36.Brundage Opening Symposium: Last Day

After I had moved to Berkeley in 1965 to begin teaching at UCB, I began also making regular trips to the de Young Museum in San Francisco to talk with people there about plans for the opening of the Brundage collection. This was awkward because it necessarily meant working with Yvon d"Argencé (see #67 above) who saw me as a competitor and adversary. The director of the de Yoiung was Jack McGregor, who was in a weak position because Brundage disliked him (he was gay, although married to a charming woman, and for Brundage, with his Olympic-chairman attitudes about male virility etc., this made him hard to work with.) So there was a series of uneasy meetings at which we talked about, especially, the opening symposium, which was to be a big international affair to which all the important scholars in Asian art, along with dealers and collectors, would flock and spend some days marveling at Brundage's collection, both what would by then be on view in the new wing and the pieces in storage that would be specially shown to them. Yvon and I were in charge of planning this.

Leaving aside a thousand problems in choosing invitees and paper-givers and coming to the opening: it was indeed a huge gathering, perhaps the largest brought together up to then. We unwisely planned it for five days was it? too long, anyway. There were to be, if I remember right, paper sessions every morning, special viewings in the afternoons, and lectures in the evenings—a heavy schedule. I stayed in S.F. the whole time—Marjorie Bissinger, one of the founders of the Society for Asian Art, put me up.

I could write about a lot of things that went wrong in that symposium, and tensions that developed, and how Serge Elisseeff, after we had paid a lot to fly him from Xinjiang? somewhere iike that, gave a paper on his computer program for Chinese bronze designs that no one understood. (I have learned since that it was all a gigantic failure, of no use.) Frank Caro was going around with Chiang Er-shih (see #67 again) claiming that i was pushing the Contag collection of Chinese paintings on Brundage because I was getting a commission (untrue)—John Crawford, who loved gossip and usually got it wrong, was telling people that I had tried to sell Brundage my own collection and had been rebuffed. And a lot more of the same kind of thing—dealer rivalries, disagreements over authenticity, tensions and unpleasantness of all kinds. Through a secretarial blunder we had invited one of the Yabumotos from Japan but not both, so neither came.

The symposium opened with a lunch for all participants, at which Avery Brundage was the principal speaker. The invitees, tired from long flights and less-than-luxurious accomodations in a badly-chosen hotel, were not, as a group, in a cheerful mood. Two big things went wrong. One was that one of the dishes in the lunch—a salad?--was tainted with ptomaine? something that made quite a few of them painfully sick. The other, just as bad, was Brundage's talk, in which he insulted all the Chinese painting specialists there by explaining why he didn't collect Chinese paintings: because the experts couldn't agree among themselves about datings, authorship, even whether a certain work was Chinese or Japanese. An example he gave was a pair of Arhat paintings that Phil Stern had called Japanese Muromachi, Larry Sickman late Song Chinese, and Wen Fong (according to him—WF denied it) 19th century Korean. (Brundage had large cards for all his objects, on which the opinions of visiting specialists would be recorded by his curator.)

Michael Sullivan and I got together with other Ch. ptg people to think how to deliver a response to Brundage. Michael was giving a lecture on the evening before the last day, and he was delegated to insert an answer, somehow, into his talk, however irrelevantly. He did, only to learn that Brundage had arrived late at the lecture, after Michael had delivered his response. So we had to think again what to do. The morning of the last day was devoted to Chinese painting papers, with me as chair, and dedicated to Osvald Sirén, who had died shortly before. I remember talking with Marjorie Bissinger about how I would do this, staying up late to prepare what I would say.

The morning session included one unexpected and moving talk by Siren's son Orvel? (can't recall name for sure), an architect in S.F.—I had invited him to be present at my tribute to his father. When he came that morning, he asked me: When do I speak? I couldn't say no, and gave him 15 minutes before my own speech. What he wanted to deliver was a talk about what a terrible person Sirén had been as a private individual—his argument being that in becoming a "great scholar" his father had made his family pay a terrible price, giving them no support, mistreating his mother—"It was not easy being the son of Osvald Siren." I used to have a tape of his talk, but have lost it.

My own talk had to combine a real tribute to Siren—whom I myself had come to dislike as a person (see #25)—with the answer to Brundage, who was present. At the end of an insincere encomium I began to praise Siren for having had the courage to publish many paintings before they bore safe attributions and datings—to answer Brundage's complaints against us specialists. "If collectors of Siren's time had failed to acquire certain works—supposing they were available--because scholars disagreed on whether they were Chinese or Japanese," I said, "they would have missed acquiring the Hokke Mandala in the Boston MFA, numbers of Shôsôin paintings," and so on, a list, ending with:: "not to speak of all those Song-Yuan or Sôgen paintings about which one feels sometimes that only God and Professor Shimada know for sure—and God will be the first to publish his findings." This brought forth a slight smile on Shimada's face, I'm happy to say.

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