Arts of China (reinstallation)
- Dates: January 1997
March 26, 1996: On November 7, 1996, The Brooklyn Museum will open its newly reinstalled gallery of the Arts of China. The reinstallation provides the opportunity for a reassessment of Brooklyn’s Chinese collection. Current scholarship and contemporary cultural practices and politics have raised new questions about the legacy of the arts of China, their dependence on the past, and their continuing significance in a contemporary context. On the occasion of the reinstallation, The Brooklyn Museum staff will be reinterpreting the objects in the installation. We hope at the same time to establish and/or strengthen our connections to the academic world, the Asian American community of New York, and the many diverse visitors to The Brooklyn Museum.
As an integral part of the reinstallation of the Chinese gallery, the Department of Asian Art will hold a one-day colloquium on Tuesday, March 26, 1996—-approximately six months prior to the reopening of the new gallery. Entitled Returns to the Past and Renewal in the Future, the colloquium will be organized into two inter-related sessions.
Reflecting one of the over-arching themes of the reinstallation of the gallery, the morning session will focus on the Chinese cultural phenomenon of seeking renewal in the return to the past. We will address art-historical approaches to this theme as they relate to the Museum’s collections and to the presentation of objects in the gallery. These can include paintings, ceramics, and other objects such as the Han Dynasty bronze Zun in the Form of a Goose, which had been variously dated from the 2nd to the 12th century. (See xerox of photograph, attached.) Participants making art-historical presentations will be encouraged to select objects from Brooklyn’s collections as the basis for their talks.
The afternoon session will expand this theme of return and renewal into a contemporary context and will address the questions raised in the presentation of the arts of China to The Brooklyn Museum’s audiences. This expanded notion of the “return to the past” can include a re-examination of previous museum presentations of Chinese art as well as the issues of presenting Chinese art to an Asian community that comes to the Museum seeking its own past. We plan to bring together principal scholars from various fields of Chinese art and culture and contemporary museum practice with the Curators of Asian Art, members of the Museum’s Education Division, leaders in the Asian-American community, and a selected group of participants with special interests in the China field. The audience will include members of The Brooklyn Museum’s Asian Art Council.
The agenda for the colloquium will include a brief overview of The Brooklyn Museum’s Chinese collection, its history and the themes of the current reinstallation. Participants making formal art-historical presentations will be invited to speak on a specific topic related to the concept of returning to the past. This could be a slide talk or lecture based on objects in Brooklyn’s collection, or a similarly focused presentation. Participants making presentations on the questions of reaching out to Brooklyn’s diverse audiences will address the practical aspects of cultural programming. Drawing on their own experiences in this evolving area, they will bring new perspectives to the Museum’s basic mission. We hope that the presentations will encourage discussion and that the discussions will be as informative as the presentations. Ample time in the morning and afternoon sessions will be left for discussion.
Experience has shown us that a colloquium of this type is helpful in focusing on specific issues raised by museum exhibitions. The Brooklyn Museum has chosen to present the arts of China within a thematic framework. We know that the open discussions involving everyone invited to attend will help guide our thematic installations within the gallery and future public programming. We hope that the results of a day-long dialogue on the return to the past in China and the vision for the future will help us to clarify emerging issues in the public presentation of Chinese art.
July 1996: The Arts of China, the first major reinstallation of the Chinese galleries at The Brooklyn Museum since 1969, is scheduled to open to the public on November 7, 1996. The completely redesigned second floor galleries will contain some 120 works of art from the Museum’s permanent collection, among them paintings, calligraphies, ceramics, and applied arts created from ancient times through the 20th-century. Many of them have never before been on public view. Others have not been displayed for several decades.
All of the works have been selected on the basis of artistic quality and historic significance from the Museum’s holdings of more than 1,800 objects, following the first in-depth survey of the collection in more than 35 years. Fan Dongqing of the Shanghai Museum, one of the foremost experts in the world in the field of Chinese ceramics, reviewed the more than 600 pieces in the collection. All the works selected for presentation were further evaluated with the assistance of noted experts in the field and treated when necessary by Museum conservators.
The reinstallation will be presented under the overarching theme Returns to the Past as a hallmark of Chinese art. Returning to the past reflects the Chinese cultural goal of returning to an ideal past for renewal in the present. A highlight will be a presentation of a group of objects that might be found in a Chinese scholar’s studio. In such an environment men of the wealthy, educated elite, who staffed government bureaucracies, practiced the arts of literary composition, calligraphy, and painting. Throughout much of their history, particularly during the Ming and Qing dynasties, scholars looked back to China’s past for moral and aesthetic inspiration. The scholar’s studio section of the reinstallation will include furniture, paintings, among them hanging scrolls, handscrolls, album paintings and fans, and calligraphy.
Other sections will illustrate the impact on Chinese art by ritual and religious beliefs as well as tombs and burial practices. Another portion of the reinstallation will present more than 50 important ceramics, including several masterpieces such as a Yuan porcelain wine jar with underglaze cobalt blue decoration and a ewer with phoenix head from the Tang or early Song dynasty.
Other highlights of the reinstallation are a Han dynasty bronze wine vessel in the form of a goose and an inlaid bronze garment hook, a late Shang dynasty bronze ritual wine vessel, a Northern Zhou dynasty bronze seated Bodhisattva, a Jin dynasty painted earthenware pillow in the form of a tiger, and a set of Liao dynasty silver saddle ornaments.
About the Collection: The core of the collection was acquired during travels to East Asia during the first decade of the 20th century by the Museum’s first curator of ethnography, Stewart Culin. A China specialist with wide-ranging interests, he made collecting in that area one of the early focuses of the Asian collection. He was responsible for the acquisition in 1909 of the Samuel P. Avery, Jr., collection of Chinese cloisonne and in 1914 the Robert B. Woodward collection of Chinese jades. In 1932, several years after Culin’s death, a gift of 258 Chinese pieces from the estate of Colonel Michael Friedsam, including major paintings and ceramics, augmented the collection. In 1952 the Museum received a bequest of 45 more ceramics from the estate of Augustus S. Hutchins. In recent years the collection has been enriched through loans and gifts from the Guennol collection of Alastair B. Martin, former chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.
The reinstallation has been organized by Amy Poster, Curator of Asian Art and John Finlay, Assistant Curator of Asian Art, at The Brooklyn Museum.
The Art of China has been made possible through the generous support of The Starr Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc., The J. Aron Charitable Foundation, Inc., and the National Endowment for the Arts.