Sense of Place: Landscape Photographs from Asia
Asian landscapes are an enduring and multifaceted subject of photography throughout the medium's history. Many examples of this genre can be found among the thousands of photographic materials held in the Freer|Sackler Archives and collections. This exhibition highlights the Sackler's growing collection of modern and contemporary photography with a selection of works from Iran, China, Japan, and Vietnam acquired since the late 1990s. Prints by Abbas Kiarostami, Lois Conner, Moriyama Daido, Seifollah Samadian, Hai Bo, and An-My Lê employ views of the landscape to convey personal and cultural contexts of meaning.
Whistler’s Neighborhood: Impressions of a Changing London
James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) lived in London’s Chelsea neighborhood from 1863 until his death. Bordering the River Thames, Chelsea was home to artists, aristocrats, tradesmen, and paupers. Whistler depicted the storefronts and street life outside his door and captured a section of the city that was undergoing a dramatic transformation in the 1880s. Historic buildings were razed and replaced with mansions for the upper class, forcing the poor into squalid conditions. The Thames Embankment, a major public works project designed to improve river navigation and provide underground sewers, changed the topography of Chelsea by claiming much of the riverbank for public gardens and new residential buildings. The diminutive etchings in Whistler’s Neighborhood: Impressions of a Changing London, which also features watercolors and small oil paintings, underscore the immediacy of the artist’s quick impressions of his evolving neighborhood. Together, the works form a panorama of Chelsea in the 1880s.
Nine Deaths, Two Births: Xu Bing's Phoenix Project
Chinese artist Xu Bing spent more than two years creating his newest work, Phoenix Project, a massive installation on view at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA). At once strange and fiercely beautiful, the installation comprises two birds fabricated entirely from materials found at construction sites in Beijing. This complementary exhibition at the Sackler traces the evolution of Phoenix Project. Reimagining an ancient Chinese motif, Xu offers a view of the “new China” and the labor conditions that support its massive commercial and spatial development. While the sculpture itself remains at MASS MoCA, the Sackler exhibition features materials used to plan the work, including drawings, scale models, and reconfigured construction fragments. Also on view are related objects selected by the artist from the Freer and Sackler collections.
Hand-Held: Gerhard Pulverer’s Japanese Illustrated Books
Woodblock-printed illustrated books became key sources of knowledge and entertainment in Japan during the Edo period (1615–1868). Working with renowned artists and authors, enterprising publishers produced compact, inexpensive paperbound volumes that were sold and circulated throughout Japan. With beautiful, intriguing, and entertaining subjects, books brought reading of words and images to the masses, creating a communication revolution similar to electronic media today. Highlights from the Gerhard Pulverer Collection now in the Freer Gallery of Art, including rare private editions and bestsellers such as Hokusai’s Manga sketchbooks, are shown together for the first time since the museum purchased the collection in 2007.
One Man’s Search for Ancient China: The Paul Singer Collection
Trained as a psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Singer is best remembered for his wide-ranging Chinese art collection, which he assembled largely at a time when American contact with China was severely restricted. Born in Hungary in 1904 and raised in Austria, Singer made his first purchase of East Asian art at the age of seventeen. He collected most aggressively after he immigrated to this country in 1939, making discoveries at art dealers, auction houses, and thrift stores alike. By the time of his death in 1997, Singer’s holdings had grown to some five thousand objects, mostly Chinese works of art, that he displayed in his modest two-bedroom apartment in Summit, New Jersey.
The Singer collection is particularly strong in ancient ceramics, metalwork, and jades. He referred to Chinese archaeological findings as a guide in building his holdings. He was also drawn to the unique and surprising, hoping that archaeologists would eventually prove them to be authentic. His pursuits were made more difficult due to a lack of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and China during the mid-twentieth century. American scholars could only follow the progress of Chinese excavations through academic journals such as Kaogu (Archaeology) and Wenwu (Cultural Relics). As he recalled, “A fairly large portion of my collection, acquired in the distant past, consists of objects that had been rejected by experts. Those same pieces were later recognized as being genuine as a result of information provided by archaeological excavations.”
Despite the small size of his apartment, Singer made his ample collection readily available to university and museum specialists, and he welcomed students to learn about Chinese archaeology and material science by examining his holdings. He also knowingly purchased copies and forgeries to highlight characteristics of authentic objects. In this way his collection served as a kind of research laboratory and yielded numerous publications and exhibitions. An amateur researcher himself, Singer was responsible for dozens of scholarly articles and catalogues. “I believe the excitement of working with these enigmatic objects, of trying to resolve questions of provenance, chronology and authenticity—when little or nothing is known about a piece—makes the effort highly worthwhile,” he explained.
Given his interest in Chinese antiquities, Dr. Singer inevitably encountered Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, who was also a psychiatrist and an Asian art lover. The two collectors quickly became friends after they met at a Sotheby’s auction in 1957. In the 1970s Sackler began to support Singer’s collecting habit with an annual allowance—and with the understanding that Singer’s holdings would eventually be donated to a Sackler museum. That promise resulted in the gift of the Paul Singer collection to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 1997.
All objects in this exhibition are from the Dr. Paul Singer Collection of Chinese Art of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; a joint gift of the Arthur M. Sackler Foundation, Paul Singer, the AMS Foundation for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities, and the Children of Arthur M. Sackler
Reinventing the Wheel: Japanese Ceramics 1930–2000
Modern and contemporary Japanese ceramics were among the first of many new directions in collecting made possible by the opening of the Sackler Gallery in 1987. Today, the Sackler collection represents significant trends in Japanese ceramics since the 1930s, when traditional workshop masters took on new roles as studio potters alongside artists in other media. Potters at regional kilns revived ancient firing and glazing technology for use in expressive new vessel forms. In postwar Kyoto, ceramic artists departed from conventional ideas of function to create sculptural forms. Today's potters sample at will from these trends, blending meticulous skill with daring reinterpretations of shapes and materials. This installation of highlights spans legendary Living National Treasures to young virtuosos of the present day.
The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning
Modest in scale and appearance, the Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most important and iconic objects in world history. The origins of this baked clay object, which was buried as a foundation deposit, can be traced to the Persian king Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon in the sixth century BCE. It bears an inscription, written in Babylonian cuneiform, that claims Cyrus’s victory over the last Babylonian ruler, Nabonidus. Also in this text, Cyrus declared religious freedom for his newly conquered people. He encouraged Jews to return to Jerusalem and build the second temple, which earned him the title “shepherd of God” and even the “Lord’s anointed” (Messiah) in the Book of Isaiah. Although the Cylinder was not discovered until 1879, Cyrus’s support for religious tolerance has inspired generations of philosophers, rulers, and statesmen—from ancient Greece to the Renaissance, and from the Founding Fathers to leaders in the modern-day Middle East.
On loan from the British Museum, this remarkable object makes its US debut at the Sackler. It is shown with a number of key items that offer insight into the religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions of the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire (539–331 BCE) founded by Cyrus the Great.
The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning is organized by the British Museum in partnership with the Iran Heritage Foundation and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Major support for the Sackler’s presentation and programming is provided by the Leon Levy Foundation with additional support provided by the Ebrahimi Family Foundation and the Foundation for Iranian Studies.
To learn more about other U.S. venues, visit the Cyrus Cylinder US tour website.
Perspectives: Ai Weiwei
This exhibition features prolific Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s monumental installation Fragments (2005). Noting the abundance of antique wood on the market, Ai had a number of pieces transported from Guangdong to his studio in Beijing to create a series of objects and installations. Fragments is a culmination of that body of work. Working with a team of skilled carpenters, Ai turned pillars and beams of ironwood (tieli) salvaged from several dismantled Qing dynasty temples into a large-scale, seemingly chaotic work, which he calls an “irrational structure.” Yet examined more closely, one discovers that the installation is an elaborate system of masterful joinery and delicate balance relations. Seen from above, the entire complex is anchored by poles marking out the borders of a map of China. Through his simultaneously destructive and creative process, Ai highlights the bewildering reality that we live in the midst of a world undergoing rapid spatial and social transformations. Perspectives: Ai Weiwei is presented concurrently with a retrospective of Ai Weiwei’s works at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Enlightened Beings: Buddhism in Chinese Painting
Buddhism arrived in China during the first century CE and quickly grew in popularity, exerting a profound impact on all aspects of Chinese art and culture. Enlightenment is the cornerstone of Buddhist thought and practice. Accordingly, the exhibition focuses on four main categories of enlightened being: the Buddha himself; bodhisattvas, devoted to the salvation of all sentient beings; luohan, who protect the dharma, or teachings of the Buddha; and eccentric Chan (Zen) monks and lineage masters. Fourteen of the twenty-seven works on display date to the Song, Yuan, and early Ming dynasties (1000–1400 CE), and the remainder are from the fifteenth to nineteenth century during the later Ming and Qing.
Roads of Arabia
From haunting stone steles to luxurious gold masks and imposing monumental statues, Roads of Arabia offers a glimpse into the untold story of Saudi Arabia’s cultural past. The groundbreaking exhibition includes more than 280 objects, ranging in date from Arabia’s prehistory to the early twentieth century. All of these objects are making their debut appearance in the United States.
Often mistaken for a vast, empty desert, the Arabian Peninsula has a rich and diverse landscape and culture. In antiquity, it enjoyed a monopoly on the incense trade, which gave rise to a network of oases. These settlements, in turn, were linked by a series of caravan routes that eventually connected to the great metropolitan centers of the Ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world. The lucrative incense trade encouraged both the flow of imported luxury objects into the peninsula and the development of a rich, local tradition with its own distinct artistic language.
In the seventh century CE, Islam spread from Mecca to the rest of the region; the incense roads were supplanted with pilgrimage roads that brought countless travelers and their goods to Arabia. This new religious and trade network fostered its own unique artistic tradition, which spread throughout the Islamic world. Over the past forty years, archaeologists in Saudi Arabia have begun to uncover this cultural history. Surprising objects such as rare figurative wall paintings and colossal statues have radically changed our understanding and perception of Arabia’s past. Many of the objects in the exhibition were discovered only in the past ten years and hint at the still largely unknown history of ancient Arabia.
Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution in association with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco are gratefully acknowledged as principal co-sponsors of the tour of Roads of Arabia in the United States. Sponsorship is also provided by The Olayan Group and Fluor Corporation.
Shadow Sites: Recent Work by Jananne Al-Ani
Inspired by both archival photographs and contemporary news reports, Jananne Al-Ani has created a new body of work that explores enduring representations of the Middle Eastern landscape. Shadow Sites II (2011) and two earlier video works are exhibited alongside a selection of extraordinary original prints by renowned archaeologist Ernst Herzfeld (1879–1948). Separated by nearly a century, these works pose fascinating questions about the impact of photography on views of the Middle East. This exhibition is a highlight of the Sackler Gallery’s 25th anniversary celebration in 2012.
Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan
Spectacular finds from the very heart of Central Asia and the ancient Eurasian steppe cultures form the basis of Nomads and Networks: The Ancient Art and Culture of Kazakhstan challenging traditional views of early nomadic societies. From early stone petroglyphs carved with human and animal forms to mark important locations, to offering stands made of bronze and dazzling gold adornments that affirm trade networks throughout Central Asia and beyond, these excavated objects help to place the ancient cultures of Kazakhstan within the network of the wider ancient world in the 1st millennium BCE.
Of particular interest are the complex relationships and networks made between nomads, more sedentary cultures and their natural environment and materials available in the landscape. Thanks to the region's permafrost conditions, burial sites have preserved rare organic materials for centuries. An elite burial site at Berel, located in the Bukhtarma River Valley of the Altai Mountains of eastern Kazakhstan, reveals insights into this long-hidden culture. One burial mound (kurgan) at Berel yielded the remains of a thirteen horses that had been interred with their owner, who must have been an important person of high status. This landmark exhibition presents some of the most significant archaeological discoveries made in Kazakhstan over the last fifteen years, with more than 150 objects on display.
On our blog, preeminent archaeologists working in Kazakhstan today report live from the field. Learn more about ancient Kazakhstan, ongoing fieldwork and more at Bento »
This Exhibition has been organized by the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University in collaboration with:
Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan
The Central State Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Multifunctional Scientific-Analytical And Humanitarian-Educational State Enterprise “Nazarbayev Center”
Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan
A. Kh. Margulan Institute of Archaeology of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Museum of Archaeology of the Republic of Kazakhstan
The exhibition has been made possible through the support of the Leon Levy Foundation
Worlds Within Worlds: Imperial Paintings from India and Iran
India's Mughal emperors, who reigned over a vast and wealthy empire that extended from Kabul over most of the South Asian subcontinent between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century, were passionate about lavish manuscripts and paintings. Between 1556 and 1650, the greatest Mughal patrons—the emperors Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan—formed grand workshops that brought together and nurtured India's leading painters, calligraphers and illuminators.
The exhibition brings together fifty of the finest folios and paintings from the Freer|Sackler collection, which form one of the world's most important repositories of Mughal and Persian painting.
Sweet Silent Thought: Whistler's Interiors
In Victorian England in the nineteenth century, life was separated into gendered spheres. The masculine realm was often characterized by outward-directed activities of physical exertion, industry, and business. Women, on the other hand, were identified with the private world of imagination and self-reflection, as seen in this selection of prints by American expatriate artist James McNeill Whistler. Images of private, enclosed spaces, inhabited by quiet, self-contained figures, recur from his earliest etchings in the mid-1850s to his later watercolors and lithographs. Family members, close friends, or the artist's current mistress almost always serve as the focus of these interior scenes. This sense of intimacy is underscored by the works' small scale, which compels the viewer to stand close and study the scene carefully. Whistler's interiors thus encourage us to retreat—like his subjects—into a realm of "sweet silent thought."
Winged Spirits: Birds in Chinese Painting
In Chinese culture many birds are endowed with strong symbolic associations, both on their own and especially in combination with certain auspicious flowers. In the tenth century, birds and flowers emerged as major themes in traditional Chinese painting. At first such images were based on the close observation of nature and employed fine detail and color; later they derived from the painting tradition itself and often were rendered in only ink. While the primary interest of many artists was to capture the essence or spirit of their subjects, most birds in the paintings can be scientifically identified. More than thirty-five species of birds are depicted in flight, on the ground or in water, or perched on tree branches.
