Adam Dean for The New York Times
在看管不善的博物館和塵土飛揚的儲藏室里，這些策展人已經 見識了成百上千的罕見古代文物，但他們表示，這座蓮花是其中的耀眼明星。他們一直在緬甸各地探尋，為2015年將在紐約市的亞洲協會(Asia Society)舉行的一次展覽做準備，該展覽將突出多年來不為人知的緬甸佛教藝術。
策展人翻遍了潮濕的蒲甘博物館地下室，他們發現了一種體型 巨大的夜壺，是那些曾經遍布在伊洛瓦底江畔的豪華宮殿里使用過。他們檢查了在寺院里存放貝葉經的金漆木盒，盒上的漆已經斑駁。在卑謬城的破舊圖書館裡，他 們看到塗著金漆、形如獅身人面怪的生物造像被放在髒兮兮的玻璃櫃里。卑謬與緬甸最早的佛教徒居住的地方相距不遠。
策展人搜羅過的地方包括故都仰光、新都內比都、卑謬，還有 蒲甘，這裡從9世紀到13世紀曾是一個王國的中心，這個國家有着強大的創造力，在一片廣闊的平原上建成了近2000座磚制和鍍金的寺廟。蒲甘是一個很受歡 迎的旅遊目的地，遊客們喜歡站在褪色的寺廟中，遙想昔日的輝煌，而農民至今還會挖掘出一些古代的金首飾。
門很矮，因此覲見國王的臣民要想進來，就必須謙恭地彎腰。策展人對它垂涎欲滴，但它是遭到仰光國家博物館(National Museum)的主管們否決的少數幾樣展品中的一件。博物館前副館長努瑪贊(Nu Mra Zan)說，「不可能。」
肯定在最優先的名單上的，有一件12世紀的木刻。它的高度 超過兩英尺，展示了佛陀向他的母親講法之後下界的情景。這場展覽的客座策展人西爾維婭·弗雷澤-路(Sylvia Fraser-Lu)對這幅作品中刻畫的動感十分讚賞，她說，「它很特別，能保存下來真是幸運。它可能是放在寺廟裡面的，或者在寺廟背陰的一側。」
為了用一件傑作來讓挑剔的紐約觀眾眼前一亮，策展人選擇了 一尊11世紀的石像。這尊塑像展現了神情喜悅的悉達多王子(Prince Siddhartha)在上路前用劍削髮明誓的情景，他是在經歷那段旅行後成佛的。招穎思正在預先考慮展覽推廣的方案，她說：「這可能會是展覽中的招牌展 品。」
然而，許多石頭佛像由於太重，連最貪婪的掠奪者也搬不動， 因而留在了緬甸國內。因此，紐約的這次展覽將會是這些展品首次在緬甸以外展出。同為客座策展人的唐納德·斯塔特納(Donald Stadtner)著有多本關於緬甸佛教傳統的著作。他說，「蒲甘時代的石像中，沒有任何一尊重要的塑像流出了緬甸。」
策展人的最後一站是卑謬博物館裡的一座鐵皮屋頂的附屬建 築。這裡陳列着一尊有1500年歷史的青銅佛像，銅像腳下是綠色的塑料桌布，照明僅靠頭頂的一盞條形霓虹燈。由於數個世紀以來都埋在地下，這尊佛像已經蒙 上了一層粗糙的銅綠。2005年，一名稻農在犁地時意外划到了銅像上，國家考古部(National Department of Archaeology)副主任登倫(Thein Lwin)表示，「他重重地打到了什麼東西上，很幸運沒給打壞。」
Opening a Door to the Burmese Past, and the Present, Too
September 07, 2013
BAGAN, Myanmar — In a delicate operation here, specialists gingerly eased a priceless, 1,000-year-old national treasure — a Buddhist bronze casting in the shape of a lotus flower — from its perch in a museum showcase.
A small group of curators on a recent visit from the United States, flashlights in hand, admired the tiny metal hinges that allow the flower to open and close as well as the intricate detail on the miniature Buddhas craftsmen attached to the petals long ago. The piece was found in pristine condition inside a stone box flung to the surface by an earthquake here nearly 40 years ago.
The curators pronounced it a star attraction among hundreds of rarely seen ancient objects in the neglected museums and dusty storerooms they have been scouring across Myanmar as they prepare for a 2015 exhibit at the Asia Society in New York City that will celebrate the nation’s long-hidden Buddhist art.
As Myanmar wrestles with the problems and uncertainty of a nascent democracy, and Buddhist extremists tarnish the image of the country’s dominant religion with attacks on Muslims, early Buddhist art offers a different dimension of a country that until recently languished under a military dictatorship, and before World War II served as a tropical outpost of the British Empire.
