Chinese Treasures Shipped Out of Tacoma

A Museum, a Family, a Horrific History, and a Fight Right Now


“The manager has his eye on the bottom line; the leader has his eye on the horizon.” Warren G. Bennis
funny that I just saw this today, the same as I saw this:…

the link isn't specifically about The Tacoma Method or TAM, but it does have some pretty interesting insights into how city planning has codified some of the inequities in services that city sees.
So if someone donates anything to a museum, then that person (donator?) and their heirs, from now onto eternity, have the right to demand it back? Uhhhhh, that would be a 'loan' rather than a donation. I appreciate that this person had an emotional connection to the piece, but Connie is in the wrong here and this sets a very bad precedent for everyone
What a nightmare! It is a straight up clash between Western Euro art museum practices and the differing value of history and symbolism in non Euro cultures. True, the TAM is just following the protocols and standards that any museum like it might choose to follow. And like any museum, totally misunderstands the symbolism of the gifts and how important it was for the family to understand that they were there. And even though there were diplomatic conversations beforehand, the lessons that the family thought the TAM drew from those conversations apparently didn't happen.

The TAM likely thought it understood the message from the family about the sale in a more literal way. That said, the TAM may possibly not understand its place within Tacoma and its place within the history of the area as it relates to Chinese, or Salish or African American people either. But I don't know that the TAM is unusual in this regard. It usually takes a sensitive curator or administrators who are at least educable in terms of not stepping right in it.

While the pieces may not have met the "museum standard" an art museum also is aware that the story about works is as important as the nature of the work itself.

I feel badly for the family. The museum isn't technically in the wrong as far as museums go in its obligation toward unrestricted gifts. At the time of the donation, the family probably also wasn't aware of this potential outcome. The family is also 100% justified in feeling betrayed as their family pieces went up for bid and raked in a considerable amount of money for the museum. Poof, just like that, the meaning of the original gift and the symbolism of the holding were erased in a commerce transaction.

The two parties valued the story in different ways and while the museum was technically right, it is also understandably galling to realize that the TAM doesn't recognize or acknowledge the same things the family sees and more importantly doesn't see the need. They are just wanting to smooth it over as much as possible.

Western standards of art are often going to clash with cultural history and values of non-western cultures. To me artists and donors who are from non-Euro cultures should understand this distinction that TAM and other institutions like it will always make before they choose to do business with the institution. I can guess what some contemporary artists who is Chinese might produce as a result of this fiasco though and I really look forward to seeing it.
Tacoma is run by insensitive jerks. Conservatives and crooks have made Tacoma a haven for the bloated, the stupid and the greedy.
@freshnycman: (1) The article makes it pretty clear that Jen believes that legally TAM is in the right, but the symbolism of what they are doing is ill-judged. (2) It's hard to guess the intent of a donor half a century ago, and this gift was given unconditionally, but it looks like her heirs would have been a lot happier if there had been a condition on the donation, such as one preventing TAM from freely selling the objects and requiring that if they were de-accessioned a local historical museum would have some sort of first shot at them. Although that's not what she did, that would still have been a gift, not a loan. So "heir heirs, from now onto eternity, have the right to demand it back" is a bit of a straw man.
"heir heirs" => "their heirs", sorry.
Jen, re the earlier posting on which comments are now closed: "Worst Act of Anti-Chinese Persecution in American History" is probably a bit of an overstatement. Rock Creek, Wyoming springs to mind, and worse was probably done in Idaho (the state was once 1/3 Chinese).
I agree TAM should have been more sensitive, but it should be noted that Tacoma has done a lot to recognize the shameful expulsion episode through the creation of the beautiful Chinese Reconciliation Park on the Old Town waterfront.
they gotta make room for the culturally sensitive Cowboy and Indian art donated by the rich german dude…
One of the major rules of the liberal/progressive tradition is to do no harm. It’s built into this approach to life with roots in Romanticism and the Enlightenment. One style of reporting can be the subjecting elements in a local art world not only to scrutiny but as a victim of an intense drubbing combined with the premise that the reporting comes from higher ground. Such reporting can reach the level of “high” but entertains the danger of the kind of curious exposé found in such periodicals as the National Enquirer. In addition, such reporting faces the danger of violating fundamental social rules about being positive and getting along. Myself, I’m caught on the fence on such reporting. I can find myself lifted on the refreshing and brave calling up of something that seems wrong in the system. It’s revolutionary. But I also feel a part of me cringe when just about any article breeches certain social standards and exposes the supposed dirty laundry of a person, community or institution. The Stanger seems to embrace a style that ensures a foot in all camps and the possibility of doing wrong and thus harm, at times, in print.

This article reveals something apparently gone wrong in the Tacoma art community and seems to have carefully exhumed the bones of a dead-as-done mistake by all parties involved. The examination and resultant text of the reportage seems well balanced, informative, and shows the parties under scrutiny sharing blame.

We can recall the article pointing out that the Seattle art community in some way sucks compared to Vancouver’s. We can recall the brazen honesty of an article that accused a local art critic of taking payoffs in the form of the works of an artist to write good reviews of that artist. We might ask were these exposés as balanced as the current one. And then there’s the recent article that would appear to just be telling the facts about a senior truly local artist, Charles Krafft, and find in its text really questionable statements that would seem able to harm the reputation and commerce of this artist, a reportage that leaves out so many good things about this man at hand in the evidence the article claims to use to obtain balance. In some theology there is the wise observation of the sin of omission. One might wish that this recent article on Charlie had been more fair and balanced and revealed more examples of his being quite a good person. We could have been treated a stronger revelation of how Charlie’s rather conservative beliefs don’t necessarily lead to an intelligent conclusion that he should be condemned for his associations. It could be said that the distinction of such nuances are important to any fair analysis. I can imagine some local artists being distraught over one of their own being so pilloried, worrying about what’s dirty in their laundry and wondering how their discursions or imprecise use of language might impact the public valuation of their work.

In this article it seems clear that the Young Yus were maybe quite naïve in their trust of the TAM system. (Nothing like museological management.) The only non-legal defense I think of for them is that one might say TAM had a responsibility to communicate to them the inappropriateness of such gifts to them and of Tam’s possible fickle nature in such matters. The Young Yus could have been pointed to the Seattle Asian repositories of such gifts such as SAAM, the Wing Luke and, maybe, the UW’s Burke. Also arising is the interesting reality of what might be a struggle for such cultural items between the old and new countries’ communities. Apparently old Chinese items are in demand by some of the new rich of China who on purchasing such items may be beginning a process that could return them, at some point, to Chinese museum collections. It reminds us of the historic phase when the Europeans rushed to collect the artifacts of the Middle East for their museum collections or the transporting of such items to a new country by immigrants. The question of where these things should reside is intriguing.

I continue to value and enjoy the writing in this column by this author and have no fantasy that we can always agree. I support her role in the local scene and only offer my point of view as a reflection.