How Moghul Was Rembrandt?

(A Critique On A Global Laboratory of Infinite Multiplicities)*

Published in Third Text, 1475-5297, Volume 24, Issue 4, 2010, Pages 501 – 504

(The following is just part of the printed article.)

I am writing this from the chaotic Tehran, where cries of protest are reaching to the sky, to comment on how a Moghul manuscript from the sixteenth century India is put on display in Vienna. Many would find this a postmodern situation but I will save the title for the exhibition itself. Anybody with the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience of visiting it will readily agree that the title is fitting. According to the catalogue, GLOBAL:LAB (a necessary pun for a postmodern name of a postmodern juxtaposition of pre-modern objects) offers you ‘for the very first time’ the opportunity to ‘compare Mogul miniatures from the so-called Millionenzimmer in Schönbrunn Palace at first hand with Rembrandt van Rijn’s sketch.’ Considering the fact that the only relevance is the historical importance of the works displayed, the juxtaposition does actually convince visitors that the exhibition ‘does not shy away from confrontation’. For instance, the Moghul manuscript, Hamza-Nama, is shown in a setting of European tapestries and screens from Japan and China. Similar enriching comparisons are numerous: there are 470 exhibits from the MAK collection and loans from European museums to ‘provide a comprehensive overview of the culturally defining exchange taking place’ between Asia and Europe in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mathematically, it can engender 110215 comparisons, rich enough for any visitor obsessed with comparative analyses. This would be invaluable to you esp. if you are accustomed to Lacanian or Levinasian jargon and have a great passion for deciphering ‘the Other’, for, through such an encounter, ‘the contacts and confrontations with the Other visible in the art of this era become comprehensible for the beholder.’

Yet, the intentionality behind the Global Laboratory is not so radically anarchic or revolutionary either. There is supposed to be something very scientific about a lab—in this case, probably several: the exhibition is centred, according to the programme, on the few following modest themes: representation of royalty in Asia and Europe; the new view of the world: trade and diplomacy; art networks; the depiction of the foreigner; the Human at the heart of art in Europe; ornament and narrative in Orient and symbol and landscape in East Asia. In one section, the exhibition deals with the discoveries of geographical and cosmic realities. In another, it ‘demonstrates that the transfer of the arts and sciences between the continents was of decisive importance’. It demonstrates it by displaying a lacquer screen from the seventeenth century showing Dutch mariners bringing exotic animals and valuables to the coast before loading them as cargo on a ship. ‘The scene probably shows a Dutch legation to the Chinese imperial court’. I wonder if ‘the decisive importance of such transfer’ is not already well demonstrated by Hamza-Nama itself: What is the Moghul manuscript doing in Vienna? (As it is the case with Louvre, by gathering the best examples of artworks from all around the world in one building you can prove to local visitors that the rest of the world were very rich in art, of course, if they could have kept their artworks to themselves!)…

The full article can be found here

*GLOBAL:LAB was on display from 3 June to 27 Sept 2009 in MAK Exhibition Hall, MAK, Weiskirchnerstraße 3, Vienna 1. It is curated by Johannes Wieninger, MAK Curator Asia, and Angela Völker, MAK Curator Textiles and Carpets. Folios of Hamza-Nama at MAK can be viewed here:


——- (2009) MAK 09: Annual Programme, p. 6, also accessible at:

——- (2009) Global:Lab: Art as Message: Asia and Europe 1500-1700, Press Release, also accessible at:

Badiou, Alain (2001) Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (Verso: London)

Perziosi, Donald (1995) ‘Museology and Museography’, in The Art Bulletin, Vol. LXXVII, No. 1, pp. 13-15.

Quatremère du Quincy, Antoine (1989) Ethical Considerations on the Presentation of Works of Art (Arthème)