IT WAS A “MAGICAL” five days in Brussels from June 8th to June 12th, 2005. Three fairs gathered together under the names of BRUNEAF, BAAF and BOAF, presented their respective galleries of primitive art, ancient art and Oriental art to international collectors.
For many of our Arts of Asia readers, the three Belgium fairs may at first sound unfamiliar. However, BRUNEAF started more than twenty years ago, in 1983 with only five galleries, and produced its first catalogue in 1993. Now, under its able president, Patrick Mestdagh, who was born in Brussels, it has fifty exhibitors. BAAF formed in Brussels in 2003, so now in its third year has enlisted twenty-five international galleries under the leadership of Jacques Billen.
Mrs Georgia Chrischilles, organiser of the young Brussels Oriental Art Fair (BOAF), in her introduction to her 2005 first catalogue, says: “The aim of the galleries subscribing to the event is to share their knowledge with the visitors and to promote the understanding of Oriental Art… Brussels has a long established tradition as a centre of trade linking cultures and people thereby providing a perfect stage for the interaction between dealers and collectors, curators and critics.”
Georgia first contacted me in October 2003 to tell me of her plan to start the Brussels Oriental Art Fair. I thought it was a splendid idea and I gave her very strong encouragement and my support. So I made plans to attend in 2005.
I arrived in Brussels from my flight from Hong Kong in the afternoon of June 7th, and the next day I attended the press conference at Maisons Costermans. Patrick Mestdagh opened the conference attended by some twenty people, by saying that a major decision was to group the three fairs together under the same dates in the area of the Sablon, right in the middle of Brussels ‘ historical town centre. It is a unique district with galleries grouped closely together, so visitors can enjoy going from one to the other. It is unlike other international fairs, such as in New York and other capitals, which are mainly under one roof. The initiative stems from a group of antique dealers determined to take business into their own hands and organise their own fair on a voluntary basis and at cost price.
He also declared that the fairs are not commercial, as the public do not pay an entrance fee. People are free to visit and enjoy the objects-to meet the art specialists and owners in their own galleries. However, although the organisers of the three fairs are united under the motto “Ethics and Quality”, it is also made clear that they are not responsible for the quality and authenticity of the objects on display, which are the responsibility of their owners.
Patrick Mestdagh also mentioned that the great pieces advertised in the catalogues are vetted, and fair committee members everyday check the items on display in the galleries for quality and authenticity. The aim is to give trust as well as confidence to the visitors. Should pieces be thought to have problems, buyers can approach the organisers, who in their turn will check them. If they find a piece is not correctly attributed, they will ask a dealer concerned to return the money and take the piece back. Great emphasis is placed that an exhibitor who does not abide by the rules of the fair and the ethical code, will not be invited to exhibit again.
The BOAF was well run, my only complaint is that by its very nature (with venues in the various galleries and houses of Brussels owners), distances to travel from one to the other were in some cases quite far. This is explained by the two plans in the fair’s forty-eight page neat catalogue, which also has an index and illustrations of a selection of objects.
The maps show eleven locations and some twenty-four participants. Six of these mainly Asian art and antiques companies were exhibiting individually, while the others were in location groups of seven and four. Generally, the owners of the premises were not met, but the exhibitors who offered drinks and conversation then a view of their works on display. I myself was recognised while viewing, and walking on the street, by many of this magazine’s enthusiastic subscribers, coming from France, Italy, Holland, Germany, Denmark and even Sweden. All told me (occasionally greeting me with a kiss) how much they enjoy the magazine.
Dealer reaction was positive for this first year. Sales were made and potential new clients met. A meeting was held on June 11th, a day before exhibition closure, to discuss how to improve for 2006. I was told afterwards, by Philip Smyth of Contes d’Orient, that the members suggested there should be more local publicity with posters in hotels, more signs, larger banners to increase visibility, a large clear location map and more concentrated exhibition locations. In an email to Arts of Asia Mr Howard Wei of Wei Asian Arts Gallery from Brussels reconfirmed: “We believe in Brussels as a European centre for Asian Arts but it is only with your support and assistance that the fair will become a regular unavoidable rendezvous for collectors, experts and dealers.” I will do my best!
In summary, Georgia Chrischilles says there are ten new members who have expressed their interest in joining BOAF for next year: “The future of the Brussels Oriental Art Fair (BOAF), specially in the frame of the three-fair event (BRUNEAF, BAAF, BOAF), looks very promising. Our members have expressed their positive inclination to continue, by signing in for 2006.”
At the same time, but commencing a day later, the International Art Fair Brussels was held in conjunction with the BRUNEAF (Brussels Non-European Art Fair) at the Arthouse, 40 Place du Grand Sablon. Gisèlle Croës, Andre Cnudde and Luc Van Mulders (Zen Gallery) are seen above as representing participating companies which are based in Brussels. The six others of the eight top collections which complemented the BRUNEAF exhibits with their “Antiques of the Great Civilisations” under a single roof were the Ariadne gallery from New York, and the William Segal gallery from Sante Fe. From locations in Paris came the Mermoz and Applicat-Prozan, as well as Oriental Bronzes (directed by Christian Deydier), and Jacques Barrère.
