Enfilade

Exhibition | Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from Taipei

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on June 19, 2016

Emperor

Press release (2 May 2016) from the Asian Art Museum:

Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 17 June — 18 September 2016
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston 23 October 2016 — 22 January 2017

Curated by Jay Xu and Li He

The centerpiece of the Asian Art Museum’s 50th anniversary year, Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei, presents nearly 150 imperial masterworks, many of which are making their North American debut. Visitors will discover a trove of exquisite paintings, ceramics, jades and more from one of the world’s greatest collections of Chinese art. The exhibition offers audiences a chance to behold the prized possessions of eight emperors and an empress, passed from dynasty to dynasty and once sheltered in Beijing’s Forbidden City. A glimpse into the artistic life inside an imperial palace, the exhibition showcases how family collections were refined over generations, showcasing rare pieces created by emperors themselves in private moments of inspiration.

Leng Mei, Illustrations of Farming and Weaving, ca. 1696; Qing dynasty (1644–1911), reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722). Album leaves, colors on silk (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

Leng Mei, Illustrations of Farming and Weaving, ca. 1696; Qing dynasty (1644–1911), reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722). Album leaves, colors on silk (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

“This is the absolute ‘best of the best’ of Chinese imperial art,” says Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “By exploring how artistic taste was cultivated and evaluated—which created standards of beauty and elegance across Chinese culture—the exhibition reflects the museum’s mission of connecting audiences today with the great arts and traditions of Asia.”

The meticulously crafted public identities and carefully guarded private lives of each ruler will be told in a story narrated by the artworks of their eras, from the dignified Song to the bold yet subtle Yuan, from the celebrated brilliance of the Ming to the last days of the dazzling Qing dynasty.

While the National Palace Museum, Taipei, is renowned among Chinese art enthusiasts, historically its collection has not been widely accessible to the American public. Displays have traveled to the U.S. only a handful of times: in the 1960s and again in 1995–1996 for an exhibition presented by both The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Asian Art Museum—an exhibition that Xu also participated in organizing during his time as a junior research fellow there. “It’s exactly 20 years later,” Xu notes. “However, there are many works that haven’t been seen outside Asia before. In terms of the objects and time periods, it’s a fresh perspective for American audiences since the imperial court surrounded itself with the most important, avant-garde works of its time.”

“Gazing upon rulers’ treasure troves, we get a sense not only of how their tastes influenced the creative endeavors of their time, but also how they wielded art as a tool to shape history,” Xu explains.

Imperial Workshop, Beijing, Hibiscus-shaped bowl; Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Yongzheng (1723–1735). Agate (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

Organized around the lives of nine rulers—eight emperors and one empress who reigned from the early 12th through the early 20th centuries—the exhibition will explore how taste and connoisseurship as both personal virtues and statements of political power evolved over 800 years. By examining the distinct contributions of each subject, the rich styles and the variety of craftsmanship they prized, the exhibition outlines how Chinese art developed and flourished under Han Chinese, Mongol and later Manchu regimes. Through this exceptional selection of objects, Emperors’ Treasures presents a unique occasion for audiences to connect with powerful historical figures through their most cherished belongings, relating to them on an intimate, human scale that only art can express.

Emperors’ Treasures unfolds chronologically, allowing audiences to gauge how imperial tastes evolved from within China or due to external pressures, looking backward to ancient examples or blazing forward with new ideas. The exhibition flows through four galleries on the museum’s first floor.

Vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design, ca. 1744. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Porcelain with golden glaze, multicolor decoration, and appliquéd sculpture. (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

Vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design, ca. 1744. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Porcelain with golden glaze, multicolor decoration, and appliquéd sculpture. (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

Opening in the large Osher Gallery, audiences are introduced to the Song emperors (960–1279), celebrated for leading a renaissance in Chinese art more than 800 years ago. Here, visitors will discover the masterful landscapes and calligraphy of Emperor Huizong, recognized for his distinctive, influential ‘slender-gold’ script. Alongside these elegant works are the robust art pieces and an imposing portrait demanded by the mighty Yuan-dynasty (1271–1368) ruler Kublai Khan. Also in this gallery are legendary Ming porcelains (1368–1644), the pinnacle of ceramic art in China. Highlights include a rare cloisonné vessel; one of only two surviving blue-and-white Ming vases depicting West Asian entertainers; and the ‘holy grail’ of Chinese porcelains—a wine cup with a cock and hen design like the example recently sold at Sotheby’s for more than $36 million.

The adjacent Hambrecht Gallery features an overview of illustrious Qing-dynasty accomplishments (1644–1911). During this period, a dozen imperial workshops across the Chinese Empire were opened to fulfill the Forbidden City’s relentless appetite for lacquers, enamels and carved jade, like the paper-thin hibiscus-shaped bowl from the early 1700s, sculpted from a single piece of glowing, nut-brown agate.

