Friday, September 9, 2011

Jill Krementz covers "The Art of Dissent" at the Met

Chan Patriarch Bodhidharma
Ming dynasty (1368-1664), 17th century
Porcelain with ivory glaze
The Art of Dissent in 17th-Century China
Masterpieces of Ming Loyalist Art from the
Chih Lo Lou Collection

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Galleries for Chinese Painting and Calligraphy

September 7, 2001 – January 2, 2012

The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was followed by the conquest of China by semi-nomadic Manchu tribesmen from northeast of the Great Wall, comprising some of the most traumatic events in Chinese history. On the other hand, this era of chaos spurred a huge outpouring of creative artistic energy. Why? Because many former Ming subjects turned to the arts, not only to mourn their loss, but to assert their defiance and moral virtue.

The exhibition (recently on view at the Hong Kong Museum of Art) is curated by Maxwell K. Hearn and showcases more than 60 landscape paintings and calligraphies created by the leading artists of the time. Because these artists often found psychological and physical refuge in nature, their representations of landscape reflect their emotional responses to their radically changed world. Also on display are numerous porcelain ceramics, ivory figures and an array of the artists’ implements: brushes, brush holders, ink stamps, and even a desk.

The works on view were collected in the 1950s and the 1960s by the late Hong Kong collector, Ho Iu-kwong (He Yaoguang, 1907-2006), who named his studio the Chih Lo Lou or “Hall of Supreme Bliss.”

The Met has one of the finest collections of Asian art and this exhibit is one more arrow in their quiver.
The Art of Dissent in 17th-Century China: Masterpieces of Ming Loyalist Art from the Chih Lo Lou Collection En route to the press preview.
Those attending the press preview were fortunate to have a guided tour by curator Maxwell Hearn, an eminent scholar of chinese art who speaks fluent chinese. He is holding examples of brushes used for calligraphy.

"It was an era when poetry was painting with words and painting was poetry without words. The mark of the artist scholar was that he was a good a poet as a painter."

"It was the landscape of the mind. There was no 'plein air'."
ROOM ONE: LATE MING MARTYRS. In addition to scrolls, albums, and paintings there are a few porcelain objects reflecting landscapes.
Naomi Takafuchi, the Met's press officer working on this show Vase with Figures in a Landscape
Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Kangxi period (1662-1772), late 17th century.
This vase illustrates the bustling life found along a garden stream, including women and children in pavilions, figures in a gazebo, and boaters.
Gui Zhuang (1613-1673)
Ink Bamboo
Dated 1658
Handscroll, in on paper

Due to its vertical form, bamboo is seldom represented in the handscroll format. Images of bamboo shorn of tops and roots are even rarer. Here the stalks, whether rendered with a split-tipped brush to suggest rotundity or in even ink washes for an antimimetic flatness, exude resilient grace.
Gui Changshi (1574-1645)
Bamboo Grove by the Spring
Handscrolll, ink on silk

Gui is most admired for his monochrome depictions of orchids and bamboo. As in calligraphy or seal carving, negative space in Gui's painting is as important as solid form.

Gui's inscription at the end of the painting reads," The pure sound of streams and mountains." It not only refers to the gurgling spring and rustling bamboo, but also points to the musical quality of this pictorial composition.
Wang Siren (1575-1646)
Poem in Running Script
Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Wang's calligraphy embodies the late Ming aesthetic of elegant fluidity and gestural expressiveness. As a writer, Wang is known for entertaining travelogues and unadorned poetry.
Wang Siren (1575-1646)
Hanging scroll; ink on paper

Better known for his writing and calligraphy, Wang Siren left a small painting oeuvre that demonstrates remarkable familiarity with ancient masters. By creating lively imagery through the economical use of line and wash,he accomplished a personal style that, like his writing, corresponds to his light-hearted, straightforward character.
Landscape imagery was particularly popular in Chinese ceramics of the mid-seventeenth century, a period often described as transitional, when imperial control of the great kiln complex of Jingdeshen faltered and the lack of oversight allowed potters to develop new shapes and styles of decoration.
Dish with Scholar in a Landscape
Qing dynasty (1664-1911) , Shunzhi period (a644-61), ca. 1655-70.
Porcelain painted with cobalt blue under a clear glaze.
Vase with Buddhist Figures
Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Kangxi period (1662-1772).
late 17th century

