March to April 2003 Editorial

IN PRESENTING this exceptionally well-researched special textiles issue on the Asian collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum (whose entrance is shown above) (1), I can do no better than first referring our international readers to the carefully written Introduction on pages 44-45 by Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, London. In his first few sentences, the Director explains that the collections published in our magazine represent the national collection of the UK and that they were brought together in 2002 “under our newly reconfigured curatorial team, the Asian Department”.

His record takes the reader from the founding of the V&A in 1852 through to the creation of a Far Eastern Department in 1970. It is interesting to note, “There was a genuine intellectual curiosity in other cultures which motivated the more enlightened members of the East India Company avidly to collect Indian manuscripts and artefacts in the latter part of the 18th century… [while] the first items of Chinese textile and dress to enter the V&A were acquired in 1863”. In 1865 the V&A received its first group of Japanese textiles in the form of a gift from Queen Victoria, and the museum purchased widely from Japanese displays at international exhibitions. Today contemporary textiles are not forgotten, for the V&A is actively collecting these items across the range of its collections.

I wish to thank most warmly John Guy (2), Senior Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art at the V&A, and the supporting team of V&A major curators and researchers for their outstanding work in contributing their articles in the course of the last year and a half. John Guy was very enthusiastic for my proposal when he joined us for lunch at my Hong Kong offices on Saturday, July 21st, 2001. Following his return to London, by November 12th, 2001 he had mapped out a list of authors and provisional titles. He had mentioned that there was no comprehensive catalogue of these areas of the V&A collections, and on seeing the proofs of the issue the museum ordered six hundred magazines for their bookshop. I am delighted that Arts of Asia magazine will be used as a catalogue by London visitors, in addition to our normal worldwide readers.

My first trip to Beijing was in the winter of 1965, a year before the Cultural Revolution. It was remarkable on my most recent visit to find the great changes that have taken place since then. I was pleased to see that while the city is certainly now a modern one, its historic character in many areas still remains. I jotted down for our readers the following positive thoughts: the city is definitely prosperous; the people are smartly dressed in Western fashions and are smiling and appear happier, relaxed, confident and more approachable than before; the streets are beautifully tree-lined making it pleasant for strolling; it looks much cleaner these days; the new highways allow for efficient traffic flow and it takes only some thirty minutes by taxi from airport to city centre. These are good signs for the future Beijing 2008 Olympics, but there is still time for further improvements. In my view Beijing ranks as the most organised city in Asia.

On the following page of this Editorial I am first seen in Beijing with Mr Jiang Ying Chun (3), Chief Curator of the Poly Art Museum, which is very centrally located in the Poly Theatre building, 2/F, Poly Plaza, 14 Dongzhimen Nandajie, Dongcheng, Beijing, China, Tel: 86-10-65003334-646, Fax: 86-10-65010263. We are posed for the photograph between the famous bronze monkey and tiger heads from the old Summer Palace garden. These were bought from Sotheby’s and Christie’s Hong Kong auctions in May 2000, and were reported in my July-August 2000 Editorial.

The Poly Group, a huge international corporation, invited me to a private personal viewing in their museum when normally it would have been closed. Their galleries are housed in their Poly Theatre complex, and on adjoining upper floors is their own hotel. The tallest building in Guangzhou is another enterprise by Poly, as also is Shanghai’s Stock Exchange building. Three of the group’s companies are publicly listed in China. The museum, established in October 1999, opened with an inaugural exhibition of its most distinguished bronzes the next spring. The rescue and return to China of the bronze Yuan Ming Yuan palace animal heads received unanimous praise and support from all sections of Chinese society. The more than 170 bronzes on exhibition come from a total bronze collection of close to double that number. They were acquired in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Europe and America; some examples also came from Taiwan.

The President of the Poly Art Museum is Mr He Ping, a party congress member married to the youngest daughter of the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, and its conception, in conjunction with a government committee dates back more than seven years. Its superlative collections of great artistic and/or historical value are presently documented in three separate Chinese language beautifully illustrated hard-cover books with simple Chinese and English captioning. The fuller texts, however, are in Chinese only. In chronological order these books are Selected Bronzes in the Collection of the Poly Art Museum (1999, 396 pages), Selected Works of Sculpture in the Poly Art Museum (2000, 236 pages), and Selected Bronzes in the Collection of the Poly Art Museum (2001, 261 pages). The size of each book is 29 by 22 centimetres. I strongly recommend these books for the libraries of our serious collectors of Chinese works of art as pictorially alone they are great assets for learning.

A new museum building designed by leading American architects with over two thousand square metres of floor space is planned to open either in 2004 or 2005. The much larger areas available and higher ceilings for display will allow some massive pieces to be shown which are now in storage. Today the museum numbers seven full-time specialised staff members concentrating mainly on early Chinese bronzes (Shang to Tang) and stone sculpture (Northern Wei to Tang). This limiting decision was made because of the difficulty of forming an equally fantastic collection of calligraphy and painting, the very best pieces of such Chinese art being already in the Palace Museum in Beijing and the Shanghai Museum of Art. The main aim is to collect and buy back historic sculptures from abroad and to show people within China their country’s finest treasures.