Masters of Mercy: Buddha's Amazing Disciples
From 1854 until his death in 1863, Japanese artist Kano Kazunobu (born 1816) labored to produce one hundred paintings depicting the miraculous interventions and superhuman activities of the five hundred disciples of the Buddha. The project was commissioned by zōjōji, an elite Pure Land Buddhist temple in Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Now widely regarded as one of the most impressive feats of Buddhist iconography created during the Edo period (1615–1868), this remarkable ensemble was largely overlooked through much of the twentieth century.
A revival of interest began in the 1980s and culminated in a major exhibition in Tokyo in spring 2011, held to commemorate the eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of Hōnen (1133–1212), founder of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism. zōjōji collaborated with the Edo-Tokyo Museum and noted scholars to produce the exhibition, which featured all one hundred paintings along with related works and documentary material. The whole ensemble had not been viewed publicly since World War II.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is privileged to continue the Hōnen commemoration and, for the first time, make available to American audiences the scale, diversity, and context of Kazunobu’s creation.
Art of Darkness: Japanese Mezzotints from the Hitch Collection
Ken and Kiyo Hitch, preeminent collectors of modern and contemporary Japanese graphic art, have chosen the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery as the future home for their extensive collection of 20th– and 21st–century Japanese prints. Art of Darkness is the first in a series of exhibitions to celebrate this extraordinary gesture. With approximately 20 prints and related copperplates, this exhibition samples the visions of Hamaguchi Yozo (1909–2000) and Hamanishi Katsunori (born 1949). The works highlight the visceral production process and show remarkably innovative uses of the traditional European technique of mezzotint in the hands of Japanese artists.
Hokusai: Paintings and Drawings
The second of three 2012 exhibitions celebrating the great Japanese artist Hokusai (1760–1849), this installation includes such highlights as Boy Viewing Mount Fuji and three masterworks of Hokusai's last years, Thunder God, Fisherman, and Woodcutter.
Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji
The most acclaimed print series by Japan’s most famous artist, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) contains images of worldwide renown, including Under the Wave off Kanagawa, better known as the "Great Wave." First published for the New Year of 1831, the series was a landmark in Japanese print publishing, incorporating innovative compositions, techniques, and coloration and establishing landscape as a new subject. As part of the Japan Spring celebration, the Sackler presents examples of all 46 prints in the series—which was continued under its original title due to the great popularity of Hokusai’s designs—including several rare, early printings featuring unusual coloration. The exhibition lends context to these iconic designs and explores the artistic methods and meaning behind Hokusai’s depictions of Mount Fuji.
This exhibition complements two Hokusai installations in the Freer. Hokusai: Japanese Screens, on view through July 29, 2012, features a magnificent pair of six-panel folding screens of Mount Fuji. Hokusai: Paintings and Drawings, on view February 18–June 24, 2012, features such highlights as Boy Viewing Mount Fuji and three masterworks of Hokusai’s last years, Thunder God, Fisherman, and Woodcutter.
Goryeo Buddhist Paintings: A Closer Look
Now numbering less than 150 worldwide, Buddhist paintings created during the late Goryeo dynasty in Korea illustrate hopes for peace and good fortune in this world and for salvation in the afterlife. These fourteenth-century images, commissioned as a show of religious merit and produced on an intimate scale appropriate for private devotional use, epitomize a golden age in Korean Buddhist art.
Goryeo Buddhist Paintings: A Closer Look presents three rare icons from the Freer and Sackler collections that never before have been displayed together. Rendered in rich mineral pigments augmented with gold, the silk surfaces of these complex paintings have darkened with age. In this exhibition, the three works are joined by photographic details taken by Buddhist painting specialist Chung Woothak, which show the masterly brushwork and superimposed patterns that are difficult to distinguish in the now-darkened originals. The photographs also reveal the materials and techniques that typify this special type of Buddhist icon.
Seasons: Japanese Screens
Two rotations highlight screens painted to represent various times of year.
A dozen examples from the Freer show how tea utensils embody changes in weather. Rough stoneware conveys warmth, for example, while porcelain is cool to the touch.
Find symbolism in paintings of Chinese plant life native to each season, such as wildflowers, garden flowers, aquatic flowers, and flowering trees.
Power|Play: China's Empress Dowager
From the 1860s until her death, the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835–1908) was the dominant political figure of China's Qing dynasty (1644–1911), acting as regent to two successive emperors. During her reign, the Qing court came to be regarded as conservative, corrupt, and incompetent. The situation worsened after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, when Cixi was accused of encouraging the killing of foreigners and Chinese Christians. Her reputation plummeted in China and worldwide.
In response, the Qing court initiated measures to improve the Empress Dowager’s image. Along with inviting foreign visitors to receptions at the palace, these efforts included arranging for a series of photographic portraits of Cixi, some of which were presented as diplomatic gifts. Taken by a young photographer named Xunling (ca. 1880–1943) between 1903 and 1904, the series comprises the only surviving photographs of the Empress Dowager. The Freer|Sackler Archives contains thirty-six of Xunling’s original glass-plate negatives, which form the basis of this exhibition.
Though dismissed as emblems of Cixi’s vanity and the Qing dynasty’s extravagance, the photographs became an enduring symbol of the dying reign and helped form the "dragon lady" persona seen in films throughout the twentieth century. But closer examination of the photographs reveals many of them were crafted as part of a strategic diplomatic and public relations campaign. Analysis of carefully placed symbols found within these images has provided new insight into the Qing court culture, as well as the Empress Dowager’s public and private life.
This exhibition has received support from the Lodestar Fund and generous individuals.
Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court
Sixteen paintings of emperors, empresses, princes, and princesses represent three generations of the Qing dynasty imperial family, from the early to mid-eighteenth century. Almost evenly divided between images of men and women, the portraits—some nearly life-size—show the royal family members dressed in either the elaborate formal robes required for attendance at court or more casual attire at moments of leisure. The women are generally depicted wearing sumptuous embroidered robes and fabulous jewelry made of gold and pearls or inlaid with dazzling turquoise kingfisher feathers. The men are shown riding horses, relaxing in a garden or boat, meditating quietly with rosary beads, or seated in a formal setting among their favorite possessions.
Taking Shape: Ceramics in Southeast Asia
Donated to the Sackler between 1996 and 2005 by brothers Osborne and Victor Hauge and their wives Gratia and Takako, these remarkable objects provide the focus for a detailed narrative of the migration of pots from their makers to their users. Included in the Hauge gift are more than 800 vessels made in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, together with Chinese bowls and jars exported to Southeast Asia.
"Taking Shape" presents the two basic types of ceramics produced in Southeast Asia—soft, porous earthenware and high—fired stoneware. Earthenware continues to be used to cool drinking water, cook rice and curries over a wood fire and heat water for reeling silk. Watertight stoneware jars store grains, transport goods for long-distance trade and brew the rice beer essential for hospitality and ceremonies.
Pieces from the Hauge collection show the regional diversity of earthenware and stoneware production throughout time. The swirling designs of red-painted earthenware pots from prehistoric Thailand and the forms of glazed and unglazed stoneware jars from 17th- to 19th-century central Vietnam suggest the depth and diversity of the ceramic traditions. Spanning four millennia of invention and exchange, from the prehistoric period to the present, the objects on view were crafted for rituals, burials, domestic use and trade.
"Taking Shape" also illuminates the dimensions of international trade that brought southern Chinese ceramics into mainland Southeast Asia. Glazed stoneware dishes, emblazoned with blue or brown floral designs, demonstrate how the shapes and decorations of Chinese ceramics inspired the addition of painted decorations to tableware made in kilns in Vietnam and Thailand. In turn, such ceramics competed successfully in the international trade of the 15th and 16th centuries, reaching distant markets from Japan to Turkey.
The exhibition narrative interweaves discoveries of excavations and shipwrecks in Asia to convey the passage of works similar to the Hauge objects on their way to distant markets. Jars that reached their intended destinations—which included Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan—often became heirlooms, valued for their exotic origins, superior technology and beauty.
Perspectives: Hale Tenger
Multimedia artist Hale Tenger (born 1960, Izmir, Turkey) creates videos and installations that examine the tangible and intangible traces of events. From 2005 to 2007, Tenger filmed the façade of the St. George Hotel in Beirut—the site of the assassination of Rafik Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon—while it was being renovated. Gently flapping curtains, shifting light, and Serdar Ateser's simple musical composition evoke a historical moment with profound repercussions that still haunt this physical space.
Ceramics have always been an integral part of Korean culture and an important vehicle of the Korean aesthetic. The Korean ceramics on view were made between 200 and 1900, and range from tableware and Buddhist cinerary urns made for courtiers to bowls, bottles and storage jars used by peasants. Despite great differences of age and status continuity is evident. Form tends to emerge from the dynamic of shaping rather than being imposed from the outside. Even on court wares, finish is gentle, not obsessive. The range of glaze colors is narrow and understated, complementing vivid color found elsewhere in such elements as palace and temple architecture, painting, and traditional costume. Among the first Americans to collect ceramics of the Choson period (1392-1910), Charles Lang Freer was introduced to them in the 1890s by Japanese dealers and collectors.
Chinamania: Whistler and the Victorian Craze for Blue-and-White
Blue-and-white Chinese porcelain became a hot item in London in the 1870s, a craze the British press mockingly dubbed "Chinamania." James McNeill Whistler, an early collector of Chinese porcelain, helped stimulate this fad by depicting such wares in his paintings.
The Chinamania exhibition at the Freer explores Chinese porcelain in Whistler's England, where it was first valued as aesthetic inspiration but soon proliferated as a commodity. Featured are twenty-three works of art: blue-and-white porcelain objects from the Peacock Room; eight wash drawings of Kangxi porcelain that Whistler produced for a collector's catalogue; and paintings, pastels, and etchings inspired by the artist's interest in porcelain.
Echoes of the Past: The Buddhist Cave Temples of Xiangtangshan
Majestic sixth-century Chinese Buddhist sculpture is combined with 3-D imaging technology in this exploration of one of the most important groups of Buddhist devotional sites in early medieval China. Carved into the mountains of northern China, the Buddhist cave temples of Xiangtangshan (響堂山, pronounced "shahng-tahng-shahn") were the crowning cultural achievement of the Northern Qi dynasty (550–77 CE). Once home to a magnificent array of sculptures—monumental Buddhas, divine attendant figures, and crouching monsters framed by floral motifs—the limestone caves were severely damaged in the first half of the twentieth century, when their contents were chiseled away and offered for sale on the international art market.
In Echoes of the Past, ancient sculptural masterpieces are united with a set of innovative digital components, including a video installation that offers an immersive, kinetic re-creation of one of the largest stone temples. Touch screens and research kiosks offer more detailed information about the site and the themes explored in the exhibition.
Perspectives: Lu Chunsheng
The 2011 Perspectives series will focus on single-projection videos, beginning with History of Chemistry I by Lu Chunsheng (b. 1968, Changchun, China), a renowned photographer and video artist now living in Shanghai. A mesmerizing experience of a vaguely familiar but remote world, History of Chemistry I follows a group of men as they wander from somewhere beyond the edge of the sea through a vast landscape to an abandoned steel factory. Using long shots and remote settings, Lu Chunsheng enigmatically refers to a distant history while conveying the sense of dislocation wrought by modernization.
Contemporary Japanese Porcelain
Twentieth-century Japanese artists give fresh interpretations to the time-honored art of porcelain in this selection of works from the collection. The Japanese artists who made the ceramic vessels featured in Contemporary Japanese Porcelain focus on innovative approaches to decoration. Most of them live and work in communities where decorated porcelain has been produced for several centuries. These artists seek ways of revitalizing the decorative formats associated with those places by incorporating familiar color schemes into contemporary design. The distinctive decorations—often large-scale geometric patterns in contrast to the delicate pictorial decoration used in the past—range from natural motifs to more abstract designs, and are created using iron and cobalt pigments and platinum, gold, and silver enamels.
The Orchid in Chinese Painting
Coinciding with the National Museum of Natural History's annual orchid show, the Sackler will present twenty works related to orchids in Chinese painting, ranging in date from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century.
The cymbidium orchid (Chinese: lan) has been cultivated in China for hundreds of years. Since the time of the philosopher Confucius (551–479 BCE), the cymbidium has been associated with principled, moral gentlemen whose talent and integrity go unrecognized by the powers that be. Over the centuries, various literary and philosophical works attributed other virtues to the orchid, such as friendship, loyalty, and patriotism. Because of these associations, members of the scholar-official class came to identify strongly with the flower.
The cymbidium orchid became an independent subject of Chinese painting during the Song dynasty (960–1279). Artists created meticulous depictions of the orchid employing outline and color. From the thirteenth century on, most scholar artists chose to paint the leaves and blossoms calligraphically, using only ink. Following the Mongol conquest of the Song in 1279 and the founding of the Yuan dynasty, the "ink orchid" took on strong overtones of loyalty to the fallen regime.
The subject also held appeal for certain groups that flourished at the margins of society. Monk artists belonging to the Chan school of Buddhism, for example, appropriated the ink orchid for their own purposes during the fourteenth century. Similarly, while the plant remained perennially popular among scholar artists, during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties (16th–17th century) the ink orchid also became a mainstay for a coterie of renowned courtesan painters, many of whom formed romantic liaisons with prominent scholars of the time.
Twelve of the fifteen paintings on view in The Orchid in Chinese Painting belong to the ink orchid tradition. Two scholar's rocks and three ceramic bowls used to hold the blossoming bulbs will also be displayed.
Waves at Matsushima
Matsushima is renowned for its sheltered bay dotted with more than 260 picturesque islands covered with pine trees. Artists, poets, pilgrims, and tourists have long traveled to the northern end of Miyagi Prefecture to be inspired by the area’s natural beauty and to visit the Buddhist temple complex Zuiganji. Remarkably, the temple and much of the surrounding landscape survived the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Pacific coast of Japan. Images of Matsushima from the Freer Gallery’s collection—a pair of seventeenth-century folding screens by Tawaraya Sōtatsu and woodblock prints by Kawase Hasui—record a national treasure that narrowly escaped total destruction.