By the seventeenth century, traditional Buddhist themes were common both in literati paintings and in the decorative arts. The holy men depicted here are arhats (Chinese: luohans). The one tussling with a snarling tiger is often identified as Bhadhra. His face, however, is identical to that of a second arhat. Copied from a woodblock print, both figures represent stock images rather than specific individuals.
The next two galleries focus on two of the most important centers of loyalist artistic activity: Nanjing and the rugged wilderness environs of Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan). Among the works on view are masterpieces by Zhang Feng, Kuncan, and Gong Xian, three of the loyalist artists active in Nanjing, as well as two images by Hongren, the patriarch of the Yellow Mountain School.
Yangzi River Delta region, with its major cities.
Wan Shouqi (1603-1652)
Three landscapes
Handscroll, ink or ink and color on paper

The paintings are imaginary depictions of the South Brook, where Wan Shouqi's friend Cheng Gonguuin and Cheng's son Zuoche, (a disciple of Wan's) lived.
Zuoche supported his parents by farming--a fate shared by many educated men who refused to serve the alien regime.
The eight lovely panels which are displayed individually, side by side, were once part of an album.
Gong Xian (1619-1689)
Spring Landscape
Dated 1671
Hanging scroll, ink on paper

Gong Xian was interested in art theories and methods. He composed a few illustrated books for students of painting with practical instructions on structure and brushwork. He singled out stability and strangeness as key to landscape composition by stating, "If a composition has no strangeness, there is no value in its stability. Stability without strangeness is the work of a commonplace hand; strangeness without stability, of an immature hand."
A major focus of the collection is loyalist artists from the Guangdong region in southwestern China.

On view are works by Kuang Lu (1601-1650), Zhang Mu (1607-1687), and other Guangdong artists who were either martyrs during the dynastic transition or active participants in the ensuing resistance movement.
Above: Brush holder with Domestic scene in a Garden
Qing dynasty (1644-1911), late 17th--early 18th century Bamboo.

This tour de force of bamboo carving shows children playing and two men enjoying a game comparable to chess in the lush environs of a garden. The carving is characteristic of the work of craftsmen based in the Jiading area, not far from present-day Shanghai.

Right: Kuang Lu (1604-1650)
Poem in Cursive Script
Dated 1645
Hanging scroll, ink on silk
Kuang Lu was descended from a prominent family of scholar-officials in Nanhai, Guangdong. An accomplished poet and calligrapher, he also excelled in martial arts and the Chinese zither. After the Machu conquest of north China, he led the defense of Guangzhou under the Southern Ming regime. When Guangzhou fell to the Qing forces after the ten-month siege in the winter of 1650, he starved himself to death next to his antique zithers.

The idiosyncratically elongated vertical strokes that extend the length of three characters suggest his enthusiastic aspirations at the moment of writing.
A native of Dongguan, near Guangzhous, Zhang Mu enjoyed painting, poetry and martial arts but lacked interest in scholarship. He furthered the Ming cause by rallying people to resist the Manchu invasion of Guangdong in 1645-46. When this effort failed, he retired to his hometown.

Zhang's greatest passion was horses. He acquired famous horses and spent long hours by their sides observing their physiques and habits, and putting them in a fine, descriptive mode. Here, his anatomically accurate horse is expertly foreshortened; graded ink washes convincingly articulate its volume, musculature, and thick mane. Such realism however, is juxtaposed with the fantastic linear imagery of the twin gnarled trees with wildly twisting branches.