Last December my son Robin and I were invited to attend at the Guangzhou Museum of Art in China the exhibition “Past & Present” from the National Museum of Australia. The exhibition was part of the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and the People’s Republic of China, 1972-2002, and ran until February 9th, 2003.

It is unusual to see Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples art illustrated in Arts of Asia as were displayed in the Guangzhou Museum of Art’s main exhibition hall (4). Robin’s second photograph catches, from the left, Australian Consul General to Guangzhou John Courtney, Australian Senator Kemp, Guangzhou Vice-Governor Li Lanfang and Vice-Mayor Chen Chuanyu just after they had jointly cut the ribbon (5).

The exhibition introduced visitors to “nine diverse communities, their lives and beliefs, their distinctive stories and art”. I was told 250 tribal groups exist in Australia and their identity is based on their language, country and ceremony. I was introduced to Vice-Governor Li Lanfang and presented her with the two latest issues of Arts of Asia magazine, which she says she sees in the homes of her friends. I wish to congratulate Jenny Courtney and her husband, the Australian Consul General, for their successful presentation of the aboriginal art. My only regret is that there could have been more exhibits to fill the hall, especially with those earlier nostalgic works from renowned aboriginal artists.

For several years Sandra Whitman, the San Francisco based antique Chinese carpet specialist, has wanted to mount an exhibition of geometric-design carpets and textiles. Now, in cooperation with London textile dealer Linda Wrigglesworth, their exhibition “Glorious Geometrics” explores the role of geometric forms (6) in East Asian carpet and textile design over the past 500 years. The exhibition will be held from March 10th through March 22nd, 2003 at Sandra Whitman’s gallery at 361 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA, Tel: 415-437-2402, Fax: 415-861-0432. In honour of the reopening of the San Francisco Asian Art Museum, Sandra and Linda as well as Marsha Vargas, Managing Director of Xanadu Gallery (140 Maiden Lane, San Francisco, CA 94108, Tel: 415-392-9999, Fax: 415-984-5856), will host opening receptions on March 18th.

As part of Xanadu Gallery’s exhibition “Buddhist Images through the Ages” which will run until April 26th, Marsha writes, “We will be exhibiting approximately 70 statues, 15 thangkas and 10 Tibetan manuscript covers. The Buddhist sculpture will range from a wonderful 2nd-3rd century Gandharan stone bodhisattva to 11th century Pala and Kashmiri bronzes, Himalayan deities, as well as Southeast Asian and Chinese sculpture including two 6th century stone Buddhas.”(7)

Carlton Rochell is pleased to announce the inaugural exhibition of “Faces of Tibet: The Wesley and Carolyn Halpert Collection” at his gallery in the Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022, Tel: 212-759-7600, Fax: 212-759, 7601. The show, which coincides with the International Asian Art Fair, the Arts of Pacific Asia Show and the Asia Week auctions, will open from March 25th to April 5th, 2003. The gallery will display and offer for sale some seventy works from the celebrated Halpert Collection, in addition to other works of art from India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Tibet and Nepal. A favourite piece in Dr Halpert’s collection is a bronze figure of Mahasiddha Jalendra (8) dating from the 16th century. The acrobatic Jalendra stands in a yogic posture atop a prostrate victim on a lotus throne, with his left leg raised and bent upwards so that its foot is resting above his left shoulder.

J.J. Lally & Co. is also located in the Fuller Building in New York City and for their special exhibition from March 24th to April 12th, 2003 will bring together ancient Chinese masterpieces of bronze, gold, gilded bronze and gold-inlaid bronze. The sculptural and ornamental works were made for luxury and religious purposes dating from the beginning of the Bronze Age in China in the Shang dynasty through the Han dynasty. One of the earliest bronzes in the show is a 13th century BC tripod food vessel (li) (9) made for symbolic offerings to ancestors. The elaborate monster mask (taotie) designs cast in intaglio on the sides of the vessel retain the original black pigment infill, giving sharp definition against the bright green patina of the metal. Ancient Chinese gold objects rarely survive and one of the rarest and most exquisite objects in the exhibition is a cast gold pendant overlaid in gold wire with an auspicious inscription spelled out in stylised Chinese characters. The pendant can be dated to the brief Xin dynasty, AD 9-23.

Gisèle Croës will exhibit her collection of “Outstanding Bronze from Dian Kingdom and Early Chinese Vessels” from March 24th to April 2nd, 2003 at Danese Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022, Tel: 212-223-2227, Fax: 212-605-1016. Visitors will have the chance to see around forty rigorously selected Chinese objects including impressively cast Shang and Western Zhou bronze containers made for sacred ceremonies. Gisèle will also present stone sculptures from the Six Dynasties period and earthenware of the Tang period such as her fabulously sculpted camel and cameleer (10).