Seasons: Chinese Landscapes
Seasons: Chinese Landscapes explores the seasonal themes and activities that frequently appear in Chinese painting, such as wandering in nature, visiting friends, or composing poetry. The works also depict the unique moods and feelings associated with each season. To allow Chinese voices to inform the interpretation of the works, the exhibition features numerous translations of inscriptions, colophons, and other directly related poems and texts.
Shahnama: 1000 Years of the Persian Book of Kings
This exhibition celebrates the millennium of the poet Firdawsi's Shahnama (Book of Kings), considered one of the world's great works of literature. Composed of more than 100,000 lines, the epic poem recounts the history of Iran from the beginning of time to the conquest of Islam in the seventh century. The Shahnama's sweeping narrative and colorful mix of myth and history have inspired the remarkable manuscript paintings on view. Created in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, these illustrations convey the visual power of Firdawsi's words. The exhibition is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery with support from The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund.
Perspectives: Hai Bo
The speed and scale of change in contemporary China has been registered by a number of artists exploring the country's cities and industrial remnants. In stark contrast, Hai Bo (born 1962, Changchun, China) looks to the desolate plains of northeastern China. Trained as a painter, Hai Bo took up photography in the 1980s as he became captivated by the camera's ability to stop time and evoke memories. For over two decades, he has been returning to his hometown in Jilin Province to capture the people and places of his youth, creating deeply moving portraits of resilience amidst the growing isolation of rural China. Featuring five stunning, large scale photographs from his Northern Series, this exhibition offers moments to enter the vast panoramas of the artist's childhood memories, observe the subtle changes of nature across seasons, and encounter the gentle transience of life.
Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia
The fascinating story of bronze sculpture and casting in Cambodia is revealed through thirty-six exceptional works. Magnificent examples dating from the prehistoric period to the post-Angkorian period (third century BCE to sixteenth century CE) present the origins, uses, and techniques of bronze casting and the development of a distinctly Cambodian style.
This exhibition is the result of an ongoing partnership between the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the National Museum of Cambodia. The museums have worked together to establish a metals conservation laboratory in Cambodia, the first in that nation. Seven of the works on view, discovered in 2006, are among the first bronzes conserved in the lab by the staff of the National Museum. Gods of Angkor travels to the Getty Center of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles in early 2011.
Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum and the National Museum of Cambodia. Major funding is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation and Leon Levy Foundation.
Fiona Tan: Rise and Fall
This exhibition of photographs and videos by Fiona Tan, who was born in Indonesia in 1966 and now lives in Amsterdam, is the first major presentation of her work in the United States. Tan's installations deftly meld the past with the present in profoundly evocative works that explore the power of images in constructing memories and histories. Whether drawing on old photographs, seventeenth-century Dutch painting, or nineteenth-century architecture, her conceptual and aesthetic approach adds a compelling dimension to understanding Asian art and culture in the world today.
Fiona Tan: Rise and Fall is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and Aargauer Kunsthaus. The exhibition is generously supported by the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam, with additional support from the Netherland-America Foundation.
Cornucopia: Ceramics from Southern Japan
Around the year 1600, a heightened fascination with the design and uses of ceramics, combined with advances in technology, launched an era of extraordinarily diverse and accomplished ceramic production in Japan. The center of this efflorescence was southern Japan, and in particular the island of Kyushu. Hundreds of kilns produced both stoneware coated in muted glazes and porcelain ornamented with cobalt blue or multicolored enamels for the domestic market (with a focus on utensils for dining and for the tea ceremony) and for export to Europe and Southeast Asia. The wide variety of local styles of glazing and decoration invented by Kyushu potters over three centuries is impressive.
Masterpieces of Chinese Painting
Some of the finest Chinese paintings in the Freer Gallery's collection are on view, including several by well-known Chinese artists that have not been displayed in years. Diverse traditional categories are represented, such as religious and secular portraits from the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127), landscapes from the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), paintings of literati during the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368), artworks produced in the Zhe and Wu schools of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), and images of Orthodox and Individual painters of the early Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Together these exceptional works trace the development of Chinese painting over generations.
Surface Beauty: American Art and Freer's Aesthetic Vision
When Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), the Detroit industrialist and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art, began to collect contemporary American paintings in the early 1890s, he concentrated on a small group of artists—most notably Thomas Dewing (1851-1938) and Dwight Tryon (1849-1925)—whose interest in surface beauty resonated with the work of James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), the expatriate American whose work had already attracted Freer's interest. By the turn of the century, Freer's focus would shift to Asia, but his interest in tonal, textured surfaces remained constant, allowing him to establish "points of contact" between his Asian and American collections. This one-room exhibition brings together a group of decorative paintings by Dewing and Tryon, together with a selection of ceramics from the Detroit Pewabic Pottery, to highlight the importance of "surface beauty" to Freer's aesthetic philosophy.
Texture of Night: James McNeill Whistler
Nocturnes, the term James McNeill Whistler applied to his nearly abstract moonlit landscapes, represent his signature contribution to nineteenth-century art. Inverting the plein-air principles of the French impressionists, Whistler created a series of works in which darkness, rather than light, structures the visual image. According to the artist’s mother, one particularly luminous summer evening in 1871 inspired Whistler’s first painting of London after dark. Over the course of the decade he produced more than thirty oil paintings with this theme. He subsequently expanded his exploration of urban darkness in London, Venice, and Amsterdam through the use of lithography, watercolor, and above all, etching to document and transform the texture of night.
In the Realm of the Buddha
The Tibetan Shrine from the Alice S. Kandell Collection
This extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist shrine room is on public display for the first time. Acknowledged by practicing Buddhists as a sacred space, this shrine room contains hundreds of superb works of Buddhist art created between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries, including bronze sculptures, thangkas (scroll paintings), ritual objects, textile banners, and painted furniture.
Lama, Patron, Artist: The Great Situ Panchen
Through new scholarship and recently discovered paintings, the remarkable Situ Panchen (1700-1774) is brought into focus as an artist, teacher, and founder of the Palpung monastery. Thangkas designed and painted by Situ, sculptures of his chosen deity Tara, and Chinese works from the Freer's collection reveal Situ's genius, his enduring influence, and his engagement with Buddhist culture across Asia. Organized by the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, this exhibition is part of the Sackler Gallery's "Asia in America" program that showcases the holdings of important American institutional collections of Asian art.
Children at Play in Chinese Painting
Children at play in fragrant gardens or at work in lush fields have been a recurring theme in Chinese art over the past two millennia. Objects and paintings dating from the first through the twentieth century, complemented by ceramics and ivory carvings, depict children playing in urban and rural settings. Relationships among family members, from infants in mothers' arms to siblings splashing in a tub of water, are explored through various media. Common childhood delights of catching butterflies and skipping rope are juxtaposed with lively images of boys herding oxen and romping in fields, all lovingly depicted in engaging scenes throughout the centuries.
Vietnamese Ceramics from the Red River Delta
Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the normalization of relations between Vietnam and the United States, this installation of 22 works reflects recent scholarship linking Vietnamese ceramics in the Freer collection with 12th- to 16th-century production centers in the Red River delta in northern Vietnam.
The exhibitionthe first major presentation of the Freer's Vietnamese ceramics collectionsupplies new understanding of the sources and dates of these works, and highlights their ties to major recent archaeological projects. Works on view include some originally thought by Freer founder Charles Lang Freer to be Japanese, as well as a unique glazed stoneware pillow in the shape of a tortoise that was a gift to the gallery from Dean Frasche. A bowl thought to be Chinese when it was acquired in 1929, but now identified as identical to bowls excavated from the 15th-century layer of the Thang Long citadel site in Hanoi, is also on view.
Moving Perspectives: Yeondoo Jung
Through photography and video, Yeondoo Jung, who was born in Jinju, Korea, in 1969, invites viewers into the dreams and memories of others. In two new video works, including a multi-screen installation, anonymous strangers are filmed as they recall moments in their lives. While they share their stories of past loves, youthful ambitions, hardship, and lifelong secrets, a team of stagehands reconstructs the settings for these memories. Jung emphasizes the artifice of each scene by orchestrating clever set recreations and filming the process from beginning to end, or by manipulating camera angles and lighting effects in long outdoor sequences. Ultimately, these videos suggest that, when filtered through nostalgia and the passage of time, reality exists somewhere between truth and imagination.
Perspectives: Anish Kapoor
The "Perspectives" series of contemporary Asian art resumes with "S-Curve" (2006) by internationally renowned Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor. Consisting of two sixteen-foot lengths of polished steel that are gently curved to create a continuous convex and concave wall, the work recalls the exploration of form that Kapoor most famously presented in "Cloud Gate" in Chicago's Millennium Park. At a height of seven feet and with highly reflective surfaces, "S-Curve" engages viewers in a powerful physical and visual experience within the Sackler Gallery. Known for his sublime approach to pure form, space, and materials since the early 1980s, Kapoor continues to examine spatial perception and the immateriality of the object through this work.
Falnama: The Book of Omens
Whether by consulting the position of the planets, casting horoscopes, or interpreting dreams, the art of divination was widely practiced throughout the Islamic world. The most splendid tools ever devised to foretell the future were illustrated texts known as the Falnama (Book of omens). Notable for their monumental size, brilliantly painted compositions, and unusual subject matter, the manuscripts, created in Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, are the center piece of Falnama: The Book of Omens. The first exhibition devoted to these extraordinary manuscripts, Falnama: The Book of Omens sheds new light on their artistic, cultural, and religious significance. The exhibition comprises more than sixty works of art from international public and private collections and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.
Falnama: The Book of Omens is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The exhibition has received generous support from anonymous donors, the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund, Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute, the Hagop Kevorkian Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Farhad Ebrahimi, Smithsonian Scholarly Studies Program, The Barakat Trust, The Packard Humanities Institute, and PARSA Community Foundation.
Moonlight and Clouds: Silver and Gold in the Arts of Japan
Beginning in the seventeenth century, Japanese artists developed a distinctive repertoire of techniques for applying gold and silver to objects made of diverse materials ranging from lacquer, metal, and wood for decorated objects to paper and silk for calligraphy and painting. Gold and silver played a prominent and integral role in the technical and aesthetic history of Japanese painting, calligraphy, lacquer, metalwork, and architecture, as seen in the thirty-two works on view. Exceptional Japanese methods for lacquer decoration in gold and silver resulted in refined pictorial designs that today form a distinctive achievement in the arts of East Asia.
Moving Perspectives: Shahzia Sikander/Sun Xun
Trained in Pakistan and in the United States, Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969, Lahore, Pakistan) deftly reinterprets miniature painting by isolating and abstracting formal compositional elements often found in this densely layered and intricate art form. The dynamism of her paintings is set in motion in her video works, where the repetition of abstract forms becomes a buzzing hive, calligraphy whirls in and out of view, and imaginary curves morph into vivid landscapes. Similarly, Sun Xun (b. 1980, Fuxin, China) creates hundreds of paintings and drawings by using old newspapers or entire blank walls. Filming his hand-drawn images, he transforms clocks, magicians, words, and insects into animated symbols that flicker across the screen in dark allegories on the nature of historical consciousness and the passage of time.
Writing, Carving, and Rubbing
Writing, Carving, and Rubbing traces the evolution of Chinese calligraphy through six major types of script: oracle-bone, seal, clerical, cursive, running, and standard. These scripts share a common origin and were developed in sequence, with standard script perfected during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Over three thousand years each has acquired its own distinct characteristics. Eminent calligraphers have reinterpreted the accomplishments of past masters and created original works that showcase their personal styles. This stylistic evolution continues to enliven Chinese calligraphy to the present day. Also included in this presentation are writing tools, such as the Four Treasures of the Scholar's Studio (paper, ink stick, brush, and inkstone), as well as seals and seal paste.
The Tale of Shuten Doji
The tale of the conquest of the monster Shuten Dōji by the hero Minamoto Yorimitsu (948–1021) was retold by many Japanese artists during the Edo period (1615–1868). This popular tale appeared in works commissioned for elite patrons as well as in widely-available printed books. This exhibition will explore modes of visual narration through the museum's exceptional collection of works illustrating the Tale of Shuten Dōji. For the first time since their acquisition for the collections of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, this exhibition will display together two sets of handscrolls, a pair of screens, sketches for a set of fan paintings by Kawanabe Kyōsai and book illustrations by Hokusai and other artists together with paintings from private collections.
Tsars and the East: Gifts from Turkey and Iran in The Moscow Kremlin
Organized by the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in collaboration with The Moscow Kremlin Museums, this presentation features more than sixty exceptional objects that large embassies, diplomatic missions, and trade delegations from Ottoman Turkey and Safavid Iran offered to the tsars of Russia. Ranging in date from the early sixteenth to the late seventeenth century, these lavish gifts and tributes include rarely seen arms and armor and jeweled ceremonial vessels and regalia intended for the Russian court or the Orthodox church. Some of the finest pieces are equestrian in nature: stirrups with pearls, golden bridles with turquoises and rubies, and saddles covered with velvet and silk. The exhibition, only on view in Washington, D.C., explores the reasons why these extraordinary gifts were presented, their artistic and cultural impact, and how they inspired artists to develop a highly original visual identity that became a potent symbol for the Russian state and the Orthodox church.
The exhibition received generous support from Lukoil.
The exhibition was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and organized in cooperation with the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United States.
Moving Perspectives: Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba/Fiona Tan
The lush landscape of Laos is the setting for a series of performances by art students from Luang Prabang in The Ground, the Root, and the Air: The Passing of the Bodhi Tree (2007), a single-channel video by Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba. The work culminates in a dramatic moment that captures the younger generation's struggle to reconcile a rich cultural and religious heritage with the rapid currents of global economic and social change. The endurance of ritual in contemporary society is a starting point in Fiona Tan's stunning video installation, Saint Sebastian. With careful attention to images and sound, Tan transports the viewer into a sensual experience of a centuries-old Japanese tradition that marks a woman's coming-of-age. In so doing, she comments on the history of moving image and the role of the visual in shaping perceptions of "exotic" cultures.
