Collaboration Roundly Praised, Collaboratively, at Asia Society

At the beginning of the Asia Society panel on “International Collaborations in the Arts” this morning, the heavy hitters on the panel seemed at a loss for words. The collaborations in the title mostly referred to traveling exhibits, but there was an analogy they danced around, with talk of “one-offs” and “long-term collaborations.” Finally, some 20 minutes in, John Leighton, director-general of the National Galleries of Scotland came right out with it.

“We’re looking for something a little more than a one-night-stand and just a little shy of marriage,” he said. The audience laughed and everyone on the panel seemed to relax slightly, now that they could all use the metaphor. “In many respects I think people might be surprised by how superficial what we call collaborations have been in the past.”

The talk largely excluded New York museums, since international collaborations are something of a given here. Instead, the panel featured people like Michael Shapiro, director of Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, and Elizabeth Glassman, of the Terra Foundation for American Art, which needs such partnerships since it has no physical plant.

And they did employ Mr. Leighton’s metaphor frequently, but everything remained somewhat in the abstract. Everybody agreed that greater cooperation between museums, particularly when it comes to education, was both necessary and natural — inevitable, really.

“We are an American museum,” said Henri Loyrette, president and director of the Louvre. “We are the third American museum in the world! We have more American visitors in the Louvre than you have in Philadelphia or Boston. I’m sorry but that’s the truth.”

A very tall man, Mr. Loyrette frequently leaned between his long legs and wore black leather sneakers to everyone eles’s shiny shoes. Gabriele Finaldi, of Madrid’s Museo del Prado said such partnerships extend the Prado’s reach.

“We used to say that you go to the Prado, if you’re a Spaniard, twice in your life,” Mr. Finaldi said. “You go once with your dad and once with your son, and that’s it.”

Moderator Jeffrey Brown of PBS’s NewsHour pointed out that Mr. Loyrette had taken flack in the French press for “selling the country’s patrimony,” in his paraphrasing. Mr. Loyrette waved away the criticisms as he sipped from a small bottle of water.

“That’s a long story though,” he said. “It’s just what French journalists said when we lent works for the Columbian [Exposition] in Chicago at the end of the 19th century — ‘Why are you lending to the city of butchers?’ and so on. It was not new.” Collaboration Roundly Praised, Collaboratively, at Asia Society