July to August 2003 Editorial

WHO COULD HAVE dreamed that I would have chanced flying to America during the Iraqi war? No doubt it was the catalogue book and exhibition, Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure, at The Art Institute of Chicago, for which I am a small lender, as well as the three-day public symposium on April 4th–6th that drew me inexorably all the way from Hong Kong to attend the unprecedented scholarly event. Many will have read the excellent pre-exhibition article authored by Betty Seid in our March-April 2003 magazine. Betty, who coordinated the exhibition is seen here (on the left) with two friends at its inauguration (1), where they had been admiring the thangka paintings on cloth. The display in Chicago runs on to August 17th, 2003; from where it travels to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, to appear from October 18th, 2003 to January 11th next year in Washington, D.C.

Dr James Wood, President of The Art Institute of Chicago (seen with me beside a circa 900 AD Bodhisattva Manjusri, copper alloy with gilding, from the Pritzker Collection) (2), in an inaugural speech on Thursday April 3rd to the exhibition Lenders’ Dinner gave outstanding credit to the inspirer of the exhibition and author of the comprehensive and beautifully illustrated catalogue, Dr Pratapaditya Pal. Pratap, as he is known to his many friends around the world, conceived and assembled the exhibition while he has been the Art Institute’s Visiting Curator of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art. It took him more than five years of hard labour to realise his achievements.

As Dr Wood said in his inaugural welcoming speech: “We are all benefiting from the fruits of a central strain in his life’s work, for it is no exaggeration to say that without Pratap the scholarly study of the Himalayas would still be in its infancy.

“Pratap’s biography and credentials are far too rich for me to recite to you this evening. Let me just mention that he received his BA with honours in History from St. Stephen’s College, University of Delhi and followed that with an MA in Ancient Indian History and Culture from the University of Calcutta where he also received a Doctor of Philosophy. He then continued his studies in England, receiving his PhD from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University.

“At Cambridge he studied with a number of the world’s leading scholars and museum professionals. I particularly like his reflection, and I quote him, ‘Ernst Gombrich encouraged me to think about the creative process. He and Kenneth Clarke taught me not only what to look for but how to write about it.’ What more could a student ask!

“His professional life has taken him to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts where he was Keeper of the Indian Collection, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where he was Senior Curator of Indian and Islamic Art, and later Acting Director. His teaching posts are a compilation of the leading universities here and in England. From 1995 we have had the good fortune to have him here at the Art Institute where he has literally transformed our understanding and presentation of the permanent collection of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art. He was also the guiding force and intellect behind the remarkable exhibition and catalogue of the Alsdorf Collection, which we all enjoyed several years ago. 

“Please join me in welcoming my friend and colleague Pratap to introduce you to his remarkable exhibition.” (Dr Pratapaditya Pal is seen at the podium delivering his introduction.) (3)

Dr Pal has told me that this current exhibition of Himalayan art, his last, may be his most comprehensive and prestigious. It brings together 187 pieces from Kashmir, Nepal, western Himalayas and Tibet dating from the 5th to the 19th centuries from private and public collections. More than half of these works have never before been exhibited publicly.

As a collector myself, I consider the gilt bronzes from Nepal and Tibet to be the most beautiful and regal of Buddhist and Hindu religious art. It was such a unique opportunity to be able to walk through the thirteen galleries of the Regenstein Hall of the Art Institute to review and study the actual pieces, many for the first time. I strongly recommend Arts of Asia international readers to do their best to see the exhibition for themselves, either in Chicago or when it has moved to Washington, D.C. However, whether you make the trip, or not, I urge you to buy the beautiful and most comprehensive catalogue which, with 308 pages and 235 colour illustrations, retails for a very reasonable US$39.95, soft cover, US$65 hard cover.

The Symposium, free to the public, was sponsored by the Thomas and Margot Pritzker Family Foundation and planned by the Department of Asian Art at The Art Institute of Chicago. It ran for four morning and afternoon sessions on April 4th and April 5th at the Fullerton Hall. For the final fifth session, on the morning of Sunday April 6th, a lively questions and answers discussion with the panelists and 900 or more audience was held in the Morton Auditorium.