This gallery focuses on the work of two of the greatest artists of the early Qing period, Bada Hanren and Shitao--both descendants of the Ming imperial house who became Buddhist monks to escape persecution.
Bada Shanren (1626-1705)
Hanging scroll, ink on paper

Bada Shanren harbored strong loyalist sentiments well into his old age and often used painting to express his defiant spirit. The fish in the painting is typical of his bold, enigmatic images. Its upturned eye creates a vivid impression of indignation that is almost human. Seemingly suspended in midair with its tail half cropped, the fish may symbolize the displacement and bereavement of all native Chinese. With its menacing stare and a bulging belly, the fish compares most closely with similar images created in the early 1960's.
Shitao (1642-1707)
Two examples, ink and color on paper, from an album of four leaves.

Executed in exuberant ink and color washes these loosely structured by lively compositions manifest the freedom from traditional constraints that Shitao attained in old age.

The leaf on the right depicts a bitter gourd, a Chinese vegetable known for its strong taste. Shitao, whose life was an incessant spiritual struggle, adopted "Bitter Gourd" as his style name.
Brush holder
Qing dynasty (1644), 18th century
Buddhist figure. Shoulao, the God of Longevity, Holding a Peach
Qing dynasty (1644-1911), 18th century
Ivory, rosewood stand.
Shitao (1642-1707)
Landscapes Depicting Poems of Huang Yanlü
Dated 1701-2
12 leaves from an album of 22; ink and color on paper

This album presents Shitao's interpretations and transcriptions of travel poems by his patron-friend Huang Yanlü, a wealthy merchant of considerable sophistication.

The album exemplifies Shitao's extraordinary originality and versatility. Done in his old age, the landscapes demonstrate the entire spectrum of his stylistic sources and innovations through decades of experimentation. Whether sketched in monochromes or meticulously finished in refined colors, they represent the perfect union of fresh observation and imagination with art-historical awareness.
Eight pages from Shitao's album (including the landscape above).
Buddhist Monk Budai
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), 17th century
Porcelain with ivory glaze

The kilns near Dehua in Fujian Province, opened in the late thirteenth century and flouished from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. Characterized by thick, lustrous glazes, Dehua ware is often known in Western writings as blanc de chine, or "China white." Budai, who lived in the eighth or ninth century, was noted for his round stomach and his affinity for children.
Zhenwu, Daoist Lord of the Northern Palace
Qing dynasty (1644-1911), Kangxi period (1662-1723), early 18th century/
Porcelain with ivory glaze

The tortoise at the base of the sculpture identifies this figure as Zhenwu, an important Daoist deity who also was worshipped in Buddhist traditions. Zhenwu became particularly popular during the Ming dynasty (1368-1664) when he was revered as a protector of both the state and the imperial family. His role as a guardian reflects his association with the north, the direction from which China was constantly threatened by neighboring peoples from Central Asia.
A native of Suzhou, Xo Fang passed the provincial-level civil-service examination in 1642. After his father committed suicide to protest Manchu rule, Xo gave up his pursuit of public office and spent the rest of his life in self-exile on a mountain outside Zuzhou.

This painting of wild orchids, fungi, and a rock can be considered a symbolic self portrait of the artist. Orchids thrive in the wilderness, unconcerned with the bustling world that ignores their fragrance. Time may carve into the rock's surface and chisel away its edges but cannot compromise its essential substance. Painted in late winter one year before he died, the robust fungi, treasured for their association with longevity, tell of the old man's high spirits and optimism.
Wen Dian
Fishing on an Outcrop
Dated 1694
Hanging scroll, ink on paper

Wen Den, whose given name literally means "dot," built his personal style using a distinctive pointillist technique. Although ink dots of varying tonal value had been used to suggest vegetation since the tenth century, there were always combined with linear contours and texture strokes. Unlike most scholar-artists, who tended to flaunt their calligraphic brushwork, Wen dispensed with line in the rendering of the large foreground trees. His vibrant dotting animates the landscape by evoking nature's continual state of flux.
An example of an artist's desk.
Two scholars from Beijing University, Liangshi Zhu and Xi Li. Professor Zhu is a world specialist in Chinese art history and Ms. Li is a 26-year-old student studying art history.

Behind them is a hanging scroll titled Bamboo and Rock by Zhu Sheng, dated 1683.