Winslow Homer: Four Views of Nature
Museum founder Charles Lang Freer considered renowned painter Winslow Homer to be one of his "miscellaneous Americans," a term Freer used for a group of artists whose works he admired but did not collect in great numbers. Freer's artworks by this American master are now on view, including three technically innovative watercolors and the monumental oil painting Early Evening. Homer began work on it in 1881 in Cullercoats, England, and completed it in 1907 in his studio in Prouts Neck, Maine.
Guests of the Hills: Travelers and Recluses in Chinese Landscape Painting
Guests of the Hills presents depictions of recluses and recreational travelers in Chinese landscape painting over a seven-hundred-year period, from the mid-eleventh to the mid-eighteenth century. Chinese landscape painting particularly appealed to members of the scholar-official class, who were intrigued by images of the free-roaming mountain sage or retired gentlemen living amid nature's beauty. Other works depict actual excursions or journeys, or they were created as a gift for someone about to embark on a trip.
Moving Perspectives: Lida Abdul / Dinh Q LÉ
Lida Abdul from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Dinh Q Lé from Ha-Tien, Vietnam, use video to explore the shifting memory of trauma and the inevitable resilience of life. Drawing on recent histories of conflict and destruction, both artists returned to their native countries to explore societies in transition. After leaving Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in 1987 and subsequent years of living in India and the West, Abdul currently divides her time between Los Angeles and Kabul. In Afghanistan she has created a series of short performance-based videos staged among the ruins of her homeland. In "Bricksellers of Kabul" (2006) and her most recent work, "In Transit" (2008), children retrieve the debris of war and turn them into objects for survival and play. For Abdul, children and their imaginative acts embody the simplicity of hope amidst devastation.
Similarly, Dinh Q Lé returned to Vietnam to examine his own memories of the war within the context of contemporary Vietnamese society. For Lé, who grew up in the United States, the Vietnam War is an amalgamation of distant childhood memories, documentary materials, and Hollywood films. In "The Farmers and the Helicopters" (2006), he focuses on the helicopter both as a "death machine" and as a technological dream. Inspired by the actual story of a Vietnamese farmer who attempted to reconstruct his own helicopter from wartime remains, Lé uses the multichannel video format to juxtapose contemporary interviews and images of the rural landscape with film footage to reveal more complex narratives surrounding memories of conflict in a changing postwar Vietnam.
Seascapes: Tryon and Sugimoto
For the first time since the Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923, works from its American collection will be displayed with works from outside the museum. A series of 22 pastels of the Maine coast by American landscape painter Dwight Tryon (1849–1925) will be on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, juxtaposed with six black-and-white photographs of the sea by contemporary Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto from his ongoing series "Seascapes." Separated by history and medium, the works are linked by a common subject—the sea—and document the perceptual activity of the artist as well as a natural motif. The formal resonances between these two series will encourage quiet contemplation and allow viewers to discern aesthetic connections between the diverse artworks on view throughout the Freer and Sackler galleries.
Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur
This groundbreaking exhibition of newly discovered Indian paintings from the royal court collection of Marwar-Jodhpur (in the modern state of Rajasthan) has three sections devoted to the garden and cosmos leitmotifs, with an introductory gallery about the kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur and the origins of its court painting traditions in the 17th century. Produced for the private enjoyment of the Marwar- Jodhpur maharajas, virtually none of the 60 works on view in "Garden and Cosmos" have ever been published or seen by scholars since their creation centuries ago. Strikingly innovative in their large scale, subject matter, and styles, they reveal both the conceptual sophistication of the royal atelier and the kingdom's engagement with the changing political landscapes of early modern India.
Commentary by the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who lent many of the paintings, and Debra Diamond, the curator who organized the exhibition, is included on an audio guide available at the Garden and Cosmos entrance.
Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in collaboration with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, India. It has received support from Air India, The Boeing Company, Tata, the Leon Levy Foundation, the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Embassy of India to the United States, and these sponsors.
Moving Perspectives: Yang Fudong, Cao Fei and Ou Ning
Moving Perspectives presents a year-long series of recent video works that provide rich sensory experiences of the many changes taking place in contemporary Asia. Internationally renowned artist Yang Fudong expands upon Chinese painting and folklore to create dreamlike environments permeated with a sense of dislocation and loss. In Liu Lan (2003), a young man in a modern suit and a traditionally dressed woman meet while a female voice sings a plaintive folk song about separated lovers, creating an eloquent metaphor for the distance between the past and the pursuit of an uncertain future. This lyrical approach vividly contrasts with San Yuan Li (2003) by Cao Fei and Ou Ning. Its fast-paced montage, sharp camera angles, and pulsating sound underscore the rapid change, architectural density, and constant activity that are overtaking China's urban landscape.
Though best known for his large oil portraits and moody night landscapes, expatriate American artist James McNeill Whistler (18341903) painted few large oils on canvas after 1879, flouting the conventional equation of size with importance. Instead, he focused his efforts on the creation of small works in a wide variety of media. Few of these works have been exhibited by major museums. The Freer Gallery of Art showcases 23 of Whistler's small paintings, which were described in 1886 by the American critic Charles de Kay as "pygmy pictures" with "big souls."
Of the estimated 140 small oil paintings on wood panel that Whistler produced after 1879, most measure no more than nine inches in length or height. Described by one collector as "superficially, the size of your hand, but, artistically, as a large as a continent," several of the most beautiful are only three by five inches in size. Many of Whistler's contemporaries found them provokingly sketchy and abstract. One reviewer dismissed them as "mere daubs and unfinished sketches not fit for public display." Other critics recognized their beauty and realized that they exemplified Whistler's desire that viewers appreciate his paintings as harmoniously colored designs on a flat surface.
Among the works on view are sea and village scenes painted during Whistler's visits to the peaceful coastal villages of St. Ives in Cornwall and Lyme Regis in Dorset and to Yorkshire in northern England. Whistler also painted scenery in the Channel port of Dieppe and the coastal village of Pourville in Normandy, France, whose beautiful beaches were also the subject of paintings by Monet and formed the backdrop for the 1944 Normandy landings.
During the winter of 1884 Whistler worked in his Chelsea studio, completing a series of sensuous figure drawings and paintings, including several small oils on panel of young female models, two of which are on view. Later nudes like "Purple and Gold: Phryne the Superb!Builder of Temples," painted in 1898, and "Rose and Brown: La Cigale," painted in 1899, depict young women in more chaste poses that seemingly personify an idealized beauty.
Detailed studies of streets and shops in Whistler's Chelsea neighborhood on view include "Chelsea Shops," one of the earliest and greatest of Whistler's many representations of building facades, and "Nocturne: Silver and Opal-Chelsea," the last, smallest and one of the greatest nocturnes in oil that Whistler ever painted.
Yellow Mountain: China's Ever-Changing Landscape
Yellow Mountain (Mount Huang or Huangshan) is arguably one of the most beautiful mountains in China. For centuries artists have endeavored to capture the ever-changing appearance of the area. Their interpretations include seventeenth-century woodblock prints and mountainscapes created by monk-painters who either had traveled to or had lived in the wilderness surrounding Yellow Mountain during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Paintings and prints of the mountain, whether done from nature or from memory by well-known and little-recognized artists, complete this look at the changing landscape of Huangshan.
"Yellow Mountain" is organized by the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and has received support from John and Julia Curtis; Mr. and Mrs. Michael E. Feng; Shirley Z. Johnson and Charles Rumph; Constance Corcoran Miller; and Mr. H.C. Luce and Ms. Tina Liu.
Muraqqa': Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
Among the most remarkable of Mughal paintings and calligraphies are those commissioned by the Emperors Jahangir (r. 1605-27) and Shah Jahan (r. 1627-58) for display in lavish imperial albums. A window into the world-views of the emperors, these exquisite images depict the emperors, the imperial family in relaxed private settings, Sufi saints and mystics, allies and courtiers, and natural history subjects. Many folios are full-page paintings with superb figural borders, other are collages of European, Persian, and Mughal works collected by the emperors. Produced by the atelier's leading artists, they reveal the conceptual and artistic sophistication of the arts of the book at its apex in the early seventeenth century.
The exhibition brings together 82 masterpieces--many not previously exhibited in the United States--from the renowned collection of the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin.
Muraqqa': Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin is organized and circulated by Art Services International in Alexandria, Virginia. Support for the national tour and catalog has been provided by The Annenberg Foundation; Culture Ireland; The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation; and an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery has received support for this exhibition from the Embassy of India to the United States. His Excellency Michael Collins, ambassador of Ireland to the United States of America, is honorary patron of the exhibition.
Tales of the Brush Continued: Chinese Paintings with Literary Themes
From the ancient times to the present day, Chinese artists have always turned to literature for inspiration for their paintings and works of calligraphy, and other objects. By creating a close correlation between image and text, artists over the centuries have depicted famous mythical scenes, illustrated significant events in Chinese history, and interpreted beloved poems and stories. Among the major literary themes on view are the mythical "Nymph of the Luo River," the historical tale of "Lady Cai Wenji Returns to Han," the legendary "Female Immortal Chang E," and the poetic "Thoughts on Ancient Sites by Du Fu."
Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes: Edo Masters From the Price Collection
This selection of 109 Japanese Edo Period (1615-1868) paintings from the world renowned California-based collection of Joe and Etsuko Price, features screen, hanging scroll and fan formats. The Price Collection reflects the eclectic diversity of a remarkably creative span in Japan's history of visual culture and is punctuated by some of the finest examples of the distinctive, hauntingly preternatural renderings of animal life by Ito Jakuchu (1716 -1800). The exhibition comes to the Sackler after completing a year-long tour of Japan.
The Potter's Mark: Tea Ceramics and Their Makers
Japanese ceramics were among the first in Asia to display impressed or incised marks relating to their makers. Such marks, emerging in the late sixteenth century on vessels made for use in the Japanese tea ceremony, indicate keen interest in the maker's identity and skill. Marks began as "seals of approval" impressed by patrons who commissioned tea wares, such as the imprint of a large square seal—possibly owned by a Kyoto tea master—on a Bizen ware water jar. By the mid-seventeenth century, potters such as the Kyoto master Ninsei used elegant oval seals to identify their products. Ideally a famous person wrote the calligraphy for the seal. At the end of the seventeenth century, the Kyoto potter Ogata Kenzan introduced a new style by inscribing his own studio name in large brush strokes, sometimes even as part of the vessel's decoration. Marks used at the Seto kilns, which were sponsored by a prominent warrior house, emphasized the prestigious ware rather than individual makers. Some Seto tea-leaf storage jars bore the name of a special local clay, "Sobokai," incised on the base. Other tea jars bore stamped marks resembling the ciphers used as official signatures by warriors.
Japanese Arts of the Edo Period, 1615-1868
The Japanese arts flourished and expanded during the Edo period under the rule of the Tokugawa shoguns who established their government at Edo (now Tokyo). Edo became the largest city in Japan and the world by the eighteenth century and fostered a new popular urban culture that was distinct from the courtly culture of Kyoto, the traditional artistic center of Japan. Innovation within the established arts and in new art forms such as Kabuki Theater, woodblock prints, porcelain and other decorated ceramics, and new schools of painting and calligraphy contributed to the vitality and energy of Edo culture. This exhibition is the first of two to feature painting, lacquer, and ceramics of the Edo period in the Freer Gallery's extensive permanent collection.
Wine, Worship & Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani
The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece is one of the most enduring of ancient Greek myths. According to legend, Jason and his shipmates, the Argonauts, set sail on a perilous journey from Greece to Colchis (modern-day Georgia), then located beyond the known world. His successful quest for the Golden Fleece, which hung in a sacred grove guarded by a dragon, came to symbolize bravery, strength and determination and rightful kingship.
Less well known today, however, is the archaeology and artifacts of Colchis, with its intermingling of Greek and Persian motifs with local styles and traditions. Metalworking, whether in gold, silver, iron or bronze, was a traditional focus of Colchian art and craftsmanship. Another mainstay of Georgian life throughout several millennia has been the production of wine—the earliest evidence of wine and winemaking comes from the area.
"Wine, Worship and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani," on view Dec. 1 through Feb. 24, 2008 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, presents spectacular gold, silver, ceramic vessels, jewelry, Greek bronze sculpture, Greek and Colchian coins, and Greek glassware. Together these objects provide a rich and informative view of the ancient land of Colchis and its principal sanctuary city, Vani, a town in the Imereti region of western Georgia.
Tales of the Brush: Literary Themes in Chinese Painting
As early as the first century to the present day, Chinese artists have turned to literature for inspiration for their paintings, works on silk and paper, and other objects. By creating a close correlation between text and image, artists over the centuries have depicted famous mythical scenes, interpreted beloved poems and stories, and illustrated significant events in Chinese history. Among the major literary themes on view are the mythical Queen Mother of the West, the poetic Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion, the historical tale of Emperor Minghuang's Journey to Shu, and the novelistic Story of the Western Chamber. When considered together, the works in Tales of the Brush provide insight into the honored worlds of Chinese art and literature.
Parades: Freer Ceramics Installed by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott
In her own celebrated work, Australian ceramic artist Gwyn Hanssen Pigott nudges pale-glazed tableware forms into still-life groupings of bowls, bottles and cups. Individually familiar, the juxtaposed forms speak to one another and to the observer with surprising emotion.
When Ms. Pigott was invited to visit Freer Gallery ceramics storage to assemble groups from the gallery's permanent collection, she chose at will from cases of Chinese, Korea, Japanese, and Near Eastern vessels. Ignoring date and place and focusing wholly on color, form, pattern, and relationship, her approach was curiously sympathetic to the taste of Charles Lang Freer, who had chosen most of the selected objects a century earlier. Ms. Pigott's seven creations will gather seventy-two Freer ceramics in surprising new relationships.
Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries
During the 16th century, Portuguese sailors braved international waters to create a global trading network that extended from Europe to Brazil, Africa, the Persian Gulf, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, China and Japan. This naval empire connected civilizations from all the known continents, transforming commerce and initiating unprecedented cultural exchange.
"Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries" explored the artistic achievements that flourished when these sailors exposed new creative techniques and imagery to the world as they transported goods from port to port. The most ambitious in the Sackler's 19-year history, the exhibition presented approximately 250 objects produced by each of the cultures touched by Portugal's early trade routes.
Initially displayed in princely "cabinets of wonder"predecessors of the modern museumand other royal and aristocratic collections and now scattered in museums and private collections throughout the world, the paintings, sculptures, manuscripts, maps, early books and other objects assembled in the exhibition provide a rich image of a "new world" during its formation.
East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art
From intimate courtyards to monumental temple, tomb, and pleasure gardens, Asia has been central to the development of cultivated landscapes. The earliest known gardenthe biblical Garden of Edenmay have been located in West Asia at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates in present-day Iraq. The very word "paradise" is derived from the walled orchard gardens and hunting parks of ancient Iran, referred to as pardis. According to written sources, the earliest gardens in China, dating to the Zhou period (circa 1050-256 B.C.E.), consisted of enclosed hunting grounds reserved for the royal elite.
Over time, each culture in Asia developed distinct garden types that expressed specific social, religious, and economic concerns. In the arid landscape of West and South Asia, one of the most common garden plans depended on a series of interconnected pools and axial watercourses. Chinese gardens were often characterized by carefully positioned rocks and pools intended to recreate microcosms of nature at large. In Japan, gardens followed a more naturalistic design and incorporated rolling hills and languid ponds to underline harmony between humans and their surroundings.
Gardens also became one of the most important sources of inspiration for Asian artists. Most pictorial representations, however, do not necessarily depict what the viewer would have actually experienced, but rather the perception and expectation of a perfect garden. East of Eden, the third pan-Asian exhibition drawn primarily from the Freer and Sackler permanent collections, explores some of the fundamental elements of garden imagery across Asia.
Visit the East of Eden online exhibition
Landscapes in Japanese Art
Landscapes signified more than the beauty of the natural world to the Japanese people who believed that their native gods (kami) had created the islands of Japan and come down to dwell in their mountains, rivers, and trees. Japanese artists developed distinctive styles of full-color painting that they often preferred to create images of the rounded, heavily forested hills that surrounded their ancient capital cities. From the thirteenth century onward, they also mastered Chinese ink painting techniques and adapted them to create landscapes of both China and Japan. In Japanese ceramics from the sixteenth century onward, as techniques of glazing and application of pigments became more prevalent, landscapes became an important subject of ceramic design and appreciation. This exhibition of twenty paintings and twelve ceramics explores the landscapes created by Japanese artists from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries.
Tea Bowls in Bloom
Making a bowl of tea is the central act of the Japanese cultural and aesthetic practice known as chanoyu. The host whisks together powdered pale green tea and hot water in the bowl from which the guest will drink. Painted images of seasonal flowers and auspicious plants link the tea bowl to the moment or meaning of the gathering. Such images first appeared on tea bowls made at Japanese kilns in the late sixteenth century. The decoration, inspired by vessels imported from China, Korea, and Southeast Asia, used ironbrown or cobaltblue pigment brushed under the glaze. During firing, the colors tended to melt into the glaze, producing an irregular and muted effect. In the midseventeenth century, potters introduced a newer Chinese technique, painting rainbowcolored translucent enamels over the glaze. Both modes of decoration have enjoyed enduring popularity. This exhibition of decorated tea bowls and water jars focuses on the older mode, which skillfully uses a limited palette to evoke the full spectrum of nature's hues.
Daoism in the Arts of China
Since its inception more than two thousand years ago in the Eastern Han dynasty, Daoism (also known as Taoism) has permeated every aspect of Chinese life and culture, from politics, philosophy, literature, and music to chemistry, medicine, and the martial arts. Using works in the Freer's permanent collection, this exhibition looks at four aspects of Daoism: its foundations as a school of thought based on Daojia; images of Daoist immortals and paradises; ways to achieve immortality; and Daoist gods and the influence of folklore, Confucianism, and Buddhism on Daoism.
In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000
"In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000" was a landmark exhibition presented in association with the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, which is the principal lending institution for this exhibition and is one of the greatest repositories for early manuscripts in the world. The Bodleian's curatorial staff has also contributed to the shape of the exhibition and the exhibition catalog.
The exhibition coincided with the 100th Anniversary of Charles Lang Freer's gift of Asian and American art to the people of the United States, now housed in the Freer Gallery of Art, and included several pages and fragments from Freer's "Codex Washingtonensis," fourth and fifth-century Old Testament Greek manuscripts. Also on view were a colorful painted cover of the "Washington Manuscript IIIThe Four Gospels," depicting figures of St. Matthew and St. John
The exhibition presented over 70 of the earliest biblical artifacts in existence, including pages and fragments written in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, Ethiopian and Copticmany on display for the first time in the United States.
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Perspectives: Simryn Gill
This was the first major exhibition in the United States of contemporary artist Simryn Gill (born 1959). Gill's works, consisting of found objects poetically transformed by the artist, examine relationships among nature, culture and knowledge as well as between individual and place. The works reveal a transnational perspective, evocatively referring to passages of material and literary cultures across borders.
Born in Singapore, Simryn Gill is of Indian ancestry and Malaysian citizenship; she currently resides in Sydney, Australia. She has exhibited extensively in Asia, Europe and Australia. The three works in the exhibition, which were created between 1992 and 2006, comprise a mini retrospective of her career.
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Freer and Tea: Raku, Hagi, Karatsu
A Japanese saying coined during the Edo period (16151868) lists the three most popular ceramic wares as "First, Raku; second, Hagi; third Karatsu." The tea ceremony ceramics that Charles Freer collected by 1906 included outstanding examples of all three classic wares. The tea bowls on view included some that have been reidentified through recent research.
Freer: A Taste for Japanese Art
This exhibition celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of Charles Lang Freer's gift of his collection and museum to the United States featured a selection of 31 paintings, calligraphy, wood sculpture, lacquer, and ceramics from Freer's Japanese art collection. For two decades from 1887, when Freer bought his first Japanese painting, his interest in Japanese art grew deeper, as he sought to increase his knowledge of Japanese and Asian art and to understand the aesthetic harmonies between art of different historical periods and cultures. Although he was encouraged in these interests by his friends, the artist James McNeill Whistler, and the scholar Ernest Fenollosa, Freer relied on his own judgment and consciously resisted the decorative porcelain and gold lacquerware popular among Western collectors. Instead, he focused on painting, ceramics, Buddhist sculpture, and lacquerware from earlier periods, forming a collection of some 1100 Japanese works of art dating from the eighth through the nineteenth centuries.
Facing East: Portraits from Asia
"Facing East: Portraits from Asia" exploreed how portraits expressed identity in Asia and the Near East. Paintings, sculpture, and photographs of Egyptian pharaohs, Chinese empresses, Japanese actors and a host of other subjects reveal the unique ways that the self was understood, represented, and projected in Asian art. The exhibition included approximately 70 masterpieces from the collections of Chinese, Japanese, South Asian, Islamic and Ancient Near Eastern art at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Popular and academic surveys of portraiture deny that Asia had a portrait tradition. "Facing East" reveals rich and diverse Asian conceptions of portraiture through thought-provoking, cross-cultural juxtapositions of portraits in thematic groupings. These portraits not only provide an entrée into Asian cultures, but also lay bare many of the mechanisms and conceptions of the self that inform western portraiture.
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Hiroshi Sugimoto: History of History
Comprised of more than 80 works, "History of History" juxtaposes Sugimoto's own photographs, selected from the artist's well-known series of seascapes, natural history dioramas and wax museum figures, with an enormous range of traditional Japanese and ritual artifacts all drawn from Sugimoto's private collection. The exhibition's contrast of past and present add a new dimension to Sugimoto's photographs, which the artist has famously described as "time exposed." In "History of History," Sugimoto's preoccupation with the passage of time takes on concrete, multiple forms, as he places photographs from his various series in contexts of history of Japanese art, civilization and ritual. Sugimoto's juxtapositions of photographs with geological specimens and aesthetic objects that he has collected during the past decades, explore time, life and spirituality.
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An unprecedented exhibition of works by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (17601849), whose iconic woodblock print "The Great Wave" is one of the most recognized images in the art world, was on view at the Sackler Gallery March 4 through May 14, 2006. The exhibition of more than 180 paintings, prints, drawings and printed books brought together for the first time 41 paintings from the Freer Gallery of Art, the largest and most important collection of paintings by Hokusai, with masterpieces from museum, library and private collections throughout the world. Charles Lang Freer (18541919), founder of the Freer Gallery, collected most of the Gallery's Hokusai paintings, drawings, and prints between 1898 and 1907. "Hokusai" celebrated the 100th anniversary of the official gift by Freer of his art collection and museum to the United States.
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Freer and Tea: 100 Years of the Book of Tea
As part of a yearlong series of exhibitions and programming celebrating the centenary of Charles Lang Freer's gift of his collection to the nation, the exhibition "Freer and Tea: 100 Years of The Book of Tea" took a fresh look at Freer's collection of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese ceramics associated with the tea ceremony. This select group of a dozen or so objects represents only a small part of the more than 350 ceramics Freer had amassed by 1906. It also introduced his views of them as preserved in his records.
Artists of Edo 18001850
This exhibition presented approximately 30 paintings and prints representing the distinctive styles of early nineteenth-century artists active in the large metropolis of Edo. Following its establishment as the site of the Tokugawa shoguns' administrative government in the early 17th century, Edo developed a cultural and artistic identity distinct from that of Kyoto, where the emperor and nobles continued to reside. Edo artists of the Kano and Sumiyoshi schools worked on commission for the shoguns and high-ranking patrons of the warrior and aristocratic class, while artists belonging to other schools such as the Rimpa school, which began in Kyoto in the early 17th century, perfected simplified compositions and distinctive techniques.
Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey
"Style and Status: Imperial Costumes from Ottoman Turkey" was the first international exhibition devoted to sumptuous and graphically stunning imperial Turkish robes (kaftans) from the 16th and 17th centurythe embodiment of the maxim that "clothes make the man." This exhibition presented robes that dazzle with their audacious play of colors, bold designs, and rich finish.
At the core of the 68 objects on view was a group of opulent imperial robes from the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, the largest repository of Islamic textiles in the world. Additional works were on loan from the Mevlana Museum, Konya, Turkey, the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and several national collections.
Broadly organized according to technique, the exhibition celebrateed Ottoman artistic creativity and its success at transforming silk into the most potent and visible symbol of the empire's power and wealth. Many of the robes were exhibited on custom-made mannequins that show off their full splendor. In addition to robes belonging to Sultan Selim (reigned 15121520), Sultan Suleyman (reigned 15201566) and his son Bayazid, who was executed in 1561, the exhibition included trousers, hats, cushion and floor coverings, as well as several large, inscribed textiles from the Topkapi's renowned collection. Examples of ecclesiastic copes and chasubles made from Ottoman silks and velvets were also on display.
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Virtue and Entertainment: Chinese Music in the Visual Arts
The Freer Gallery presented an exhibition of 36 objects, including a bell, drum, chime and zithers, as well as scrolls and painted porcelains that date from the fifth century B.C.E. to the 20th century, highlighting many of the ways in which music and the visual arts have long interrelated at the heart of Chinese civilization. From the Bronze Age (circa 2000500 B.C.E.) through imperial times (221 B.C.E.1911), musical harmony was considered a sign of good government. Rulers frequently sponsored ceremonial music to be played at their courts using beautiful, brilliantly crafted instruments.
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Gold: The Asian Touch
Rare, lustrous and enduring, gold has a deep history in Asia. The earliest evidence of worked goldtranslating its natural beauty into human adornmentcomes from Mesopotamia in the sixth millennium B.C.E. The oldest extant geological map depicts a gold mine in Egypt circa 1320 B.C.E. Even the English word "gold" originates from the Sanskrit term meaning "to shine." The Sackler Gallery brought together golden Asian treasures from the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery collections to show the many ways in which artisans have worked this precious substance and to illuminate the diverse meanings and roles of gold in different Asian cultures.
The exhibition's 47 luxurious objects were grouped according to the methods used to make and embellish them, including hammering into sheets, foil or leaf; striking, chasing and engraving; cutting, joining and soldering; forming into wire or grinding into powder to make paint. This enabled visitors to compare golden objects from many contexts and times and learn about the roles and meanings of gold in different cultures.
Perspectives: Mei-ling Hom
"Floating Mountains, Singing Clouds," a site-specific installation by Chinese-American artist Mei-ling Hom, continued the Perspectives series of contemporary installations in the lofty entrance pavilion of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Hom's 30 cloud-like forms and an original Chinese flute (xiao) composition by American composer Eli Marshall created a landscape-in-space that translated traditional Chinese landscape paintings into the contemporary register of installation art. The hexnet (chicken wire) clouds floated at staggered levels in the carefully lit but darkened space, apparently dissolving and reappearing as viewers make their way through the area. The installation emphasized both the ephemeral and palpable qualities of space as the clouds cast delicate linear patterns on the walls and floor.
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Pretty Women: Freer and the Ideal of Feminine Beauty
The founder of the Freer Gallery of Art, Charles Lang Freer (18541919), is best known as a pioneering western collector of Asian art, but when Freer started to buy art he began with contemporary American paintings and works on paper. Most of the major works that Freer acquired during his first 12 years as a collector, 18841896, were images of beautiful women by James McNeill Whistler (18341903), Thomas Wilmer Dewing (18511938) or Abbott Handerson Thayer (18491921).
This exhibition will bring together 21 of the most beautiful paintings that Freer ever acquired in order to explore some of the meanings these representations of beautiful women would have had for the artists who created them, for contemporary viewers, and for Freer. In addition to oil paintings by Whistler, the exhibition will feature several major paintings by Thayer and a large selection of exceptionally beautiful but rarely shown oil paintings by Dewing.
Caravan Kingdoms: Yemen and the Ancient Incense Trade
For over a thousand years, from around 800 B.C.E. to 600 C.E., the kingdoms of Qataban, Saba (biblical Sheba), and Himyar grew fabulously wealthy from their control over the caravan routes of the southern Arabian peninsula and, in particular, from the international trade in frankincense and myrrh. Excavations at the capitals of these ancient kingdoms have yielded spectacular examples of architecture, distinctive stone funerary sculpture, elaborate inscriptions on stone, bronze, and wood, and sophisticated metalwork.