In the limited space of my Editorial I would like to mention here two of the lectures I have enjoyed. First the personal experience lecture of Mr Tom Pritzker, who has travelled many times in the Himalayas collecting Himalayan art, often with his wife Margot. Chairman and CEO, Hyatt Corporation, he says his desire to collect Himalayan art was born out of experiences in the mountains, rather than the other way around. Included in his earliest expeditions are a 450-mile trek on the borders of Tibet with Nepal, and in restricted areas of India bordering on Tibet. He stressed the emotional and intellectual satisfactions in chasing and acquiring works of art, and of making significant new discoveries.

Amongst the context of the pieces that are seen in the exhibition, he included some of the art he encountered in caves, temples and monasteries, perhaps some for the first time—such as at a monastery established by the Tibetan scholar, Rinchen Zangpo (985-1055). According to the entries on page 94 of the exhibition’s masterly catalogue by Pratapaditya Pal, Rinchen Zangpo had been sent to Kashmir for Buddhist training by the monk-ruler Yeshe O (947-1024); that he had visited eastern India and acquired and brought back images to Tibet.

The prolonged applause that it received from the audience certainly confirmed their enjoyment of the Tom Pritzker slide lecture show, which was titled “In the Footsteps of Rinchen Zangpo”.

The second of the Symposium lectures I would mention here was by the scholar of Tibetan studies, Dr Amy Heller. She had made major contributions to the September-October 1989 edition of Arts of Asia (4), with an article on Tibetan sculpture and painting in the Newark Museum; and with Mr Thomas Marcotty, for the July-August 1987 magazine (5) on Tibetan ritual daggers—Phur-pa. Her latest subject for the Symposium was, “The Tibetan Inscriptions: Historical Data as Sources of New Discoveries and Enigmas”. She explained that Tibetan inscriptions leading to identification of paintings, may also help the identification of other paintings which lack inscriptions.

Incidentally, Amy Heller, Oskar von Hinüber and Gautama V. Vajracharya are also Appendix contributors to the catalogue book between pages 278-297.

Since the show’s inauguration in 1996, Arts of Asia has regularly participated at The International Art Fair in New York organised by Anna and Brian Haughton. The timing in previous years had not conflicted with the printing schedule of our May-June magazines. But this year’s Art Fair unavoidably had to be delayed by the Haughton’s by one week, and as a result we were unable to take part. But at the last moment, en route to Chicago, I was able to arrange a stop-over in New York on the late afternoon of March 31st, with just enough time to glimpse the Asian art dealer’s presentations held once again at The Seventh Regiment Armory.

As a result of my hurried visit, I feel it would be unfair for me to give a personal report in this issue through my own observations. On my return to Hong Kong I did hear from several participant dealers whose remarks were mixed. However the Fair was well attended and there were a number of good sales, in spite of it taking place at the height of the Iraqi war. As a result of improving economic conditions worldwide, next year’s Asian Art Fair should be a success.

In the morning of April 1st I had just enough time in New York to visit four independent Asian art dealers’ exhibitions. I had a good talk with Carlton Rochell and Jeanne de Guardiolla Callanan, his knowledgeable Director of their impressively presented new gallery, located in the Fuller Building at 41 East 57th Street, New York. Their opening show, “Faces of Tibet—The Wesley and Carolyn Halpert Collection”, which ran from March 24th has been a continuing success. Even by the time I was able to view the Halpert Collection eighteen works had already been sold, not counting others from Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and India. I particularly like some of Carlton’s very large sculptures and Tibetan bronzes (6). There is no doubt in my mind, wealthy collectors and museum collectors in search for Himalayan art should not miss visiting Carlton Rochell Ltd.

Next I dashed to Danese, the name of the gallery where Gisèle Croës was exhibiting in the Fuller Building. Busy Gisèle was present and pleased that I congratulated her on her displays of “Outstanding Early Chinese Vessels and Bronze From Dian Kingdom”. Commenting on the early bronzes inlaid with silver she had available before, Gisèle mentioned that it is now quite hard to find them on the market. She considers she has been lucky to have had many wonderful pieces at her previous shows for sale to her faithful collectors. Of her current exhibition I found her sinuous bronze tiger, with brown and green patina, Western Zhou period (1027-771 BC), 44 cm long, most rare and unusual as it gazed backwards along its body to above its tail (7).