In Chinese culture bamboo and rocks are symbols of integrity, modesty and constancy.
Xi Li and Professor Liangshi Zhu.
Lilly Wei is a contributing editor to Artnews Magazine. In the recently published September issue Ms. Wei writes about the 87-year-old Ellsworth Kelly who has multiple shows scheduled this year in Boston, Munich, New York and Los Angeles.

Ms. Wei was loving the show. "Many of the artists in this exhibit seem very cubist, much like Cezanne."
Art Critic Jason Kaufman: "It's marvelous to learn about the lives and sensibilities of literati Chinese artists through their exquisite works. Exhibitions such as these, in which the Metropolitan situates the works in a broad historical context, are gradually teaching visitors the outlines of this great civilization's culture."

Mr. Kaufman writes regularly for The Washington Post.
Landscapes of the Four Seasons
Dated 1650
Set of twelve hanging scrolls; ink and color on paper with gold leaf.

A professional painter with a successful career in Hangshou, Lan Ying was acquainted with several members of the educated elite and acquired enough of their aesthetics to have devoted most of his creative energy to painting in scholarly idioms. In this spectacular set of seasonal landscapes, each scroll evokes the style of an ancient master.

Lan Ying has inscribed each painting with a title and his source of inspiration.
Zha Jizhuo (1601-1677)
Ten Landscape Views
Album of 10 double leaves mounted as a handscroll, ink and color on paper.

A native of Haining, in northern Zhejiang, Zha Jizuo passed the mid-level civil-service examination in 1633 and later joined local Southern Ming revivalists in resisting the Manchu invasion. When that failed, he withdrew from politics and devoted himself to teaching and scholarship. A rigorous historian, he spent nearly three decades compiling an encyclopedic Ming history. He also wrote plays and held theatrical performances.

This page precedes his ten landscape paintings.
The first of ten.
The second.
The third.
As you wander through the galleries, you should keep your eye peeled for these two beautiful Wardrobe cabinets which I missed my first time through. They are from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), late 16th or early 17th century. Made of wood with inlays of mother-of-pearl, amber, glass ivory and other materials. Go up close so you can look at the details. I have no clue which gallery they are in but you will find them.
Details of the Wardrobe cabinets.
Ink Tablet decorated with a Black Stag. Ink Table decorated with Five Pines.
Ink Tablet decorated with Tang Mirror Design. Water Pot and Brush Washer.
Ink Tablet decorated with Emblems of Investiture and an Ink Stone from the Qing Dynasty, 19th century.
From the Scholar's Table.
From the Scholar's Table.
An assortment of seals from the 18th century.
Seals from the 18th Century.
If you have time, and the energy, you might want to continue the short flight upstairs to the Chinese Decorative Arts.
Brush Pot with Daoist Paradise and Two Brushes.
Ink Palettes
Incense burner in the shape of a Cock. Seated Luohan (Arhat) in a Grotto
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
18th-19h century
Qing dynasty (1644-1911), 19th century
ilk and metallic-thread embroidery on silk satin and flat patterned plain-weave silk.

This embroidered toy features a man riding a qilin, a fantastic animal commonly found in the decorative arts of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties. Although its appearance can vary, the qilin seen here combines the features of a dragon (head, horns, and scales), a fantastical lion (tail) and a deer (body and hooves). Various auspicious items hang from the qilin, among them (from the left) scrolls, a sycee (silver ingot), books, and a handheld decorative accessory called a ruyi. The detachable rider holds a sheng, a type of mouth organ.
Edward Maloney, Editor of Arts Cart, who, along with me, ventured upstairs. Mr. Maloney commented: "I think Chinese decorative arts are even more accessible for the average New Yorker when there are objects to see that you often find even in Flea Markets, jazzed up a little. The prices of Chinese things have gone up because of the recent prosperity in that country. Anyone interested in Chinese art should see these shows. The scholarship is wonderful."
As you exit the Met you may want to buy an exhibition catalogue (on the left) and/or other relevant books. The catalogue was produced by the Hong Kong Museum of Art and weighs a ton so trust me ... don't even think about buying it until you're heading toward the front door.

All the essays and captions are in both Chinese and English.
Text and photographs © by Jill Krementz: all rights reserved.