Vatican waiting for HK to take up art exhibit offer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2006, 12:00am

The Vatican Museums are still interested in teaming up with the Hong Kong government to hold an art exhibition in the city.

Francesco Buranelli, director of the Vatican Museums, said such a move, which could help improve Sino-Vatican relations, could coincide with a possible papal visit.

The world's leading treasure house would welcome any arts and cultural exchanges with Beijing that would see items from the museum of the Forbidden City and the stone warriors from Xian displayed at the Vatican, if the political atmosphere allows.

Dr Buranelli said that despite the lack of follow-up from the Hong Kong government on its earlier initiative that led to an agreement in 2003 to organise an exhibition in the city, something could still be possible in the next two years.

'I am convinced that culture, heritage and art are really a common language ... Cultural relations can help solve political problems,' Dr Buranelli said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

Asked whether the Vatican Museums foresees a role in bridging the Sino-Vatican divide, Dr Buranelli said: 'Indeed, that is our hope.'

In July 2004, the Post revealed that Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping had met top Vatican officials including its foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, leading to an agreement on the possibility of an arts exhibition being held in Hong Kong.

But it is understood that despite follow up action from the Vatican, the Hong Kong government sat on its own proposal for more than two years. It is understood other projects, such as exhibitions of mainland artefacts, took priority.

The expected high insurance cost and logistics difficulties were also believed to have held up progress.

A spokeswoman for the Home Affairs Bureau said the government had made 'technical inquiries' on the type of exhibits and venues and was still interested in the plan.

'There is no timetable for the exhibition and it is too early to give specific details. We remain open to liaise with various parties to have the proposal materialised.'

Dr Buranelli said the Hong Kong government should act now because technical preparation for such a major exhibition would take at least two years.

When asked whether the Pope would officiate if it coincided with a papal visit, Dr Buranelli replied: 'Who knows? It is possible.'

He also said Europe had a keen interest in Chinese culture and the Vatican Museums would welcome any proposals from Beijing to loan art objects, such as the Xian warriors, for display in Rome.

As an initiative to attract more viewers and art lovers from Asia, the Vatican Museums are to open an important Asian collection for public viewing in June.

The vast collection, from the time of Pope Pius XI in the 1920s, will include artefacts of European missionaries who preached in China, Japan, Tibet, Korea and Mongolia.

Dr Buranelli said a recent exhibition of Vatican artefacts of Catholic missionaries in Singapore attracted more than 120,000 visitors, indicating that people in Asia had a keen interest in Vatican arts objects.