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Exhibiting Cultural Objects from Asia in the Norton Simon Museum: The Orientalization of the Asian Art Galleries



Exhibiting Asian Objects in the Norton Simon Museum:

The Orientalization of the Asian Art Galleries


Jenny Hong Mai Nguyen

Master of Arts in Art History

University of California, Irvine, 2017

Professor Margaret M. Miles, Chair

The purpose of my thesis is to analyze how the label, "Asian Art Collection," misrepresents and misinterprets the cultural objects displayed in the Norton Simon Museum. After Norton Simon's death in 1993, the museum underwent a five million dollar renovation, which included adding gallery space for Simon's Asian art collection. Designed by Frank Gehry with the assistance of Dr. Pratapaditya Pal, the overall design and aesthetic of the galleries suggests the idea of a sacred temple space, which generalizes Asia to be a timeless and oriental place. While the collection itself contains mostly religious objects, it fails to represent all Asian cultures and countries as indicated by the collection title. Using James Clifford's art-culture system, I question whether these cultural objects are considered art and analyze the value the museum assigned to these objects and how this value is reflected in how they are displayed. The Norton Simon Museum fails to educate the community it serves by not presenting a diverse and inclusive collection of objects from Asia.

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