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‘A Dubliner’s Collection of Asian Art: The Albert Bender Exhibition’



‘A Dubliner’s Collection of Asian Art: The Albert Bender Exhibition’

at the

National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts and History,

Collins Barracks, Benburb Street, Dublin 7


Wednesday 12th November 2008

On Wednesday12th November, the National Museum of Ireland will officially open a new exhibition called, A Dubliner’s Collection of Asian Art: The Albert Bender Exhibition.

Albert M. Bender (1866-1941) was born in Dublin, the son of Rabbi Philip Bender. He emigrated to San Francisco California, while still a young man where by the turn of the 20th century he was one of the most successful insurance brokers on the west coast of the United States. Although first attracted to book collecting and modern art, both of which he generously supported he also became interested in Asian art. In honour of his mother, Augusta Bender, he donated some 260 artefacts of mostly Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan origin to the National Museum of Ireland between 1931 and 1936.

Audrey Whitty, Curator of of Asian Collections at the National Museum said “Although the Museum had collected Asian applied arts from the late 19th/early 20th centuries, this was the first significant donation given to the National Museum during the early years of Irish Independence. This fact was acknowledged at government level by the opening of the ‘Augusta Bender Memorial Room of Far Eastern Art’ by then President of the Executive Council, Eamonn De Valera in June 1934”.

The primary aim of this exhibition is to interpret and make accessible to the Irish and international public the Albert M. Bender collection of Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan-Buddhist art which is the most important Asian art collection in the National Museum of Ireland,

The above exhibition will be open to the Public on Thursday 13th November.

Free Admission.

For further press information or images please contact:

Maureen Gaule

Marketing Executive, Marketing Department, National Museum of Ireland

Tel: 01 - 648 6429

Mob: 087 9031690

Notes to Editor

  • The Albert Bender Collection has not been exhibited since 1973, and it was thought timely given the growing multi-culturism of Irish society in recent years. It was also an opportunity to undertake conservation work on the material being exhibited.
  • The interpretation centres on two main storylines: Albert Bender the collector, and the Bender Collection of artefacts themselves. Such a format is unique to an Irish cultural institution in that there are two stories being simultaneously interpreted throughout the exhibition’s text. This was achieved by exhibiting both stories side-by-side, rather than in separate areas, whereby the objects and when they were donated are part of the storyline telling the history of Albert Bender’s life.
  • The rarity of the collection itself is of primary importance, particularly regarding the twenty-one thangkas (paintings on textile) of the Arhats (Disciples) of Buddha from an 18th century Tibetan-Buddhist temple, from most likely Gansu Province, North-West China. An almost complete set of Thangkas from the same temple illustrating the Arhats of Buddha, and from that time period is practically unheard of in a Western museum. An extensive display of such material has not been publicly exhibited before in Ireland, and in a properly researched format.
  • The story of the history of the collection, its formation, donation and the collector himself are highly unusual. Despite being the first major benefactor to the Irish State the story of Albert Bender is generally unknown to the Irish public. This exhibition will change that fact and increase knowledge in the area of the history of Irish contact with Asia. This is particularly relevant in an educational context, where significant changes have been made in recent years regarding the Irish primary and post-primary history curricula in the area of Irish contact with Asia through the Diaspora and colonialism.
  • In summary the National Museum of Ireland’s collection of Asian art that Albert Bender donated throughout the 1930s is his most extensive collection given to a European institution. His other main collections of Asian art given to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum and the Palace of the Legion of Honor, both of San Francisco (since transferred to the internationally renowned Asian Art Museum of San Francisco) are the only American equivalents. Perhaps as a reflection of Albert Bender’s magnanimous spirit towards/patronage of modern artists and Asian art, in an obituary on his death in the ‘San Francisco News’, John D. Barry wrote: ‘He didn’t care what you represented, whether you were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish or Mohammedan whether you were white, black or yellow, whether you had plenty of money or no money. As a fellow being you’d appeal to his sympathy.’

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