Back in Hong Kong, I was immediately plunged into finalising the topical articles for the end of this September-October magazine. These were scheduled to cover major events in two related Hong Kong museums: “French Vision of China”, May 21st to October 30th at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and “Impressions of the East-The Art of George Chinnery”, June 22nd to August 29th, which was jointly organised by the Hong Kong Museum of History and the Hong Kong Museum of Art. This was held at the Museum of History.
Planned to coincide with the events of the “Year of France in China”, approximately forty works of art were selected from the museum collection of historical pictures to illustrate the cultural exchanges between France and China over the last three centuries. Twelve of these works appear in the joint article by Lee Wing Chong (Rose) and Yu Mei Chi (Maggie), in the final pages of this issue. Of considerable interest to see again are the engravings commissioned by the Emperor Qianlong of his military victories. These were first enjoyed by our readers in a ten-page article by John Warner, with the title “Castiglione and the Conquest’s of the Chien Lung Emperor” (November-December 1975).
The endearing though raffish George Chinnery is my favourite expatriate Western painter, as he is for many who have lived in Asia for any length of time. His works, which tell his “story” have been frequently illustrated in our pages, their escalation of prices followed in auction and dealer sales. As early as our second issue (March-April 1971), Qu Zhi-ren (James Watt) covered the artist’s background and career in the article “George Chinnery Painter”. Illustrated were fourteen oils, two watercolours and twelve sketches from albums of drawings, all in the possession of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank.
Unfortunately, due to pressure of work, a commissioned reviewer later withdrew, so I am left to recommend the excellent catalogue that supports the most recent Chinnery exhibition. A handsome 224 page, hardback 32 x 23.5 cm production with impressed leatherette cover, imposed self- portrait and attractive endpapers, this bilingual (Chinese and English) publication begins with two pages of “Messages” by Dr Patrick Ho, Secretary for Home Affairs, Hong Kong SAR, and another two pages by Mr Vincent Cheng, Chairman, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank. Similarly, Dr Joseph S.P. Ting, Chief Curator, Hong Kong Museum of History, follows with a thoughtful two-page “Foreword”.
The book truly starts providing wider information with Patrick Conner’s own bilingual ten-page “Introduction”. Patrick skilfully takes the reader through Chinnery’s drawing and writing skills, the artist’s hereditary background and his training at the Royal Academy Schools. He then places his changing careers chronologically in London, Madras, Bengal, the China Coast and briefly Hong Kong.
Geoffrey Bonsall, who wrote the major article for Arts of Asia , “Chinnery’s Views of Macau”, January-February 1986, pages 78-92, is himself famous for having learnt to decipher Chinnery’s difficult inscriptions. For the exhibition catalogue, he follows Patrick Conner with fourteen bilingual pages, titled in English “Extracting the Poetry from the Prose: On Reading Chinnery’s Shorthand”. As the notations in Chinnery’s hand are important clues to accrediting the artist’s work, and his drawings were copied by a number of his students, Geoffrey’s catalogue article is essential collector reading. It reveals that many names of Chinnery’s friends and portrait sitters can be found in the artist’s shorthand notes.
There are also two pages (with a map) of “Biographical Notes on George Chinnery” (pages 36-37), a liberally illustrated catalogue in four parts-the major pages of the book including a “Descriptive Index” by Dr Patrick Conner-followed by two pages of “Bibliography” (221-222) with forty-two entries. Curiously only one of these is attributed to Arts of Asia : Patrick’s own cover article, “Lamqua, Western and Chinese Painter”, March-April 1999. Nevertheless, I do thank him for this minor credit, and note that modestly he only mentions this and one other of his many works on Chinnery, his impressive 1993 book published by Antique Collector’s Club, Chinnery 1774-1852, Artist of India and the China Coast .
Finally, an eighteen named “List of Lenders” to the exhibition is included to complete the catalogue. Seen at the opening are lenders receiving complimentary catalogues including myself. I am happy to place my copy in our Arts of Asia Study Centre and Library. It is a useful reference from the collections mainly of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank and the Peabody Essex Museum, reinforced with examples from private collections known to two experts on Chinnery, Martyn Gregory and Patrick Conner.
Alan Pate, who I see graduated from the Korean language program at Yonsei University, Seoul, Korea in 1988, received his MA in Regional Studies East Asia from Harvard University in 1990. Author for Arts of Asia of the eleven-page article in our September-October 1998 magazine, “Devil Dance Masks of Sri Lanka”, he is a former partner of L’Asie Exotique, whose founder, Timothy Mertel wrote two Japanese related articles for us, on festival dolls (September- October 1986) and palace dolls (July-August 1996). Before those two, authors Robert and Sharon Balfour had more generally covered the subject under a Japanese dolls heading (July-August 1976).
The interest already generated in Japanese dolls is therefore not inconsiderable, and I am happy to announce the publication of Alan Pate’s new book: Ningy: The Art of the Japanese Doll (Tuttle Publishing, June 2005). Alan is appropriately currently guest curator of the exhibition with the same name, now being held at Mingei International Museum in San Diego, California through January 29th, 2006.