The curators rummaged through the humid basement of the Bagan museum, where they found outsize chamber pots used in the princely palaces that once flourished on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. They examined gilded wood monastery boxes that stored palm-leaf manuscripts, the paint now peeling. They peered into grimy glass cabinets at gold-painted sphinxlike creatures in a rundown library in the town of Prome, near where the first Buddhists in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, lived.
“The show will be a coming out for Burma,” said Melissa Chiu, museum director of the Asia Society. “The country has been closed off for so many years, we hope the show will assume a bigger significance, and shed new light on material not seen before. Buddhism is the state religion and plays such a major role in daily life.”
The curators searched in the former capital, Yangon; in the new capital, Naypyidaw; in Prome; and here in Bagan, which from the ninth century to the 13th century was the center of a royal kingdom where the creative energy was so intense that nearly 2,000 brick and gilded temples were built across a vast plain. In Bagan, a popular destination for tourists imagining the glory days among faded temples, farmers still unearth ancient gold jewelry.
The antiquities hunt has the support of President Thein Sein. During a visit to the United States last year, he approved the loan of dozens of artworks for the 2015 show, ensuring that the curators were welcomed in usually off-limits inner sanctums. Of the estimated 70 objects planned for the exhibit, about three-quarters will come from Myanmar and the remainder from collections in the United States, Ms. Chiu said.
In exchange for the right to borrow the art, the Asia Society has pledged to provide training in conservation techniques to Myanmar’s museum employees, who must make do with a scant $100,000 budget that leaves the nation’s museums with little electricity, poor air-conditioning and no money for acquisitions.
Although the visitors had extraordinary access and freedom to choose the objects they wanted, some items were too precious to ship to New York, including an elaborately carved gilt door from the royal court in Mandalay that was salvaged before the British Army looted the palace in 1885.
The door was low, making it impossible for subjects who visited the king to enter without bending in obeisance. The curators coveted it, but it was one of the few pieces that the directors of the National Museum in Yangon vetoed. “Impossible,” said Daw Nu Mra Zan, a former deputy director of the museum.
But that still left many images of Buddha — in stone, bronze and wood — to choose from. Some looked similar to other famous images. A few were judged to be fakes. But with so many remarkable pieces, it will be difficult to make the final selections, the curators said.
A wood carving more than two feet high from the 12th century that shows Buddha descending from heaven after giving a sermon to his mother will surely be on the A-list. “This is very special,” said Sylvia Fraser-Lu, a guest curator for the show, as she admired the movement carved into the piece. “It’s luck that it was preserved. It may have been inside a temple, or on the shady side of a temple.”
For a spectacular object that would impress hard-to-please New York audiences, the curators liked an 11th-century stone sculpture of a jaunty-looking Prince Siddhartha shearing his hair with a sword as he vowed to begin the journey that would lead him to become the Buddha. “It could be the signature piece of the show,” said Ms. Chiu, thinking ahead to marketing possibilities.
Over the years, waves of looters depleted much of the great storehouse of treasures. In the 1885 Anglo-Burmese war, British soldiers plundered smaller items like mirrors, manuscripts and jewelry, said Ms. Fraser-Lu, who lived in Burma in the 1970s. In the 1920s, German souvenir hunters carted away chunks of walls from several monasteries, she said.
Monks told her that during the military dictatorship from 1962 to 2011 they wielded baseball bats to protect the treasures in their monasteries from smugglers in league with the authorities.
Still, many of the stone Buddha images that were too heavy for even the most ardent looters to move remained in the country, so the New York exhibit will be a chance to show the pieces for the first time outside Myanmar. “There is not a single major Bagan-era stone sculpture outside of Burma,” said Donald Stadtner, also a guest curator and the author of books on Burma’s Buddhist heritage.
At the curators’ last stop, the tin-roofed annex of the museum in Prome, a 1,500-year-old bronze Buddha, encrusted with a rough patina from centuries buried in the ground, stood on a green plastic tablecloth under a bare neon strip light. A rice farmer stumbled across it in 2005 while plowing his fields, said U Thein Lwin, the deputy director general of the National Department of Archaeology. “He hit something hard,” Mr. Thein Lwin said. “We are lucky it wasn’t broken.”
Shipping the tough bronze Buddha to New York should not be risky, but the fragile lotus flower at Bagan is another matter, and may need special permission from the government to exit the country, Ms. Chiu said.
Daw Baby, the deputy director of the museum here, said the prized lotus flower should travel to New York.
“All of the collection is in my heart,” she said. “Every day I check the 1,000 pieces in our museum. A temporary loan to New York is not a problem for me. But not permanently.”