Closer to Home, but then again, Not Quite Close Enough!


In the news of late is the Tacoma Art Museum and their decision to let donated pieces of traditional Chinese art go at auction, a 230,000 windfall for a museum that, I expect, could use some ….falling wind?

What TAM cannot use, by contrast, is ancient (or just old) artifacts from China, collected by Tacoma couple John and Mary Young and donated to the museum in “the 1970s.” Part of what is somewhat irksome about the Seattle Times report from my point of view is how vaguely written it is, for instance a Qing Dynasty that ended “in the early 1900s.” Last check a number of things happened in the ” early 1900s”. Delighted that’s too far away for us in the 2000’s to have worry about getting it any more precise than that.

Maureen O’Hagan, meanwhile, does find occasion to step back into ancient history, namely Tacoma’s history that includes, as O’Hagan points out, the Tacoma Solution, rounding up Chinese people, putting them on trains elsewhere and burning down their houses. Theresa Pan, head of the Chinese Reconciliation project which also fortunately finds mention in the article, manages to get in the observation that the art works are being treated now a bit like Chinese were in 1875.  

I expect the hubbub looks perhaps even a bit hysterical to those “on the outside” of Chinese (American) interests. The Seattle Times article makes clear, by interview with local authorities, that this type of decision making by museums is all part an accepted process, and that that process was (“apparently”) followed to the letter by TAM. By implication, the people don’t have anything to say about whether or not the Tacoma Art Museum chooses to allot no doubt very restricted space to the preservation not to mention exhibition of such art. But herein lies the rub. This may from all angles have been the right decision. Its execution, however, was not only a blunder, but an ongoing blunder that mere gesture doesn’t seem to fully counter. As Stephanie Steibich put it: “I’m looking to sit down with the family and figure out a way to come to a positive resolution.”  Apparently, something like this was accomplished as reports this week are that the matte was “settled” out of court. That may be so for the legal concerns, but the issues regarding Chinese in Tacoma continue well into present day.


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