I was also lucky to find James Lally in his office in the Fuller Building during my unannounced brief visit. He seemed as surprised and delighted to see me as I was to see him! Nobody had thought I would be able to make New York. Of the many works he had already sold from his “Bronze and Gold in Ancient China” exhibition, illustrated here is a fine archaic bronze ritual vessel known as a dou (8). This one is particularly remarkable for its bright blue and green patination, while a footnote in James’ catalogue records that a recorded bronze dou of similar form and design is in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco. Most unusual, towards the end of the catalogue, is a group of gilt bronze plaques from the Eastern Han, dating from the 2nd-early 3rd century AD, from which I illustrate a phoenix (9). The silhouetted figures, birds and other ornamental forms (catalogue numbers 23-33) are documented with similar examples found in China’s provincial museums as well as the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto.

I had exactly 30 minutes left to walk over to view Giuseppe Eskenazi’s New York exhibition at Pacewildenstein, 32 East 57th Street. Truly, I only just had time left to say hello and goodbye to Mr Eskenazi and his son Daniel who were about to take Mrs Eskenazi to the airport. But I was able to stay on and chat with their very able Director, Philip Constantinidi. I was pleased to be able to see their exhibition and sale catalogue (with an essay by Professor Jan Fontein) of eighteen further pieces from the Adolphe and Suzanne Stocklet Collection, with an essay by Professor Jan Fontein. These had been acquired by the late Belgian banker and his wife in the 1920s and 1930s and bequeathed to their children. I find the Eskenazi catalogue of special interest for its insights as much as the artefacts. An example is the illustration of the famous Palais Stocklet in Brussels (10), built in 1905-1911 in the late Art Nouveau style, designed by the Viennese architect Joseph Hoffmann. From the smaller pieces in the exhibition I illustrate a Han dynasty bronze chimaera (bixie) (11) and a Ming dynasty (16th-17th century) ivory figure of a Guanyin with a child (12).

On the same day my son Michael Markbreiter and I went to the Japan Society at 333 East 47th Street, New York to meet Alexandra Munroe, Director of the Japan Society Gallery. She is the driving force of the most spectacular exhibition “Transmitting the Forms of Divinity—Early Buddhist Art from Korea and Japan”. We are grateful that Alexandra Munroe spent time with us and an important dealer from Japan. A week later on April 9th the exhibition opened, scheduled to run for ten weeks.

Her comment for Arts of Asia readers is that Japan Society Gallery is not a collecting institution. Rather it works exclusively with guest curators from around the world, inviting the best scholars in any particular field to develop major international loan exhibitions.

“The exhibition is the first anywhere—including either Korea or Japan—to focus on the dynamic relationship between the ancient kingdoms of the Korean peninsula and Japan’s nascent state, spanning the 6th to 9th centuries. For much of this period, when Buddhism was first introduced to Japan, Korea was the principal mediating force in shaping Japanese Buddhist culture and continental civilisation. Of course, China was the original source, but for centuries the conduit to Japan was Korea, not China. Our exhibition, an historic collaboration between the governments of Korea and Japan, explores the earliest periods of Buddhist art in Northeast Asia and introduces a realm that will be new to many.”

The 384-page catalogue of the exhibition is published by Japan Society, New York and distributed by Harry N. Abrams Inc., 100 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10011 (website: www.abramsbooks.com). The three credited main Japanese and Korean authors (with another nine contributors) are Washizuka Hiromitsu, Park Youngbok and Kang Woo-bang. Alexandra Munroe is the author of the Foreword and Acknowledgements.

