Michael Lee, Curator and Director of the Foreign East Antiquity (Östasiatiska Museet) at Skeppsholmen tell us about the great and fantastic collection of East Asian Art and Archeology Sweden have thanks to our King Gustav Adolf VI and to Johan Gunnar Andersson who was the first person to conduct scientific excavation in China. Micheal Lee has a broad experience and has also worked at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC and at the Museum Of East Asian Art in Bath, U.K.
Max Nöje: What is Östasiatiska museum (the Foreign East Antiquity)?
Michael Lee: The museum has gone through changes over the years. Originally it King Gustav Adolf VI was very interested in East Asian Art and Archeology and he was an enthusiastic collector. He collected a lot of Chinese ceramic, lacquer works, jades, archaic bronzes and so forth. In the 1920s there was a group of people who were interested in China, which included scholars, collectors, and the king, that set up the museum and the king was one of the main people pushing for its establishment. Johan Gunnar Andersson was the first Director of the Museum, and he was also the first person to conduct scientific excavations in China. The Swedish archeologist, paleontologist and geologist Johan Gunnar Andersson is actually wellknown in China, especially amongst people interested in history and archeology. But in Sweden he is a bit forgotten although he was the first director of this museum and again: very well respected in China.
Today, we offer more cultural and historical contexts in the exhibitions. When visitors walk through the exhibitions, they may be able to learn more about the objects, including who made it, who was it made for, how was it used, why it was made etc. In this way people may gain a deeper understanding for the objects.
Max Nöje: What countries are included in the museum?
Michael Lee: We house collections that come from throughout Asia. The exhibits mainly cover China, Japan and Korea, but objects from present-day India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are also included.
From which periods is the museum referring too?
3000 5000 years or more ago up until to 19th-century and in some cases 20th and 21st century as well.
Max Nöje: You mentioned before that King Gustav Adolf VI (1882-1973) donated some objects but what about the rest?
Michael Lee: King Gustav Adolf VI donated his whole collection to the people of Sweden and Johan Gunnar Andersson again he was also a very important contributor. Andersson’s collection is very interesting because it is the best collection of Chinese Neolithic ceramics outside of China. In terms of quality, it may even rival collections within China. One of the great things about working in this museum is that compared to many other Western museums our main archaeological collections have been collected in an ethical way. Many Western museums have lot of burden because a lot of the objects have been acquired over the years as results of war and certain delicate situations, this one is different. The important archaeological collections at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities of our museum have been brought to Sweden by governmental agreements.
For instances, Andersson was allowed to excavate in China by the Chinese government and it was agreed that he could bring everything back to Sweden, document the material, and half of it would be returned to China. So this was done by mutual agreement.
Another important collection at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities is the Carl Kempe (1884-1967) collection. Kempe was a Swedish industrialist and very well-known collector, and his name is known even today. Amongst both scholars and collectors. He collected a lot of Chinese porcelain and precious metalwares. His Chinese glass collection, now at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, is the best and most comprehensive collection of Chinese glass I’ve seen in the west. It include examples dating from the 3rd-century B.C. up to the 19th-century.
Max Nöje: Why should people visit the Östasiatiska museum?
Michael Lee: In fact, there are many reasons. I would say, Sweden has the best collection of East Asian Art and Artifacts in Scandanavia and certain parts of the collection are even considered best within the world. It is one of the most documented collections of Chinese art. If you get Chinese art catalogues or Japanese art catalogues dating back as early as the 1930’s you will see our objects presented. So, it’s really very historical and important.
A few months ago we opened our sculpture hall and invited some monks from South of India who came to create sand painting. In mine opinion, this is also one of the best galleries as well. The three Mongolian sculptures we have, are probably the largest and finest Mongolian sculptures outside Mongolia.
Some of the collections presented here is also part of the world history. I mean, there are stories about early printing in the world, stories about ceramic production in the world and the world trade of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
Max Nöje: What will happen this spring in the museum?
Michael Lee: We have our Lunar New Year celebrations on 14 February. We have the largest Lunar Year Celebrations in Scandanavia as well. So that day. we hope to get around 2000 visitors. We have Lion dances, difference type of Chinese dance activities, calligraphy, workshops etc. We will also high-light other countries Japan that celebrates the Lunar New Year like Korea Japan.
Lion dances will be performances outdoors.
We will also be a part of India Week at the end of May, during which we will have different events about Indian art and culture.
Max Nöje: Who are mainly your visitors at Östasiatiska museum?
Michael Lee: We try to create all of our exhibits approachable to all ages. People should be able to find something for everyone here.
It also depends of the type of exhibition we have. When we inaugurated the sculpture hall and invited the monks from India, we had many people interested in East Asian religions at that time. We had also a lot a monks coming then.
Then we have different activities like guessing games, memory games, touching station to all ages and we the Dragon atelier for the children.
Max Nöje: What is the difference of working here compare to the other museums you worked before?
Michael Lee: This museum is bigger. You have a lot more people with different expertise and specializations that create a wonderful environment in which to work for. People who specialize in the history, in art, techniques of building the exhibit so when do have these exhibition meetings; there is lot of excitement to bring the different ideas into the exhibits.
Max Nöje: This building is so big. How come?
Michael Lee: Yes, is narrow and very long. The reason why is so long is because this building used to be where they made the ropes for the ships.
Max Nöje: Do people still donate objects?
Michael Lee: We are careful because we don’t want to contribute the looting of objects of other countries as well as in Sweden. So we follow the UNIESCO 1970s World Protection of Heritage. This essentially means that museums should not collect things without knowing the provenance and to have a recorded documentation. If there is no documentation or left the country after 1970, it should not be collected. We also want to make sure that the objects fit within the museum’s collection and so forth.
Photographer and reporter: Cristina Funke