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Treasures From Afghanistan to Tour the United States

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December 21, 2007

A traveling exhibition of some 200 artworks from the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul will begin a 17-month tour in the United States in May, making its first stop at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The show, organized by the National Gallery with the National Geographic Society, includes objects spanning 4,000 years of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage, among them a select group of gold artifacts from the Bactrian hoard, which dates from the first century A.D. The National Gallery stop runs from May 25 through Sept. 7.

The hoard, which includes bracelets, swords, figurines, a crown, a belt and other items, was unearthed by archaeologists in 1978 at a site at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan, where six tombs from the ancient kingdom of Bactria were found.

The artifacts vanished from view sometime after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan the next year, and they were thought to have been stolen or destroyed in the long civil unrest that followed. Then in August 2003 it was announced that they had been found in the presidential palace bank vault in Kabul.

“Afghanistan’s centrality in the Silk Road created a rich mosaic of cultures and civilizations,” Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, said.

With the hoard as a centerpiece of the exhibition, he said, the show will “tell the story of some individuals who were involved in preserving this heritage.” Among them are the Afghan archaeologists who verified the recovered objects and compiled an inventory.

The United States tour was arranged by Fredrik T. Hiebert, who has organized the United States exhibition with Carla Grissmann, from the National Museum of Afghanistan.

In addition to the Bactrian hoard pieces, the exhibits include objects from three other archaeological sites. There are fragmentary gold vases dated between 2500 B.C. and 2200 B.C. from Tepe Fullol in northern Afghanistan; a group of bronze, ivory and stone sculptures from the site of a Greek settlement was excavated at Ai Khanum; and carved ivory reliefs and other objects from Bagram, formerly the summer capital of the Kushan Empire (first to third century A.D.) and now an American air base about 25 miles north of Kabul.

National Geographic struck a $1 million deal with the Afghan government in June to bring the objects to the United States. Given Afghanistan’s poverty and the damage done to its cultural heritage over decades of violence and turmoil, some cultural experts suggested that the country had been shortchanged. But Mr. Jawad said, “From the beginning, money was not a prime factor.”

The exhibiting institutions will cover the costs of insurance, shipping and other expenses.

Terry D. Garcia, the executive vice president of the National Geographic Society’s mission programs, said: “One million is not a small sum. The price was negotiated by the Afghan government. This is not a commercial exhibition.”

The show has traveled to the Musée Guimet in Paris and the Museo di Antichità in Turin, Italy, and is currently on view at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam through April 20. Plans are in the works for it to travel to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

BETWEEN FRIENDS

Like many figures of his generation the figurative and Pop painter R. B. Kitaj shared ideas with fellow artists, including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, whom he is credited with calling the London School. The men often swapped artworks as well.

So when Kitaj died in October, his home and studio were brimming not only with his own art, but also with paintings, drawings and prints by Bacon, Mr. Auerbach and David Hockney, a former classmate at the Royal College of Art. On Feb. 8 more than 50 of them will be offered at Christie’s in London in an auction that officials estimate could bring in $6 million.

During the 1950s Mr. Freud and Bacon were close friends. A drawing of Bacon by Mr. Freud from 1951 carries an auction estimated of $201,000 to $302,000.

A portrait by Mr. Hockney, “Ron Kitaj Outside the Academy Vienna,” is estimated at roughly $50,000 to $70,000. In 1988 Kitaj recounted meeting Mr. Hockney in art school. “We were in the cast room, and I watched him spend his first week drawing a skeleton,” Kitaj said. “It was the most beautiful drawing I had ever seen in art school. I offered him £5 for it, and he accepted.”

“We became close friends very quickly,” he said. The next week Mr. Hockney executed a more elaborate skeleton drawing that Kitaj managed to buy years later from a dealer for a sum he described as “rather more than £5.” (Both drawings are in the auction. The first is estimated to bring about $30,000 $40,000, and the second $50,000 to $70,000.)

The auction will also include 14 works by Mr. Auerbach, including a self-portrait from 1958 that is expected to sell for $201,000 to $301,000. And, of course, there will be many works by Kitaj, like “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” from 1982, estimated at $60,500 to $80,600.

ART IN THE PARK

With each season Madison Square Park — that swath of green space between Madison and Fifth Avenues, from 23rd to 26th Street — seems to get more ambitious with its public art programs. Starting next year there will be art in the park year round.

Plans include installations by four foreign-born artists. From March 20 through April 27 the work of the Stuttgart Internet artists Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied will be on view. They will scan copies of four New York newspapers and enhance them with their own computer art, screening the images on video screens near the Shake Shack food kisok.

From May 1 through Aug. 31 the London sculptor Richard Deacon will have seven new works on view; the Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata will create 10 treehouses in September. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer of Mexico will show a site-specific interactive light sculpture in November.

“Some of these artists, like Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, have never shown in New York before,” said Debbie Landau, executive director of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which oversees the square’s four-year-old art program with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Each one will show the park in different ways.”

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Written by afghandevnews

December 22, 2007 at 1:42 pm

Posted in Culture and Arts

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