I am most happy for this current issue to have had the support of both regular writers for Arts of Asia, with their articles, and new authors seen in our page for the first time. The cover article, by distinguished American lawyer and well-known textile collector, Shirley Z. Johnson, is particularly topical. It was edited with the help of Jan Stuart, Associate Curator of Chinese Art at the Freer Gallery of Art, who co-authored Worshiping the Ancestors—Chinese Commemorative Portraits, published 2001 by the Freer Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Such subjects are of interest to Chinese and Westerners, but also to Japanese and Korean collectors these days. Chun Asian Fine Arts of Seoul, Korea will be Exhibiting Chinese portraits and textiles in Seoul, Busan, Changwon, Incheon (Korea) and Kyushu (Japan). I am informed that the collection includes more than seventy portraits identified to the Ming and Qing dynasties (but please turn to their advertisement on page 2 and write them for more information, as I have not yet had a chance to view the collection). Mr Yoon Soo Chun is the President of the company.

For collectors of 18th-19th century Chinese ancestor portraits on paper I can recommend a visit to Chan Yue Kee, G/F., 140 Hollywood Road, which is the gallery I know in Hong Kong selling a good and genuine selection. Jan Stuart has visited this gallery for pleasure and information sharing.

I have heard, at the same in May from Arts of Asia Contributing Editor Kerry Nguyen-Long, who with husband Nguyen Kim Long’s photographs writes on “Ceramics of Bien Hoa”, pages 67-78. She says the centenary celebrations for Bien Hoa School of Art will take place on June 28th and 29th in Bien Hoa (Dong Nai Province), Vietnam with activities held at the provincial square complex. Old teachers and graduate students are invited to attend. Also invited are overseas institutions that have had contact with the school. There will be an exhibition of selected works by new graduating students and of works by former teachers and students. On the final night there will also be a fashion show presented by the first graduating class.”

As promised in my last Editorial, I did visit the exhibition “Ancient Taoist Art from Shanxi Province” sponsored by the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies at the Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery, and I am able to announce that by the time of its closing on June 23rd, 2003 it should have been enjoyed by approximately six thousand visitors. Seen here at the opening ceremony on March 31st in photographs by Arts of Asia are first from left to right, Yeung Chun-tong, Director, Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery; Tong Wai Ki, Chairman, The Hong Kong Taoist Association; Andre Dallaire, Vice President of Federal Insurance Company, Hong Kong (a member insurer of Chubb Group of Insurance Companies); Anita Wong, Curator (History) of University Museum and Art Gallery; and Jennifer Scally, Assistant Vice President, Personal Insurance Manager, Federal Insurance Company, Hong Kong (13). The second photograph taken and posed by Arts of Asia in the first floor gallery shows a group standing beside a display case enclosing a large Ming dynasty bronze sculpture of Zhenwu, God of the North, Shanxi Provincial Museum. From the left are Catalina Chor, Senior Appraiser (Fine Art Specialist), Federal Insurance Company, Hong Kong; Andre Dallaire; Rachel Casey Dallaire; Jennifer Scally; and Catherine Maudsley, art consultant (14).

Jennifer Scally writes: “Asian art continues to attract a large following not just in the region but worldwide, indicating that interest in this field is still flourishing. As the world’s leading specialist insurer of privately owned fine art and jewellery, Chubb has been a long-standing patron of the arts around the globe. Its Masterpiece™ insurance program has received worldwide acclaim and has generated a lot of interest since its launch in Hong Kong last year.

“As a corporation, Chubb supports cultural institutions that enhance the richness and diversity of national experience. On a worldwide basis, we are committed to supporting arts and culture by providing both financial support and assisting organisations to broaden their base of support via our own network of customers and brokers.

“In March 2003, Chubb assisted the Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery in bringing the ‘Ancient Taoist Art from Shanxi Province’ exhibition to Hong Kong. This was the first time such an exhibition had been held here, with over 60 important works of art on display, including paintings, porcelain, lacquerware, stone, wood, jade and bronze carvings, dating from the Tang (618-907) to the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

“Chubb sees public enthusiasm for Asian art continuing to blossom, as income levels across the region rise and people delve deeper into their cultural heritage. Chubb is committed to supporting this exemplary trend with future sponsorship and patronage, as well as with services that ensure that connoisseurs of fine Asian art can enjoy their possessions in true peace of mind.”

Subscribe to Arts of Asia

For Connoisseurs and Collectors of Asian Art