Jennifer Way: Narrative Failures Vietnamese Handicraft at the Smithsonian


This article considers what an unstudied collection of Vietnamese handicraft owned by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History reveals about its collecting culture and, conversely, what the collecting culture discloses about the collection. I show how the collecting culture’s activities intersected with American State Department efforts to bring postcolonial South Vietnam into the Free World during the Cold War. Attention to the Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Arts’ exhibition, “Art and Archaeology of Vietnam. Asian Crossroad of Cultures,” also reveals narratives of power and knowledge associated with the collecting culture. Ultimately, these failed the collection by leaving it disregarded.