Drawn from the collections of the Republic of Yemen, the American Foundation for the Study of Man, the British Museum, and Dumbarton Oaks, this exhibition of approximately 200 objects explored the unique cultural traditions of these ancient kingdoms. It gave special emphasis to the rich artistic interaction that resulted from overland and maritime contacts linking the southern Arabian peninsula with the eastern Mediterranean, northeastern Africa, and south and southwest Asia.
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Chinese Mountains of Immortality: A Focused Look
This three-object installation examined Chinese images of mountains by placing an ancient (2nd1st century B.C.), peak-shaped incense burner next to two later paintings of mountains, one dated to 1683. The key to the persistence of mountain imagery in China is its association with islands of the immortals. Said to be located in the eastern sea, these mountainous islands were thought, since the time of the First Emperor of Qin (221210 B.C.) to be a source of immortality and in later centuries became a metaphor for the source of eternal happiness. Introduced in the 2nd century B.C. incense burners in the shape of mountains were highly valued by the society's elite. As the incense was burned, smoke would rise out of the holes in the lid like mist over mysterious mountain terrain. The paintings similarly depict the peaks shrouded in enigmatic clouds.
In the Realm of Princes: The Arts of the Book in Fifteenth-Century Iran and Central Asia
"In the Realm of Princes: The Arts of the Book in Fifteenth-Century Iran and Central Asia" highlighted the remarkable artistic achievements of Timurid princes and their Turkoman rivals. It included 33 of the finest 15th-century paintings, manuscripts, and portable luxury objects from Iran and present-day Afghanistan in the United States.
In the 1370s, the charismatic but brutal Turkic warlord Timur, also known as Tamerlane in the West, swept out of Central Asia and conquered a vast territory that extended from Anatoliain present-day Turkeyto the borders of China. He chose Samarqandin present-day Uzbekistanas his capital and established the Timurid dynasty, which reigned until 1506. Although the Timurids lost political control over much of their conquered lands by the middle of the 15th century, they were responsible for one of the most artistically brilliant periods in the history of the Islamic world.
Fifteenth-century arts of the book reached an apogee during the relatively peaceful reign of the last Timurid ruler, Sultan Husayn Mirza (14701506), whose capital Heratin present-day Afghanistanbecame the unrivaled artistic and literary center of West Asia. Among the most important artists in Herat was Kamal-uddin Bihzad (d. 1535), largely accredited with introducing a new sense of naturalism into Persian painting. Bihzad signed few works and because of his legendary status, numerous compositions have been erroneously attributed to him. The Freer and Sackler galleries have the largest collection of paintings by Bihzad in the United States, which were on view together for the first time: a signed painting, believed to be one of the artist's last, "An Old Man and a Youth," and two other compositions attributed to his hand, "Sa'di and the Youth of Kashgar" and "Abduction by Sea."
Asian Games: The Art of Contest
Using boards, pieces, and other game-playing paraphernalia as well as paintings, prints, and decorative arts that depict people playing games, Asian Games: The Art of Contest explores the role of games as social and cultural activities in the diverse societies of pre-modern Asia. It also highlights the paramount importance of Asia as a source of many gameschess, backgammon, Parcheesi, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and playing cards, not to mention polo and field hockeynow played in the West. In addition to games familiar to Western audiences, the exhibition also examines the Japanese shell-matching game (kai-oi) and incense competition (jishu-ko).
Drawing on major collections of Asian art in the United States, Europe, and Japan, Asian Games comprises approximately two hundred objects, including spectacular examples of games sets dating from the twelfth to nineteenth centuries; Persian and Indian court paintings and illuminated manuscripts of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries; and Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings, screens, ceramics, and decorative arts. It also features a game room where visitors can play some of the major board games addressed in the exhibition, including chess, backgammon, weiqi (go in Japan), and pachisi. For the first time at the museum, labels written with younger visitors in mind accompany selected objects.
Asian Games: The Art of Contest is organized by the Asia Society, New York. Major support was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by United Airlines. Funding for the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery presentation has been provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, with additional support from Glenna and David Osnos and H. Christopher Luce and Tina Liu. Media sponsor is Washington Parent magazine.
Visit the Asian Games interactive.
Boating on a River
Inspired by the 600-year anniversary of Zheng He's construction of the massive Chinese "treasure fleet" and his seven seafaring expeditions, spanning twenty-eight years (14051433) in the early Ming period, "Boating on a River" surveyed the role of boats in later Chinese painting history. This thematic rotation contained twenty-eight works of Chinese painting and calligraphy spanning the 12th to the 20th centuries. Included were pieces conveying well-known scenes from Chinese literature, such as the mystical Nymph of the Luo River, the melancholy Lute Song, and the philosophical Red Cliff, among several others. Also included in the rotation were works depicting scholars and fishermen's daily lives relating to boats, genre scenes with depiction of boats, and a section devoted to the canopied boats of a gentry class. In the East Corridor, a lovely Ming dynasty handscroll, depicting various kinds of fish, flanked by two fish-themed works of calligraphy, was also on display.
Iraq and China: Ceramics, Trade, and Innovation
This exhibition focuses on revolutionary and enduring changes that took place in Iraqi ceramics during the 9th century as the humble character of Islamic pottery responded to a wave of luxury Chinese goods, imported by Arab and Persian merchants. During this period, Iraq became a center for Islamic ceramic production as new technologies transformed common earthenware into a vehicle for complex multi-colored designs. Chinese ceramics were admired in Iraq for their shiny white surfaces and hard body. As neither the essential raw materials nor the appropriate firing technology were locally available, Islamic potters therefore created their own versions by covering finely potted yellow clay hemispherical bowls with a glaze that turned opaque after firing, creating ceramics that were described as "pearl cups like the moon." This technique offered the potters an ideal canvas for bold decorative designs, first in cobalt blue and then with "luster"; mixtures of copper and silver that were painted onto the glaze then fixed in a second firing.
Following the gradual disintegration of the Abbasid Empire after the 10th century, migrating Iraqi potters transmitted these techniques to Egypt and Iran from whence they traveled to Europe, giving rise to the great "Majolica" tradition in medieval Spain and Renaissance Italy. In China, 14th-century experiments with cobalt blue from the Islamic world led to Yuan and Ming blue-and-white.
Dream Worlds: Modern Japanese Prints and Paintings from the Robert O. Muller Collection
In the spring of 2003, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery received a bequest of more than 4,500 woodblock prints, representing 240 artists, from the world-renowned Robert O. Muller Collection of Japanese prints. Muller (19112003) was a Connecticut-based collector who over the course of seventy years had assembled one of the world's finest collections of Japanese prints from the late 1860s through the 1940s. This exhibition presented approximately 150 of these prints in a series of thematic categories that had particular resonance with Muller: the rendering of light in various atmospheric conditions; depictions of birds and beasts; theatricality, whether specific to the Japanese stage or in the more general sense of, narrative style; images of female beauty; and, printing technique in the service of effect. The prints were complemented by some paintings also drawn from Muller's holdings.
Muller collected in two distinct yet related areas. The first included the eclectic style of print that emerged in the last quarter of the 19th centuryan era of experimentation that produced such diverse talents as Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (183992), who was famed for his flamboyant treatments of legend and historical events, and Kobayashi Kiyochika (18471915), whose studies in light and shadow were offered as an aesthetic alternative to the photograph. The second area of the Muller's collection comprises the world's most important grouping of prints created in the shin-hanga (new print) style. Shin-hanga was an entrepreneurial creation of the publisher Watanabe Shozaburo in the first decade of the 20th century. Watanabe managed a coterie of designer/artists who adapted traditional, idealized print subjectstheater, the pleasure quarters, bird and flower and landscapeto modern tastes. Included in the collection are superb representations of female beauty by Ito Shinsui (18981972), camp and vamping kabuki actors in male and female roles presented in exceptional designs by Yoshikawa Kanpo (18941979) and Natori Shunsen (18861960), the romanticized country and city views of Kawase Hasui (18831957) and numerous bird studies by Ohara Koson (18771945).
View the Dream Worlds online interactive.
Cai Guo-Qiang "Traveler: Reflection"
"Traveler" by Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang is a two-part installation at the Sackler and the nearby Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Best known for his grand explosion events as well as for his ability to layer poetic allegory and historical resonance, Cai Guo-Qiang is one of the most significant artists to have emerged in the last decade. "Reflection," at the Sackler, is a site-specific installation that invites visitors to ponder the interactions between past and present cultures as well as their relocation within a museum that is dedicated to the preservation of the past. The installation places the weathered hull of a 50-foot long Japanese fishing boat, excavated off the coast of Japan, upon an imaginary ocean of gleaming porcelain fragments of deities from Dehua, China. "Reflection's" monumental arcs and delicately-realized sculptures represent multiple layers of meaning that on one level resonate with a concurrent Sackler exhibition - "China and Iraq" which explores the transformative effect of a wave of imported luxury Chinese goods on 9th-century Iraqi ceramics, while also demonstrating the potential of artistically enriching cultural interactions. Cai links "Reflection" to the installation at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden where "Unlucky Year: Unrealized Projects from 2003-2004" features a selection of the artist's signature gunpowder drawings. These are tangible visualizations of ambitious projects using large-scale explosives that the artist sought to realize at high profile sites.
Asia in America: Views of Chinese Art from the Indianapolis Museum of Art
In the fall of 2004, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery opened a series of exhibitions showcasing works from outstanding museums of Asian art throughout the United States. The series, entitled "Asia in America," began with selections of Chinese art from the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). Founded in 1883, the IMA is among the largest general art museums in the United States, and has a long history of collecting Asian art. Among the IMA's earlier Asian acquisitions were several works given by Charles Lang Freer, founder of the Freer Gallery of Art. Through the years, the IMA and the Freer Gallery have often acquired similar items. The complementary character of these two collections was the basis for many of the exhibition's selections, which include some of the finest Chinese art ever made.
The exhibition was designed to engage both beginning and more experienced viewers. A gift from Charles Lang Freer to the IMA flanked the doorway to the first room, which featured related objects from both institutions. These included seven ceramic treasures from the IMAspanning more than 1,000 years of historyjuxtaposed with similar items from the Freer and neighboring Sackler Gallery, revealing how different apparently "similar" things can be.
In addition, 40 bronze, ceramic, cloisonné, jade and wood items from the IMA's rich collection, spanning over 4,000 years from the Neolithic period to the Qing dynasty (16441911), allowed visitors to appreciate the effects of aesthetic, chronological and geographic variations, as well as the impact of cultural continuity and tradition on design.
Young Whistler: Early Prints and the French Set
James McNeill Whistler learned to make prints in 1857, two years after he had moved to Paris to study painting. In October 1858, he published twelve of his most accomplished early prints in a slim portfolio that has come to be known as the "French Set." Whistler became famous as a fierce adherent of art for art's sake, but as a young artist he was most influenced by contemporary realist painters such as Gustave Courbet, and many of his early prints are realistic scenes of working-class life in Paris and rural France.
Drawing on the Freer Gallery of Art's unparalleled collection of Whistler's work, Young Whistler showcases early impressions of the most important etchings that Whistler produced up to 1858, including examples of every print from the "French Set" and numerous rarities such as the only known impression of "A Youth Wearing a German Cap." In addition to 23 etchings, the exhibition will include related drawings and watercolors, as well as some of the artist's tools, including five of his copper printing plates.
Visit the James McNeill Whistler interactive.
Art of Mughal India
Art of Mughal India" presented some 30 works of art, including brilliantly colored, intricately detailed manuscript paintings and luxury objects in jade and lacquered wood, that offer a glimpse into the conceptually creative and technically innovative tradition of Mughal painting and its lasting impact on the courts of Rajput India and Safavid Iran. In the early 16th century, the conquest of northern India by Babur (reigned 15261530) ushered in one of the most remarkable political, cultural and artistic periods in the history of the subcontinent. Babur was a direct descendent of the Mongol conqueror Ghenghiz Khan (d. 1227), and the Turkic warlord Timur, who had established the Timurid dynasty in Iran and Central Asia (13701501). Babur and his successors were known as the "Mughals," a derivation of the word "Mongol," and ruled over India until 1858. The wealth and opulence of their courts so impressed foreign visitors that the term "mogul" entered the English language as a synonym for power and wealth. Like their Timurid ancestors, the Mughals expressed deep interest in the arts of the book, but it was only after Akbar (reigned 15561605) succeeded in consolidating Mughal power in north India that a distinct artistic tradition began to emerge. With the help of Persian painters, who migrated to India at the invitation of Akbar's father, the second Mughal ruler Humayun (d. 1555), early Mughal painting synthesized the refinement of Persian painting and the dynamism of Hindu compositions with Western naturalism. Akbar's wide-ranging interests encouraged the extensive production of illustrated Hindu and Muslim epics, historical narratives and portraiture.
Akbar's son Jahangir (reigned 16051627) was more interested in highly finished individual compositions and portrait studies, drawing on both Persian pictorial ideals and European naturalism. During the reign of his successor, Shah Jahan (16281657), the patron of the Taj Mahal, Mughal fascination with portraiture reached its zenith. The relative naturalism of earlier Mughal painting gave way to highly formal portraits, transforming figures into iconic images of power and grandeur as is evident in a series of lavishly produced royal albums.
By the 17th century, the Mughal pictorial idiom also played a formative role in the development of painting at the Rajput courts of northern India as members of the Hindu nobility, who had been largely integrated into the empire through marriage alliances, began to employ Mughal painters and commission works of art that echoed Mughal artistic taste. In Iran too, 17th-century artists looked to India for new sources of pictorial inspiration, resulting in a distinct, hybrid style of painting.
