ART IN A TIME OF CHAOS: MASTERWORKS FROM SIX DYNASTIES CHINA, 3RD TO 6TH CENTURIES
China Institute Gallery I September 30, 2016- March 19, 2017
It all started in 1926, according to the Chien Chung Pei, Chair of the Board of Trustees at the China Institute. Fifty years ago the China Gallery began with a fifteen person government-appointed board of trustees and $75,000. The Institute goes back further to the 19th century at the time of the Boxer Rebellion. It was a violent anti-foreign uprising that took place between 1899 and 1901 when US –China relations were arguably at their lowest point.
In a gesture for mutual understanding, reparations funds were used to create the China Institute in America. Over the past 90 years, the Institute has embraced its mandate to increase better understanding between the two countries. Early on, art was deemed vital to this mandate and important to share with American audiences.
Much of what is known about Six Dynasties sculpture comes from excavations of tombs and mausoleums, whose entrances were richly decorated with lavish sculpture. Inside tombs, archaeologists have found an array of both pottery and porcelain figurines. These sculptures – attendants, soldiers, musicians, servants, and animals – were crafted to be interred alongside the tomb’s occupants, ensuring a comfortable afterlife.
A Southern Dynasty imperial tomb yielded rich results in a 1968 excavation: a full wall with a major mural. Last year, curators at the Nanjing museum began to assemble the many bricks that made up the wall and were delighted by an extraordinary relief of the famous “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.” The sages, a group of admired intellectuals, artists, poets, and musicians in the mid-3rd century, have influenced Chinese culture throughout the ages, with their counterculture writings about political upheaval and celebration of nature. A modern day rubbing of a similar brick mural in black and white reveals a more detailed look at the legendary figures.
A red and green painted frieze from Northern Shanxi, one of the most colorful artworks in the exhibition, depicts lively scenes including hunting, dancing, and enjoying wine at a banquet. The panel formed the sarcophagus of the tomb of Yu Hong, a high government official from the Sui Dynasty, whose life appeared full and complex with Persian influences.
Among the most recently excavated sculptures are a group of 10 ceramic figures, including musicians playing the qin (a Chinese zither), drums and a wind instrument, which were discovered in a Three Kingdoms (222-280) tomb in Nanjing in 2006. A stylish female figurine from the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420) excavated in 2011, wears her hair up in a side bun, which was fashionable at the time. One of the more charming sculptures in the exhibition is a humble pottery dog from the Three Kingdoms period (222-280). A humorous inscription on the dog’s back reads, “This dog’s name is Black Dragon.”
In the South, many of these funerary figures took the form of civil servants and fashionable ladies, while in North, soldier figurines were more common. These trends speak to the differences in Southern and Northern life at the time.
The Six Dynasties saw an influx of foreigners to China, due in large part to trade, warfare, and religion, particularly Buddhism. Monks began to arrive in China and promote Buddhism, allowing Buddhist art to flourish through the construction of temples, caves, and sculptures. As a result, there was a proliferation of Buddhist sculpture, as well as figurine sculpture of foreigners for the first time.
The head of a majestic bodhisattva, with an elegant crown of flowers from the Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) was discovered at the Huata Temple in Shanxi in 1954, where a number of carved sandstone sculptures relating to Buddhism were found.
A Persian silver plate with a hunting scene was unearthed from a tomb in Shanxi. It is thought to have been imported as a luxury good in the 6th century. The images on the plate were identified this year as inspired by a scene from the Shahnameh, the greatest literary classic of Persian culture.
It was during the Six Dynasties period that porcelain was first mass produced as tableware, household items, stationery, and tomb objects. In the thousand years that have since passed, porcelain remains popular and is major component of Chinese art and daily life.
Although other types of porcelain were being produced, the dominate type was a greenish glazed porcelain known as piao ci. Eventually this type came to be known as celadon, as the porcelain was traded through Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The ongoing popularity of this porcelain’s unique color may have been due to the aesthetic taste of the time, placing great value on things that evoke the natural world, calmness, and purity. The Six Dynasties literati and intellectuals placed utmost value on the pursuit of these attributes amid their chaotic world.
The Six Dynasties was a remarkable period in the history of Chinese calligraphy. Not only was it the time when a great many accomplished calligraphers flourished under the tutelage of the revered Wang Xizhi (303 – 361), it was the period when calligraphy achieved recognition as a distinct art form. A new canon emerged that celebrated individual expression, as well as the recognition of distinct artistic styles, concepts, and aesthetic theories. It is hard to imagine a more critical development in Chinese art history than the codification of calligraphy into an artistic oeuvre.
Many works from this period survive because they were carved into stone, or etched into brick. From newly unearthed works in Southern China that include stone tomb epitaph tablets, incised architectural bricks, and wooden slips once circulating like ancient name cards, it is now known that calligraphy was practiced in a number of different styles, including clerical script, standard script, running script, and cursive script.
This exhibition and related programming are generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, Liu Dan, the Confucius Institute at China Institute, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Jeong Ok and William Carey, the Holiday Inn Manhattan Financial District, China Institute Friends of the Gallery and other individual Sponsors of the Exhibition.
CHINA INSTITUTE PRIVATE TOUR & LECTURE
EVENING PROGRAM AT 5 PM
On October 27tth, a private tour of rare artifacts from the new exhibition — ART IN A TIME OF CHAOS: MASTERWORKS FROM SIX DYNASTIES CHINA, 3RD TO 6TH CENTURIES will be offered with an introduction to Chinese and following a lecture on Chinese literature by Ben Wang, Senior Lecturer of Language and Humanity of the Institute, offers a special course on literature of the Six Dynasties Period.
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China Institute Gallery Tour