Arts and Culture
In the 1950s the Czech-Austrian scholar René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz (1923-1959) assembled a large collection of Nepalese items for the Viennese Museum für Völkerkunde. On his field trip in 1957, as one of the first foreign researchers in Nepal, he purchased more than 250 artifacts of ethnographic and art historical interest and produced an extensive visual and audio-visual documentation of their practical and ritual use. These objects represent the material culture, religious practice, artistic knowhow and daily life of the indigenous community. Soon after returning to Vienna, Nebesky-Wojkowitz presented these objects together with his research results to the general public in a large exhibition at the Museum. It was the first exhibition on Nepal ever shown in Vienna and it received a huge media response and attracted a wide public interest.
This paper serves as a critical analysis of this exhibition in 1958 – at a time, when Asian art was still perceived as exotic and the image of travels to Asia where still coined by the romanticized adventure stories of explorers such as Sven Hedin or Heinrich Harrer, who just returned from Tibet in 1951 after seven years of residence there. We will discuss the methods and strategies that Nebesky-Wojkowitz applied by means of this popular medium of public presentation to convey and disseminate his findings among colleagues and a non-academic audience. We will also address the question if and how his collection strategies were influenced by the time and his ambivalent relationship of scientific approach and popular appreciation.