Life and Leisure: Everyday Life in Japanese Art
"Life and Leisure: Everyday Life in Japanese Art" included a wide variety of illustrations ranging from colorful paintings abuzz with activity and humor picturing the daily lives of peasants and entertainers to glamorous images of female courtesans from the pleasure quarters fixing their lipstick or washing their hair. Several ceramic household or restaurant objects from the period, including a teapot and water caddy, water and sake bottles, a serving bowl, sushi bucket and storage jar are also on view. Although people of various social classes pursuing everyday activities had long been pictured in the backgrounds of both religious and secular Japanese paintings, it was only in the late 16th century that contented commoners pictured at work or at play began to appear as an independent central subject of Japanese art.
The Tea Ceremony as Melting Pot
From the 16th century onward, energetic foreign trade resulted in the introduction of many new varieties of utensils to Japan. Rather than being collected as curios and provided they were an appropriate size and shape, Chinese tea-leaf storage jars, tea bowls from Korea and northern Vietnam, and vases from central Vietnam joined or replaced the Chinese bronzes and ceramics that had previously been preferred for use in the tea ceremony. The search for new utensils among imported goods contributed greatly to the tea ceremony's excitement and popularity as a practice. Over time, utensils that had once been novel became established and served as models for Japanese potters to copy or interpret. This small exhibition presents a variety of imported tea utensils from the Freer collection, as well as some examples of copies made by Japanese potters.
Luxury and Luminosity: Visual Culture and the Ming Court
In the Western world, the word "Ming" is almost synonymous in meaning with dazzling blue-and-white Chinese porcelain. This special exhibition features Ming dynasty (13681644), imperially commissioned, cobalt-decorated porcelains and places them in the broader context of other major court arts of the period, including bright enamel-decorated porcelains, cinnabar-red carved lacquers, glittering cloisonnè and gold vessels, silk tapestries, and colorful paintings. The exhibition will feature 35 items installed in instructive juxtaposition, providing an opportunity both to examine aesthetic and technical interrelationships among Ming court-sponsored arts and to explore their larger cultural meanings. The use of art to aggrandize the imperial institution and further the rulers' domestic and foreign political agendas is revealed by the objects on display, which also invite close scrutiny and careful connoisseurship, especially of the Freer Gallery's world-famous collection of fifteenth-century porcelain.
Work and Commerce: Scenes of Everyday Life in Chinese Painting
Depictions of the common people and their means and modes of making a living comprise only a small percentage of Chinese figure painting, which generally focuses on more elite interests and pastimes. Although illustrations of work and daily life may appear to be casual renditions, they often provide moral exemplars of proper societal behavior and deliver subtle lessons about the benevolence of the state.
This exhibition included a broad selection of hanging scrolls, album leaves, and fans, as well as large sections of handscrolls showing rice farmers, silk producers, weavers, herders, fishermen, workers in the transportation industry, tradesmen, and peddlers, and discusses both the particular activity that is depicted as well as the painting's underlying social or philosophical ramifications. The centerpiece of the exhibition consisted of two long handscrolls from the Yuan dynasty (14th century) depicting respectively the process of rice cultivation and the production of silk, both primary occupations of Chinese farming communities. These demonstrate the virtues of good government and benevolent rulership that enabled the farmers' success. Paintings of herdboys, who symbolize the freedom and innocence of youth, formed a discrete grouping while urban commercial environments were represented by sections of two long handscrolls. Itinerant storytellers, tradesmen, vendors, and peddlers formed yet another grouping. Images of commercial shipping, fishing, and cartage by land rounded out the exhibition.
Caliphs and Kings: The Art and Influence of Islamic Spain
This exhibition brought to Washington for the first time approximately ninety objects from the collection of the Hispanic Society of America in New York. Emphasizing themes of longevity, continuity, and transmission in the Islamic decorative arts and sciences of medieval Spain, the exhibition presented works dating from the time of the Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century to the final phase of Muslim life in Spain in the 16th century.
Objects from 10th-century Córdoba illustrated the creation of a unique court aesthetic under the Umayyad caliphate that was widely copied by both Muslim and Christian rulers in the following centuries. Later works showed the eclectic, aesthetic, intellectual and political culture that resulted from the Christian conquests in the 11th-15th centuries of the cities of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). During the 14th and 15th centuries, Muslim craftsmen working both in the Muslim Kingdom of Granada and for Christian patrons, the Crown, the nobility and the Church, and occasionally Jewish patrons in cities such as Seville, Toledo, Córdoba and Valencia produced some of the most beautiful and evocative ceramics and textiles of the time. These items were exported throughout Europe and served as models for silk and ceramic industries in regions such as the Italian peninsula.
Works of particular note included a tenth-century ivory pyxis from Madinat al-Zahra' (Córdoba), an early 15th-century armorial carpet from Letur (Murcia) made for María de Castilla, queen of Aragon, and two exquisite, illuminated, fifteenth-century Hebrew Bibles.
View the Caliphs & Kings online interactive.
Perspectives: Do-Ho Suh
"Staircase-IV," was the fourth in Suh's more recent series of monumental staircases. Meticulously stitched out of a translucent red nylon fabric, "Staircase-IV" replicated the staircase in Suh's New York apartment in 1:1 scale, complete with architectural detail that created an uncanny sense of the real while transforming density into lightness and the concrete into the remembered. The flight of stairs rose high above the ground before it reached a large and expansive plateau representing the apartment floor above. "Staircase-IV" invoked movement, impermanence and the promise of transcendence along the anonymous passage from one level to another.
Whistler in Paris: Lithographs from the Belle Epoque, 18911896
Whistler had first experimented with lithography in 1878 and 1879, when he produced 18 prints, but the majority of Whistler's lithographs were produced during his years with his wife, Beatrix. A popular medium in France during the last decade of the 19th century, when Henri de Toulouse Lautrec (18641901) and others produced bold lithographic poster designs to advertise cabaret entertainments, lithographs are generally made by drawing greasy crayons or washes onto a prepared limestone, which is then etched with an acidic solution. Crayoned drawings can also be made directly on paper and then tranferred by rubbing onto the stone which is then etched and inked for printing. This was Whistler's preferred method in Paris. As the image is double-reversed, Whistler's lithographs depict the original orientation of the scene, whereas his etchings do not.
The Paris lithographs function as a kind of family albumdocumenting the Whistlers' friends and family and the daily pleasures of their contented life together. Works on view included images of Beatrix at the piano, in her garden and at rest, as well as one of poet Stephane Mallarmè, two of Whistler's physician brother and twoone by Whistler and one by his wifeof the poet Count Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac, whom Whistler had previously depicted in a life-sized oil painting.
Return of the Buddha: The Qingzhou Discoveries
This exhibition presented 35 extraordinary 6th-century Chinese Buddhist statues that were accidentally unearthed in 1996 by workers leveling a school sports field in Qingzhou, a small city in Shandong Province on China's northeast coast. The ranking of these sculptures among the 100 most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century puts them on a par with the First Emperor's terracotta soldiers. Their discovery has significantly advanced scholarship of Chinese Buddhist art, while at the same time their sublime beauty has renewed popular interest in Buddhist sculpture. Genuine examples, legitimate reproductions, and forgeries can all be found in today's art market, stimulated by collectors' search for works in the Qingzhou style.
These limestone statues of Buddhas and bodhisattvas project a radiant sense of calm and inner peace. They were apparently ritually interred during the 12th century for reasons that are still unclear. Part of an enormous cache of about 400 objects buried in a two-meter deep, 60 square meter pit on the site of the long-destroyed Longxing (Dragon Rise) Temple, these sculptures were mostly broken-some even repaired before their interment. The burial may have been a respectful way to retire obsolescent images, but could also have related to waves of Buddhist persecution.
Created during a 50-year period straddling the Northern Wei (386534), Eastern Wei (534550) and the Northern Qi (550577) dynasties, the sculptures illustrate dramatic stylistic changes that occurred during that time. The unusual quantity of remaining gilding and vibrant red and green pigments on their surfaces provide a chance for the viewer to experience the impact of brightly decorated sculpture-the norm in ancient China. Many faces are gilded and some retain the remnants of painted mustaches, while the stone mandorlasor backgrounds of the high relief sculpturesstill display vibrant red pigments representing flames of light emanating from the Buddha.
View the Return of the Buddha interactive
Faith and Form: Selected Calligraphy and Painting from Japanese Religious Traditions
This exhibition featured works from the Sylvan Barnet and William Burto collection, which is particularly distinguished by important examples of Buddhist and Shinto inspired calligraphy and painting. Included in the exhibition were richly illuminated sutra texts, boldly expressive Zen Buddhist aphorisms rendered in ink monochrome, portraits of Zen masters and mandala paintings. These selections from the Barnet and Burto collection were complemented by related works from the collections of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler gallery. Ranging in date from the 7th through the 19th century, the works on view illustrated the intimate relationships between calligraphy, painting, and faith transmission within the Japanese Buddhist tradition. Translations of selected texts were provided.
The exhibition was generously supported by Takashi, Koichi, and Koji Yanagi; the Feinberg Foundation; Mitsuru Tajima; and James Freeman, with additional funding from the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
View the Faith & Form interactive
Guardians of the Law: Chinese Luohan Paintings
Originating in India, the concept of "Luohan"enlightened beings exempted by the great Buddha from the cycle of rebirth in order to act as guardians of the lawbecame a part of Buddhist cultic worship in China, where a small number of monks who were considered to have realized enlightenment, were selected to be luohans. Believed to possess three kinds of insight, six kinds of transcendent knowledge and immeasurable merits and virtues, the number of luohans varied over time, increasing from 16 to 500. The earliest Chinese representations of luohans can be traced to the 4th century, but it was not until after the 8th century that sinicized dragon subduing, tiger taming, or sea crossing luohans evolved, forming a new group known as the Eighteen Luohans. Over time, depictions of Luohans evolved from individualized to more formalized portraits.
Arranged in chronological order, this exhibition presented 22, late 12th to 18th century works as well as an 8th century Tang ewer and described major trends in the evolution of luohan paintings as executed by both regional or court professionals and followers of literati traditions. The exhibition also included a discussion of current scholarship about the Eighteen Luohans.
Mr. Whistler's Galleries: Avant-Garde in Victorian London
During his lifetime, the artist James McNeill Whistler (18341903) was as renowned for his radically spare, avant-garde exhibition designs and flamboyant, self-promotional personality as for his artwork. The Freer Gallery of Artrepository of the most important collections of Whistler's work in the worldjoined with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond to commemorate the centenary of the artist's death with a major exhibition at the Smithsonian that featured a broad selection of his prints and paintings.
The exhibit created new versions of "Arrangement in White and Yellow," and "Arrangement in Flesh Colour and Grey," two of Whistler's most famous and influential installations and examined his role in the forefront of exhibition design.
Both installations were controversial and radically innovative because they challenged long-standing assumptions about the display of art. Featuring identically framed artworks that were hung widely apart on plain, lightly colored walls in moderately sized but elegantly appointed rooms at a time when exhibitions routinely displayed artwork from floor to ceiling with no space between frames, Whistler's installations paved the way for the spare exhibitions that have become the norm.
View the Whistler online exhibition.
Perspectives: Yayoi Kusama
The Sackler gallery inaugurated its five-year program of contemporary installations with two works by the renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who has been described as having set the stage for Post-Minimalism and feminist art. Ranging from elegant minimalist works to surreal installations featuring upholstered fetishistic objects and light bulbs, Kusama's work defies neat labeling. Her focus on repetitionthe public expression of a lifetime of hysterically obsessive hallucinationswas highlighted at the Sackler in her Dots Obsession (1999), a buoyant installation composed of six giant white balloons that were covered with the artist's signature red polka dots, which themselves appeared to proliferate as they spilled over onto the physical surface of the Pavilion. The balloons hovered playfully from the lofty Pavilion ceiling above a second work titled Infinity Mirrored Room Love Forever (1996), a hexagonal, mirrored box with an opening into a kaleidoscopic vision of balls and light.
Kusama's installation created a powerful visual experience by dissolving the Pavilion's surface into pattern and drawing the viewer into her seductive yet unsettling world.
Love and Yearning: Mystical and Moral Themes in Persian Poetry and Painting
This exhibition featured twenty-six of the finest illustrated manuscripts relating to Persian lyrical poetry highlighting the union of word and image. "Love and Yearning: Mystical and Moral Themes in Persian Poetry and Painting" contained works drawn from the Sackler and neighboring Freer galleries' renowned permanent holdings and loans from several private collections and from the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. These works demonstrate how 15th- to 17th-century artists transformed the rich imagery of mystical concepts found in Persian lyrical poetry into stylized, meticulously detailed and colorful images.
Lyrical texts describing the epic love stories of the prophet Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaykha, Khusraw and Shirin and the crazed lover Majnun and Layli were produced on a more personal and intimate scale than manuscripts devoted to historical, scientific, or epic themes. Although small in size and few in number, the paintings accompanying lyrical texts were intricate and included repeated recognizable compositions and stock figures that became as familiar to the viewer as the verses themselves.
Manuscripts that were on view included pages from Nizami's (11451207) Khamsa (Quintet), Jami's (d. 1492) Haft Awrang (Seven Thrones), as well as the Bustan (Orchard) and the Gulistan (Rose garden) by Sa'di (d. 1492). Two rarely-seen textile fragments illustrated how narrative scenes were also adapted to other media.
The exhibition included an interactive station with a touch screen where visitors can view all 28 minutely detailed illustrations of the Freer's Haft Awrang in depth. An audio feature described the production of the manuscript, its patron and artists.
The exhibition and related programs were made possible by a generous grant from the Roshan Cultural Heritage Institute.
Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure
Many of the world's finest examples of Himalayan art were on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in an exhibition that surveyed the remarkable range of sacred objects produced in this vast mountain region. "Himalayas: An Aesthetic Adventure"based on an exhibition first seen at the Art Institute of Chicagofeatured 163 Buddhist, Hindu and Bon paintings and sculptures created between the 7th and the 19th centuries. Focusing on aesthetic excellence, the exhibition invited visitors to experience an artistic trek through this fascinating region, in which religions and cultures intermingled in unique ways.
Works on view were created in an astonishingly large variety of media, scale and color, ranging from a tiny, rare and exquisite ivory of the fasting Buddha to a life-size portrait of a Nepalese king as a multiarmed, cosmic deity. Other objects on view included intricately detailed manuscript illuminations on palm leaf, paper and wood, and brightly colored thangkas (cloth paintings) depicting mandalas, deities and teachers. Benign and terrifying stone, wood and bronze images of deities, many embellished with gemstones, gilding and paint were also on view. View exhibition highlights.
