Lijin Collection Distinguished Lecture Series on Asian Art

Wed, 05/01/2024 - 5:30pm


Sleuthing Provenance: The Strange History of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's South Indian Temple Hall

In 1913, a Philadelphia couple purchased more than sixty huge carved granite blocks from a temple in the city of Madurai, India. In 1919 these blocks were offloaded onto the lawn of a museum in Philadelphia. In this talk, Dr. Darielle Mason, Senior Curator of Asia Art, Emerita, Philadelphia Museum of Art, draws from her recent book Storied Stone: Reframing the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s South Indian Temple Hall to tell a multi-faceted detective tale that spans over a century. She investigates the blocks' origins, travels, and installations as well as how they have been (and are) perceived, received, and reinterpreted.

Mason held the post of Philadelphia's South Asian curator and department head for nearly thirty years. She speaks from the rare standpoint of an internal critic, able to pull back the opaque curtain of a large museum's hidden workings to reveal the importance of individual decision-makers and cultural transformation. This nuanced case study helps us question polemical approaches to issues from authenticity, sacrality, and heritage to ownership, ethics, and repatriation.