Mingei International, with museums dating back to its founding in 1978, puts on changing exhibitions on traditional and contemporary folk art, craft and design (for more information, visit www.mingei.org). Alan Pate is the owner of Akanezumiya (www.akanezumiya.com), an Asian antique gallery specialising in Japanese figural art of the Edo period (1615-1868), with emphasis on ningyo and Buddhist sculpture. His book, the first that is comprehensive in English on Japanese antique dolls, explores the five main categories: gosho palace dolls, hina Girl’s Day dolls, musha Boy’s Day dolls, isho costume dolls and takeda theatrical dolls. It is illustrated with exquisitely detailed costumes by Manhattan professional photographer Lynton Gardiner.1
For the March-April 2000 issue of Arts of Asia, Assistant Curator, Christine Knoke, wrote on the then new installation of Asian art at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. Designers will find it interesting that the radical alterations of the museum’s interior spaces were the work of the Canadian architect Frank Gehry, then Los Angeles based, who is better known for his celebrated design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
From October 7th, 2005 through March 13th, 2006, the Norton Simon is presenting “Durga: Avenging Goddess, Nurturing Mother”, an exhibition exploring various Durga themes through some seventy works of art from India, Tibet, Nepal and Southeast Asia. This exhibition, as well as examples from the museum’s vast collection, will display loans from private collections and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
The exhibition is again organised by Assistant Curator Christine Knoke, together with Fellow for Research Dr Pratapaditya Pal. He has written a forty-eight page booklet to accompany the exhibition, which explores the many ways Durga has been represented from the 13th century until today. Illustrated from the collection of the Norton Simon Museum is an illustration from a Devimahatmya: Durga Engages the Buffalo Titan, 2 circa 1825, India, Himachal Pradesh, Guler Workshop, opaque watercolour on paper, 7 3/8 ” × 10 1/2 “, gift of Ramesh and Urmil Kapoor.
A school of contemporary Indian miniature painting in Labore, Pakistan, the work of the department of miniature painting at the National College of Arts, was described and illustrated towards the end of the May-June 2003 magazine by Marcella Sirhandi, Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma University, Stillwater. Seen was the master artist Bashir Ahmed conducting a class, as well as fourteen modern miniatures in the artist’s and his student’s styles. All were extremely competent and of a high level of skills. I was therefore amused to receive from Gabriel Eckenstein of Switzerland (firstname.lastname@example.org) the following press offer:
“Cow with Water Pipe-Miniature Painting by Alexander Gorlizki and Riyaz Uddin. 3 The ancient tradition of Indian miniature painting had been hibernating for much of the last two centuries. The once breathtaking sensibility and delicacy of brushwork found in the famed court painting of the Mughals had stagnated with years of repetition of standard scenes and motifs. Just ten years ago however, British artist Alexander Gorlizki, working with Indian artist Riyaz Uddin, shook it out of its slumber…”
A reminder to our readers that the attractive art of Indian miniature painting survives on to our day with subjects transcending the original traditions and purposes.
I have heard from Edith Frankel about the E&J Frankel September show, which at the time of writing my Editorial they were preparing with the title “Into the Woods”. Edie sent me this photograph of their painted wooden luohan preaching, China, Southern Song/Yuan dynasty, height 42 inches. It is one of the examples they plan to show. 4
The exhibition gives the Frankels an opportunity to explore the various Chinese woods that are valued and are now rare, such as huanghuali (golden rosewood) and zitan (purple sandalwood). The exhibition has table screens, brushpots, wristrests and fantastic (natural) sculpture. Items of softwoods, such as yumu (elm), nanmu (cedar), various burlwoods and bamboo, are also included.
E&J Frankel, located at 1040 Madison Avenue, 79th Street, New York, thank Mr Stephen Sondheim (famous composer and lyricist, born in New York City, 1930) for graciously allowing the use of his title “Into the Woods”.
China Gallery welcomes Arts of Asia readers to visit them at their premises and see their collection at 5 East 57th Street, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10022. From September 15th through to October 15th they have been showing a wide range of Chinese Tang dynasty (618-906) fine arts, representative of the powerful empire, in an exhibition with the title “Tang, The Golden Age”.
Included in the group are celebrated sancai (“three-colour”) glazed tomb figures: lokopalas (guardians), earth spirits, camels, horses, equestrians and grooms. Metalwork highlights are bronze mirrors and elaborate silverwares, such as a rare Tang silver phoenix dish, 5 diameter 7 1/4 inches. China Gallery offers “a striking marble Buddhist stele, a delicate seated marble lion, a stone head of a luohan, a large pottery camel with rider, a pair of large finely moulded horses, a pair of dancing horses, court ladies, and jars.” So this gallery, it would seem, has something for everyone.
I wish to express my gratitude to all the contributors to this mainly Japanese issue. To the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, for the contributions by their curatorial staff, and especially to my friend and long-time contributor Sir Hugh Cortazzi, former British Ambassador to Japan. His own cover article on Japanese prints of foreigners in the late 19th century is drawn from his wider collections, now mainly in the Sainsbury Institute in Norwich, England.