Copper in the Arts

March 2011

Getty Museum Presents Ancient Cambodian Bronze Masterpieces from the Khmer Empire

Incense burner or lamp Incense burner or lamp, Cambodia Angkor period 12th century Bronze, H x W x D: 30.5 x 25 x 13 cm.

Photograph courtesy of National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian mastery of bronze will be highlighted in a focused exhibition at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia will be on view through August 14 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Culled entirely from the collection of the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Gods of Angkor features 26 magnificent sculptures and ritual objects, including bronze sculptures created during the Angkor period (9th to 15th centuries). Among the Angkorian pieces are some of the finest and most beautiful Cambodian bronzes in existence.

The Crowned Buddha, a rare 12th Century bronze from the Angkor period will be on display. This figure was excavated in nine pieces on the grounds of the temple of Angkor Wat in 1931. Once joined, the two hands subsequently became separated from the body again; only recently were they located and reattached by staff at the National Museum's Metal Conservation Laboratory. The restoration revealed the figure's distinctive pose, with both hands gesturing the expression for "fear not." The standing, crowned Buddha in bronze was a common icon in the western territory of the expanded Khmer empire (present-day central Thailand).

"We are delighted to give visitors to the Museum this rare opportunity to see these exquisite Khmer bronzes on the West Coast, particularly given the local presence of the largest Cambodian community in the United States," explains David Bomford, acting director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "We are deeply grateful to our colleagues at the National Museum of Cambodia for lending us so many important pieces for this exhibition."

This exhibition is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries and the National Museum of Cambodia that began in 2003, when the National Museum approached the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., for help in the conservation of the bronze works. In 2005, the Getty Foundation provided the support for a conservation survey of the bronzes, which had suffered due to lack of resources and years of political turmoil. During the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, the museum was abandoned with much of the bronze collection left in its basement. Since the 1980s, the museum had been working to document and conserve their holdings and to enhance storage conditions, at times collaborating with international experts. Many pieces, however, had yet to be examined.

The grant from the Getty Foundation enabled the Smithsonian to have conservators survey the condition of the collection and to perform conservation treatment on the most atrisk objects, but perhaps more importantly, to help the National Museum develop a long-term strategic plan for its bronze conservation program. The greatest result of this international collaboration is the National Museum's new Metals Conservation Laboratory-the first in Cambodia. Seven of the works on view, which were discovered in 2006, are among the first bronzes conserved in the laboratory by the staff of the National Museum of Cambodia.

Resources:

The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1200 Getty Center Dr., Los Angeles, CA, (310) 440-7300

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