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Is the French ambassador a fibber, or did Yonhap misunderstand?

The Quai Branly exterior
The Quai Branly exterior. Photo: Andreas Praefcke – German Wikipedia CC BY 3.0

A year ago there was a feature in Yonhap about a new museum in Paris which would feature Korean artifacts in its collection.

Some 600 art pieces from Korea, about 88 of South Korean origin and about 505 of North Korean origin, will be displayed at the museum

said the French ambassador at a press briefing. The Quai Branly museum opened last year.

A few days ago I went with high hopes to see this collection.

Quai Branly museumThe Quai Branly is a bizarre and bewildering building. Shaped on the outside like a beached whale on stilts – with some strange cubic excrescences along the side – the inside of the building eschews straight lines to give the impression that you are indeed in the whale’s belly. The interior is in semi-darkness, and you enter along a winding path on which videos of jellyfish and wrinkled Asian faces are projected. Small video screens are everywhere, and speakers embedded in the curved walls emit in turns explanatory information or ethnic music.

The collection inside is equally bizarre and bewildering. Half of the space seems to be given to the South Seas, including Australasia, and there’s rather too much in the way of tribal masks and drums. In fact a group of school children which was visiting seemed to be collecting the raw material for some disturbing nightmares in the coming months. Inexplicably, in the Australian area, there were some very modern Aboriginal dot-paintings in acrylic which would have been better off in an art gallery.

A three-storey giant glass cylinder contained piles of wooden drums and flutes.

Moving into Asia, Japan was dismissed in a couple of square feet, with black and white designs for kimono fabrics. China has a room; Uzbekistan, Yemen and Syria all have space allocated. Carpets, ethnic coats and silver bangles abound.

But of the 600 pieces from Korea, the curators have not found space for a single item in the permanent displays.

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