Over the past two years, we’ve been busy in our permanent galleries. We’ve renovated two existing galleries: The Gallery of Korean Art (more here, here and here) and the Snukal Ceramics Study Gallery. Before that, we opened a completely new Orientation Gallery. All of these efforts have been part of a broad initiative to reinstall and reinterpret our permanent collection to give our visitors a better understanding of Asian art and culture, and to improve the gallery conditions for the artworks on view. Next up in this series of renovations is… the Chinese gallery!
This gallery has long been a favorite for great collection highlights including intricate jades and masterful porcelain. But soon, every single object in the gallery will be carefully removed and stored as the space is completely redesigned, just like we did during last year’s Gallery of Korean Art renovation. When the gallery reopens this fall, it will feature an entirely new configuration that will present a broad range of Chinese art , including contemporary work, in a thematic way. This means that while you’ll find many treasures in the new gallery that you may not have seen before, some of your favorites might be taking a break. Here are some that you might want to visit one last time before the gallery closes on July 8:
The scholarly gentleman has long been one of the most respected figures in Chinese society. The scholar, or wenren (man of literature), spent years studying China’s literary classics and was often an accomplished poet, calligrapher, painter and musician. When at work, he would ideally sit at his desk in front of a window to be inspired by nature. On his desk were the tools of his trade: books, writing implements, and ornaments. This case contains examples of ceramic tools used by Chinese scholars. When preparing to compose a poem or execute an ink painting, the scholar would rub an ink stick against an ink stone (see the round white stone with black ink stick in the lower right corner) for several minutes, mixing in water. When the ink was ready, he would take a brush from the brush pot (top left), create his work, and then clean the brush in a shallow dish of water (see the pale shallow dish at bottom left). The designs in the scholar’s objects were often symbolic. Carved or painted miniature landscapes inspired poems or paintings. In addition, visual puns (rebuses) or meaningful images were also used for good luck. For example, a large seal in this case once belonging to the Ming dynasty poet and official Wang Shizhen (1526-1590) bears the image of a turtle, symbolizing long life. This seal is displayed with a mirror underneath its raised platform so that you can appreciate the seal imprint and the decorative design– definitely not to be missed!
Most of the porcelains in this case are of such high quality that they were probably made for the Imperial Court, perhaps even for the Emperor himself, during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). They are made from the purest white porcelain and have thin walls, so that light shines through the clay. The forms and generally simple and elegant, often copied from ancient metalwork forms. The transparent glaze that coats the pieces is also pure and uncolored in many cases, unlike lower quality glazes which often have a bluish or greenish tinge. Those that are colored have a very even glaze, with no accidental discoloration, crackles or bubbles. Painted designs, often executed by professional artists employed at the kilns, are expertly rendered in either underglaze or overglaze enamels. Some pieces feature hidden decoration, or anhua, created using slip (liquid clay) or incised lines so that they are only visible when the piece is held up to the light. Generally speaking, porcelain with pure yellow glazes were reserved for the Emperor. Also, images of five-clawed dragons were only permitted on objects used by the Emperor. On the top riser, you can see a tiny white cup with a red five-clawed dragon– this piece is certainly worth a look in person.
Tomorrow is our monthly Free Fourth Friday– a perfect time to get a last look. If you’re a member, you can visit for free any time– but make sure to come before July 8! ~CM