Eskenazi, one of London’s leading dealers in Oriental art, will feature for sale eighteen Chinese works of art from the world-renowned Stoclet Collection at PaceWildenstein, 32 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022, Tel: 212-421-3292, Fax: 212-421-0835, from March 25th to April 5th, 2003. The major works of art comprise archaic inlaid and gilt bronzes, stone sculpture and jade and ivory carvings spanning nearly 3000 years. Illustrated is a large Sui dynasty crisply carved limestone head of a bodhisattva (11). The deity wears an expression of calm benevolence, his head adorned with an elaborate crown.

James Hennessy of Oriental Arts UK has written to me to say they are delighted to be exhibiting for the third consecutive year at the Maxwell Davidson Gallery in the Fuller Building from March 24th through April 2nd, 2003. “We feel that the New York Asian Art Week is the most important venue available for European dealers to show their strength, professionalism and expertise in Asian art to the American audience. This year we are exhibiting a wide-ranging selection of pieces dating from the Han through to the late Qing dynasty. Various mediums include porcelains, jades and lacquer to appeal to the broader American tastes. We look forward to seeing all our friends from the world of Asian art during this exciting week in New York.” Selected for my Editorial is a large imperial yellow-glazed bowl, diameter 18.6 cm and Zhengde mark and of the period (12).

Annie Yau Gallery Ltd has asked me to announce their show “Chinese Porcelain & Jade 5000 Years” will be held at their gallery (173 West 88th Street, Suite A, New York, NY 10024, Tel: 212-721-4658, Fax: 212: 501-7354) from March 15th through March 29th, 2003. The exhibition will feature quality Chinese objects including Song and earlier ceramics, ancient jades, early bronzes, as well as twenty Chinese paintings (Song to contemporary). From the over forty-five ceramics from the Neolithic to the Qing period I illustrate a finely potted pure white “Xing Yao” vase with foliate mouth from the Tang dynasty (13).

John Eskenazi will again be exhibiting a selection of pieces at the eighth International Asian Art Fair at The Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York, NY 10021, from March 28th through April 2nd, 2003. Among the beautiful works on offer will be a spectacular Nepalese early 16th century gilt copper image of Syamatara, the Green Tara (14), one of the most popular goddesses in Nepal for both Buddhists and Hindus. She is primarily a saviour, Tara meaning “to cross over” reflecting the fact that she is believed to guide the spirits of the dead across the void to their next incarnation on earth.

Leon and Karen Wender of China 2000 Fine Arts will present original Chinese political paintings from the 1950s and 1960s at their stand at The International Asian Art Fair. They will also have Chinese paintings by Shao Yixuan (1886-1954), Lin Gang (born 1925) and Zhu Qizhan (1892-1996), glassworks by Arlan Huang (born 1948) as well as a collection of scholar objects. Shown here is Threeway Alliance Committee Meeting (15), oil on canvas, 110 by 153.2 cm. At their gallery (5 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022, Tel: 212-588-1198, Fax: 212-588-1182) Leon and Karen will hold the exhibition “The Paper Chase: Creations in Paper by Contemporary Chinese Artists” from March 26th to April 26th, 2003 featuring works by Lin Yan, Wei Jia, Hou Yuanji and Zeng Xiaojun.

We have had so much support for this special issue on Asian textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, that we have not at the final stage been able to include at least a page of letters from readers. However, there is just space to include in this Editorial a short extract from a longer letter I have received from Monte James, the curator of the exhibition “Dong Kingman: Watercolor Master” held in Hong Kong in the Exhibition Galleries 1-3, Hong Kong Central Library from December 28th to January 26th.

“It is an extraordinary opportunity to work with such a great body of work by a painter like the late Dong Kingman. He was one of those rare artists who, by remaining true to his own instincts and creativity, influenced art and history in his own lifetime. Just as in his early career Kingman enjoyed the support of friends and patrons like C.V. Starr, so we could not have undertaken this tribute without the support of the Starr Foundation which carries on his dedication to education and cultural exchange in his name. And our sincere gratitude to the other supporters, lenders, museums, international media and Kingman family who joined us to present this exhibition.”

At the opening ceremony Monte James is seen introducing special guests Dong Kingman Jr., Edmund Tse (Senior Vice Chairman and Co-Chief Operating Officer of American International Group and Board of Directors of the Starr Foundation), David Miller (US Consulate Public Affairs Officer), and Michael Mak (Assistant Director, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Hong Kong) (16).

Finally I would like to take this opportunity to wish our international readers and advertisers a very happy and prosperous Chinese New Year. I look forward to meeting you in New York during Asia Week at the many exciting gallery exhibitions, Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions, and the two major art fairs-The International Asian Art Fair (March 28th to April 2nd, The Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street) and the Arts of Pacific Asia Show (March 27th to 30th, The Gramercy Park Armory, Lexington Avenue at 26th Street).

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