Next door is the Lee Gallery, which paints an intimate portrait of the 18th-century Qianlong Emperor, known as the ‘Old Man of Ten Perfections’ and admired as the most prolific poet-monarch in Chinese history. Through a selection of paintings, carvings and other treasures, audiences will see how a single ruler caused a seismic shift in the creative output of China. While many of the masterworks remain quietly breathtaking in their elegance, others certainly call out to the interests of today. The White Falcon hanging scroll by Italian Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione introduces visitors to an intriguing European figure who spent decades in the Qing court, serving under Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong. Having his Chinese name as Lang Shining, Castiglione’s collaboration on court portraits and paintings underscores a tradition of East-West cultural exchange that continues in the current globalized art arena.

E.T._Major_Exhibition_Image_v2

Lang Shining (Giuseppe Castiglione, Italian, 1688–1766), White Falcon; Qing dynasty, reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736–1795). Hanging scroll, colors on silk (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

The exhibition concludes in the museum’s Resource Room with a focus on the Empress Dowager Cixi, a Manchu concubine who rose to become the long-ruling power behind the final Qing emperors. Cixi recruited female artists to her ‘Studio of Great Elegance’, where, under her personal direction, the coterie combined traditional symbols and patterns with botanical study, setting a foundation for modern Chinese aesthetics.

An icon of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, the celebrated Qing-dynasty ‘Meat-shaped stone’ will also be traveling to the U.S. for the first time. The stone—a hunk of jasper carved and dyed to resemble a portion of braised pork belly fresh from the pot—exemplifies how the enduring appeal of traditional Chinese cooking has long inspired devotion. When on view in Japan in 2014, the stone was seen by an average of 6,000 people a day and generated a mini-boom in dongpo rou, the classic dish it closely resembles. In honor of the stone’s unusual appeal, a special edition of the Asian Art Museum’s popular Thursday evening programs will feature innovative new dishes inspired by the Meat-shaped stone and prepared by four local chefs. Their dishes—from street carts to haute cuisine—will be presented to the public on July 7. Additionally, from June 17 to July 18, more than a dozen San Francisco chefs, both up-and-coming and established, will feature versions of the mouthwatering, slow-simmered ‘priceless pork belly’ in their restaurants. Another take on the delicious dish developed by Melinda Quirino, chef at the museum’s own Cafe Asia, will be available for visitors to enjoy throughout the exhibition’s run.

Meat-shaped stone; Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Jasper, golden stand (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

Meat-shaped stone; Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Jasper, golden stand (Taipei: National Palace Museum)

Emperors’ Treasures is about looking forward and starting the museum’s next 50 years on the right note,” says Xu. “We not only share and present exceptional works of art, but we help people understand their context, significance and relevance.”

Emperors’ Treasures was made possible by a generous grant from Presenting Sponsor, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. “This important support from The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation enables the Asian Art Museum to curate and present Emperors’ Treasures, which will expose a global audience to the beauty and depth of Chinese art and culture,” said Xu.

Ted Lipman, CEO of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, noted: “This exhibition marks the third collaboration between the Asian Art Museum and The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation. A key mission of the Foundation is to promote Chinese culture and the arts to Western audiences to increase understanding and appreciation of this ancient legacy. Nowhere does the 5,000 years of Chinese history manifest itself more beautifully and comprehensively than the exquisite imperial collection, which has been lovingly conserved and displayed at the National Palace Museum, Taipei. Through support for this significant exhibition, the Foundation seeks to provide visitors with an unprecedented opportunity to witness China’s vibrant cultural heritage first-hand.”

Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei is co-organized by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The exhibition is curated by Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu and Li He, associate curator of Chinese art.

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Jay Xu and He Li, eds., Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei (San Francisco, Asian Art Museum, 2016), 272 pages, ISBN: 978-0939117734, $50.

Emperors_Treasures_grandeEmperors’ Treasures features artworks from the renowned National Palace Museum, Taipei. It encompasses paintings, calligraphy, bronzes, ceramics, lacquer ware, jades, and textiles exemplifying the finest craftsmanship and imperial taste. The exhibition catalog explores the identities of eight Chinese rulers—seven emperors and one empress—who reigned from the early 12th through early 20th centuries. They are portrayed in a story line that highlights artworks of their eras, from the dignified Song to the coarse yet subtle Yuan, and from the brilliant Ming until the final, dazzling Qing period. Emperors’ Treasures examines each ruler’s distinct contribution to the arts and how each developed his or her aesthetic and connoisseurship.

With contributions by Fung Ming-chu, Jay Xu, Ho Chuan-hsin, Alfreda Murck, Tianlong Jiao, Li He, and curators from the National Palace Museum and the Asian Art Museum.

Jay Xu is Executive Director of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. He is the first Chinese American director at a major US art museum and the first Asian American museum director elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Li He is associate curator of Chinese Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and a visiting research fellow at the Palace Museum, Beijing. She is the author of Chinese Ceramics: A New Comprehensive History from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

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