the late 19th century, British colonial rule in India stimulated travel to the region, from military and commercial expeditions to scientific research, mountaineering and tourism. It also facilitated mapping, photographic documentation and collecting, all of which contributed to how the region was viewed from afar. 

As a companion exhibition to Collecting Paradise: Buddhist Art of Kashmir and Its Legacies, this exhibition further examines the impact of centuries of collecting in the region. Through lenses including photography, cartography, natural science and ethnography, it reflects on the ways Westerners have perceived, defined and acquired the Himalayas, raising questions about what is gained and what is lost when objects are removed from their intended cultural context.

The collecting practices of four individuals are highlighted: Giuseppe Tucci (1894–1984), an Italian scholar of languages and religions; Walter Koelz (1895–1989), an American zoologist and self-trained art connoisseur; Thakur Rup Chand (1902–1994), who was born in British-ruled India and worked closely with Koelz over 30 years; and William McGovern (1897–1964), a Northwestern professor who participated in two expeditions to the region in 1922–23, resulting in a film and travel memoir.

Tucci and Koelz were notable collectors, and the objects they amassed display their widely diverging interests. They collected 11 of the 44 works of art on view in the exhibition upstairs, and the objects they acquired in situ can be found in many major museum collections.

Koelz’s travel journal and Tucci’s published works demonstrate at times prejudiced opinions and unscrupulous collecting methods, which were questioned even in their day. Seen through a contemporary lens, their attitudes and actions provide an opportunity to ask important questions about how and why art from one culture is collected by individuals from another.

The exhibition has been co-curated by the Block’s Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs Kathleen Bickford Berzock and curator of Collecting Paradise Rob Linrothe.

Collecting Paradise and Collecting Culture were organized by the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University; and the Rubin Museum of Art, New York. Additional funding and support provided by: National Endowment for the Arts; Myers Foundations; Alumnae of Northwestern; Elizabeth F Cheney Foundation; Illinois Arts Council Agency; Illinois Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Illinois General Assembly; Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, Northwestern University; and Department of Art History, Northwestern University. Support has also been provided by The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment; Kessel Fund at the Block Museum; Norton S. Walbridge Fund;  Alsdorf Gallery at the Block Museum Quasi-Endowment; and the Louise E. Drangsholt Fund. 

Collecting Kashmir: The Expeditions of Walter N. Koelz

Wednesday, April 8, 6pm

The collection of Walter N. Koelz, an American zoologist who sponsored collecting expeditions in the Western Himalayas during the 1930s, has contributed significantly to our understanding of Himalayan art. In a gallery talk focused on Collecting Culture, which includes many objects from Koelz’ collection, Carla Sinopoli, University of Michigan anthropology faculty member and curator of Asian archaeology at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology, will address Koelz’ collecting practices.