Friday, August 5, 2016

Two Favorites Out of Three --- Day 5/168

Walk: Opera Plaza Cinema (Our Little Sister), Asian Art Museum, Japantown
Distance: 5.8 miles, small stretch

Asian Art Museum of San Francisco’s major 50th anniversary exhibition Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei is both exquisite and overwhelming. It features artworks from the early 12th century to the early 20th century and explores the identities and artistic impact of nine key rulers. As one press release explained: 
The exhibition highlights how rulers’ individual interests, the particular aspects of their lives, and specific historical events all influenced production at imperial workshops as well as within the imperial household itself. Collecting, patronage, connoisseurship, religion and the impact of foreign influences will be explored and illustrated through the works on view, including paintings, calligraphy, bronze vessels, ceramics, lacquerware, jade, textiles and more.
So, there is much to be learned and enjoyed from the ageless beauty on display, but, wow, it is A Lot to take in.  Ciwt ended up with several personal favorites and was happy to learn that Asian Art Museum's director and the show's curator, Jay Xu,  had three of these on his 'Top 5' Picks list.  Here are two of them.

Cup with chicken design. China; Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Ming dynasty, reign of the Chenghua emperor (1465–1487). Porcelain with underglaze and overglaze multicolor decoration. National Palace Museum, Taipei , Guci 005189 Cang-164-19-1. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

The pure white sheen of this small but wonderfully clear cup is difficult to capture but captivated Ciwt in person. After the show she was interested to read these remarks by Asian Art Museum director Jay Xu:  A similar Chicken cup recently sold for $36 million, which is rational because the cup’s rarity, high quality production, courtly pedigree, and naturalistic charm all create tremendous value for collectors now. Yet the motif here is from daily life: it’s not epic, it’s not overtly grand, but is quite ordinary and a gentle, almost warm image of family life. It’s a farmyard scene familiar to any Chinese peasant, but it’s one commissioned by the emperor. It’s a wonderful mystery why the most powerful man in the world would want something so mundane and domestic on a piece of extremely fine porcelain, at a point when porcelain-making had achieved its highest level of refinement.


Vase with Emperor Quianlog's poem carved on the base. China, Baofeng county, Henan province, Northern Song Dynansty (960-1126)

The simple purity of this celadon vase speaks for itself - even before the wonder of its survival. (It is one of only two surviving Northern Song official Ru vases and a rare masterwork of the highest artistry).  Ciwt surmises if it were ever put up for auction, it would likely fetch well over $50,000,000. This is based on 2002 Sotheby sale results. The show's catalogue has this to say about the almost never at auction imperial Ru ware: 

Pride of emperor, dream of connoisseurs, model for potters – Ru guanyao, the Ru kilns’ ‘official ware’, plays a role quite extraordinary in the history of China and her art. Hardly any other artefacts have elicited feelings as fervent as the small and deceptively modest Ru ceramics. Of outstanding rarity, historically, connected to patriotic sentiments of a grand era, conceptually to philosophical ideals of life in tune with nature, and aesthetically to a sophisticated taste for artlessness and excellence, they have obtained an almost mythical aura.
The Northern Song court (960-1127), unhappy with the ceramic it received, commissioned the kilns at Ruzhou, south of the then capital, Kaifeng, to produce celadons (greenish-blue stonewares). The potters were ambitious; covered all-over with luminous, crackled glazes and precariously balanced in the kiln on stilts that left only tiny marks on the undersides, their pieces almost seemed carved from jade. Ceramics, as a non-precious material perfectly accorded with the ideals of China’s elite of simplicity, modesty and naturalism. With their demanding criteria for judging proportion, glaze structure, tonal range and tactility, Song connoisseurs in many ways anticipated modern design movements.

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