Tales and Legends in Japanese Art
Enduring and familiar tales based on court literature and poetry, religious teachings, historical events and legends from both Japan and China were popular subjects for Japanese artists. Paintings appeared in a variety of formats from folding screens and hanging scrolls, which could be appreciated by a group of guests, to albums and handscrolls that were reserved for private enjoyment. Fans, boxes and trays were also decorated with these familiar scenes. Between June 21 and January 4, 2004, the Freer Gallery of Art exhibited 38 outstanding examples of this pictorial narrative Japanese art dating from the 13th to 19th centuries.
Tea Utensils Under Wraps
Some particularly significant and decorative storage solutions were on display together with their contents in this small exhibit at the Freer Gallery of Art. Storage boxes are typically made to measure from lightweight and fire-resistant paulownia wood. Not surprisingly, the box lid usually bears handwritten documentation of the object within. This may, however, also include information about the identity of previous owners, many of whom commissioned box inscriptions from tea masters or other professional connoisseurs.
"In Japan," says curator Louise Cort, "the tea utensil is the core of a much larger package of bags, boxes and wrappers that protect it but also define its identity and significance. Especially old and important objects may rest within several concentric boxes provided by successive owners. The variety and quality of the packaging materials reflect the status of the utensils within and the personal tastes of their owners, constituting a sort of material manifestation of the utensil histories."
In Pursuit of Heavenly Harmony: Paintings and Calligraphy by Bada Shanren
In 1998, the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art acquired a large number of paintings and works of calligraphy by Chinese artist Bada Shanren (16261705)one of the most renowned and influential individualist painters and calligraphers of the early Qing dynasty (16441912). "In Pursuit of Heavenly Harmony: Paintings and Calligraphy by Bada Shanren (16261705) from the Bequest of Wang Fangyu and Sum Wai," was on view at the gallery from April 26 to Oct. 12, and presented all 33 of these works, which were obtained through a bequest and purchase from the estate of Fred Fangyu Wang (Wang Fangyu 19131997) and his wife, Sum Wai (19181996).
A professor of Chinese language at Yale University, Wang was one of the most prominent modern Bada Shanren scholars. Together with his wife, Wang assembled the largest and most important private collection of Bada's works in the world. Included in this exhibition are paintings from the core of Professor Wang's collection representing various stages of the artist's life.
Bada Shanren, whose true name is unknown, was born in 1626 to a branch of the Ming dynasty (13681644) imperial family renowned for its artistic talent. Bada began writing poetry at an early age and showed early promise as a calligrapher and painter. After the fall of the Ming dynasty however, he sought refuge and anonymity as a Buddhist monk, eventually rising to the post of abbot. Bada suffered an apparent mental breakdown in the late 1670s and left the priesthood, becoming a professional painter and adopting the pseudonym "Bada Shanren." In the early 1700s, though continuing to paint, Bada became a hermit, seeking solitude and harmony with the natural order ordained by heaven.
Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese Ceramics
In the turbulent world of early postwar Japan, the Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi (19041988) joined Japanese ceramic artists, both traditional and avant-garde, in exploring issues of personal and national identity through the medium of clay. Internationally recognized for his sculpture, furniture, and public installations, Noguchi created ceramics only during three short sojourns in Japan. These were creative, intense periods during which he explored his roots and interacted with a surprisingly diverse range of artists, influencing and being influenced by them. This first major museum presentation of Noguchi's ceramics brought together thirty-eight of his works with thirty-six works by nine leading Japanese artists, including Kitaoji Rosanjin (18831959) and Yagi Kazuo (19181979).
In 1931 Noguchi cast clay sculpture in a Kyoto potter's studio while discovering ancient tomb sculpture and probing his relationship to Japan. Later he wrote of this experience as "my close embrace of the earth . . . a seeking after identity with some primal matter beyond personalities and possessions." He returned to Japan in 1950 as a well-known figure in the international art world, and the ceramics that he prepared for an exhibition in Tokyo reflect the formal concerns of his modernist sculpture and furniture designs. They startled Japanese viewers by their fundamental departure from concepts of ceramics as vessel forms.
Noguchi turned to ceramics for the last time in 1952 while living in Rosanjin's rural compound. He adopted the materials used by Rosanjin and two potters later designated Living National Treasures, Kaneshige Toyo (18961967) and Arakawa Toyozo (18941985), who breathed new life into the time-honored clays and glazes of Japan's regional kilns. These artists were committed to transmitting styles of classic tableware and tea utensils. Noguchi's output ranged from intimate clay sketches to large sculptures, including some designed to serve as containers for the experimental flower installations of avant-garde ikebana masters.
Like Noguchi, sculptors Okamoto Taro (19111996) and Tsuji Shindo (19101981) drew inspiration from the dynamic clay forms of Japanese prehistory. But several young Kyoto potters, led by Yagi, turned away from tradition toward the imagery of Picasso, Klee, Miro and Noguchi. Forming a group called Sodeisha (Crawling through Mud Association), they invented clay "objets" removed from function. Their daring work established a major new direction for Japanese ceramics.
Chinese Buddhist Art in a New Light
As a result of new research, several stunning sculptures were displayed for the first time, including some dated after the Tang dynasty (618907) and represent the fascinating, but often neglected period of later Chinese Buddhist art.
The Freer's collection of Chinese Buddhist sculpturearguably one of the best in the Western worldwas for the most part acquired during the first half of the 20th century when China's depressed economy fed the antiquities trade. Collectors were able to buy stellar Chinese artifacts that were hitherto little known in the West. But many of these sculptures were removed from Buddhist religious sites without proper documentation as to their provenance within China. Furthermore some sculptures were altered before sale by re-cutting of details or by cleaning, which removed their brightly painted or gilded surface decoration. Worst of all, the marketability of Chinese Buddhist sculptures led to the development of a lively trade in forgeries, a few of which were of such high quality that they entered major collections including those at the Freer. Objects on view included:
• two stelae, both originally dated to the Northern Qi dynasty (550577), one of which is now considered to be genuine and the other fake
• two unusual four-sided miniature marble stelae from the Six Dynasties Period (220589)
• a gilt image of a standing Buddha, originally thought to be from the Six Dynasties Period but now considered to be fake
• an ivory statue of the figure of Guanyin in the guise of Buddha holding a sacred jewel with a spurious inscription of 1025, now re-dated to the Ming to Qing dynasty (17th18th century).
Whistler in Venice: The Pastels
When expatriate American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) went to Venice in 1879, he only intended to stay a short time in order to complete a commission for 12 etchings. Whistler fell in love with the city—especially its backwater canals and decaying palazzos—and stayed for 14 months. There he created, among other things, a large number of pastels, some of which are housed at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art—home to the most comprehensive collection of works by Whistler in the world.
Whistler in Venice is the first of three separate Whistler exhibitions to be held at the Freer during the year 2003, which marks the centennial of the artist's death. The show highlights 14 unusually beautiful and rare examples of these works, along with etchings and a watercolor.
Whistler preferred to work outdoors but the unusually cold winter of 1880 made holding an etching needle or painting en plein aire with oils or watercolors impractical. Pastels, however, were an ideal medium. Whistler completed 90 pastels while in Venice, describing them in a letter to his dealer as being "totally new and of a brilliancy very different from the customary watercolor."
Palaces and Pavilions: Grand Architecture in Chinese Painting
Despite its imposing quality and intricate detail, grand architecture is seldom the primary subject of Chinese painting and often serves merely as a decorative backdrop to human events and activities. The twenty-six paintings in this exhibition revolve around three broad themes in which large, formal buildings play such a role: historical palaces and the daily lives of palace women, palaces in paradise and other imaginary dwellings of deities and immortals, and elegant pavilions erected by public officials or wealthy individuals and often commemorated in famous works of literature.
Over the centuries, a range of painting styles evolved to depict architecture. The meticulous blue-and-green style of landscape painting that originated during the late seventh century frequently incorporated architectural elements. However, it was only during the tenth and eleventh centuries that architecture itself emerged as a distinct genre of painting. In the eleventh century, scholar-artists began to employ the baimiao (plain outline) method, which involved detailed line drawing done in monochrome ink, and during the subsequent Southern Song (1127–1279) and Yuan (1279–1368) dynasties, another, more precise form of ink painting called jiehua(ruled line) developed that required the use of a straightedge and was the only traditional, nonfreehand style of painting.
This period marked the first great efflorescence of Chinese architectural painting and set the standard for centuries to come, with many later works claiming to preserve the appearance of lost originals from the Song and Yuan dynasties. All three major styles are represented in the exhibition. Several original works from the period are included, while many of the blue-and-green paintings are copies associated with Qiu Ying (ca. 1494–1552), one of China's most technically accomplished painters.
The Sensuous and the Sacred: Chola Bronzes from South India
Among the most spectacular works of Indian sculptural art are the templebronzes cast a thousand years ago in the Tamil-speaking region of southIndia during the Chola dynasty. The Hindu god Shiva Nataraja (Lord ofthe Dance) embodies the Chola aesthetic. Gracefully poised upon the demonof ignorance, his supple limbs engaged in the dance of cosmic creationand destruction, Shiva is the luminous embodiment of transcendent power.
Shiva Nataraja was the family deity of the Chola dynasty, the dominant cultural, artistic, religious, and political force in south India for a period of four hundred years from the ninth to the thirteenth century. The Chola kings and queens consolidated their power and proclaimed their piety by dedicating majestic temples and commissioning superb bronzes. The regal poise of Shiva's consort, Uma, and the impish charm of the elephant-headed Ganesha exemplify the graceful movement, supple modeling, and variety of Chola bronzes. Each bronze is a unique piece, sculpted first in wax and then cast in the lost-wax process, in which molten metal is poured into a hand-fashioned clay mold that must be broken apart to yield the final bronze.
Chola bronzes mark not only an aesthetic triumph but also a dramatic shift within Hindu temple practice. While every Hindu temple has at its center an immovable image of the main deity, portable bronzes were ritually enlivened by priests and then paraded out of the inner sanctums to meet and grace devotees. Chola audiences encountered these deities opulently draped in silks, jewels, and fragrant garlands, borne upon palanquins, and amid the clamor of drums and chanting. To evoke this multisensory ritual context, the exhibition includes a Shiva Nataraja draped in silk, displays of gem-encrusted gold jewelry, recordings of south Indian classical music, and verses from the Tamil poet-saints that speak of the wondrous beauty of the gods.
The Sensuous and the Sacred brings together sixty bronzes from national and European collections. It is the first exhibition in the United States devoted solely to the art of the Chola bronze. View the Chola Bronze online exhibition.
Masterful Illusions: Japanese Prints from the Anne van Biema collection
Prints were among the first of the Japanese arts to become widely appreciated outside Japan. Colorful woodblock prints of actors, courtesans, warriors, landscapes, and natural and supernatural subjects that had previously circulated in the urban Japanese marketplaces of the Edo period (1615–1868) were discovered by European and American collectors beginning in the nineteenth century. Masterful Illusions presented, in two parts, 138 prints from the collection of more than three hundred formed over a period of more than thirty years by Anne van Biema. The prints reveal her fascination with legend and imagination as expressed in Japanese prints through the combined skills of artists, block engravers, and printers who worked under the direction of publishers.
Dreams, ghosts, heroes, and villains appear in compelling images drawn from popular tales, legends, history, and theater. Lyrical and poetic themes provide a contrasting tone of elegance and aesthetic subtlety. Kabuki actors, the stars of the urban "floating world" of Edo Japan, are a focus of the collection. The brilliant skills and versatility of master actors presented audiences in Edo, Osaka, and Kyoto with exciting and visually dazzling entertainment that drove a constant demand during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for prints of popular actors in current performances.
Lavish costume, stylized makeup, elaborate wigs, and onstage transformations enhanced the illusions created by kabuki actors, who competed for audience acclaim through their creative interpretations of varied roles. Masterful Illusionswas the first exhibition of the Japanese print collection of Anne van Biema, who has promised her collection as a future gift to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and who has generously supported research and publication of the catalogue.
In the last twenty years of his life, the expatriate American artist James McNeill Whistler (1834–1903) produced more than one hundred prints, pastel drawings, and paintings of scantily clad or nude female models. Early collectors of Whistler's work, including Charles Lang Freer (1854–1919), believed these images ranked among the artist's greatest accomplishments, but they have received little critical attention. Whistler's Nudes brings together twenty-five of the most important of the late nudes in order to explore some of the meanings they carried for Whistler and his contemporaries.
The vast majority of Whistler's nudes were created either in the early 1870s, when the artist was attempting to remake himself as a painter of complex figurative compositions, or between 1884 and his death in 1903. Almost all of the nudes from the 1870s are preparatory studies in pastel or chalk for planned but never completed oil paintings of clothed female figures. Whistler's Nudes includes several of these elegant drawings but focuses on late nudes, which Whistler thought of as finished works of art.
Most of the late nudes are pastels or lithographs, although Whistler completed several related oil paintings, including the eerily beautiful Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Little Blue Girl (1894)—one of the highlights of the exhibition. Some of the late nudes are realistic scenes of models at rest in the studio, while others are exceptionally airy drawings of lightly draped models in motion. As a group, the late nudes are strikingly sketchy and abstract, testing Whistler's ability to represent his subject with an extreme economy of line, shape, and sometimes color. Many are freighted with symbolic overtones, hinting at the artist's aesthetic faith that the creation of beauty should be the sole goal of art.
Kenro Izu: Sacred Sites Along the Silk Road
Japanese-born New York photographer Kenro Izu is best known for his photographs of the ancient Buddhist temples at Angkor, Cambodia, his still-life images of decaying flowers and sensuous nudes. This exhibition of approximately 27 large format platinum prints focused on sacred sites in western China, Ladakh, and Tibet. Located along the historic silk trading road, the subjects include monasteries, royal tombs, ancient cities and small personal shrines set amid the immense grandeur of the Himalayas or vast and desolate deserts. Reaching beyond the purely documentary, Izu's 14- by 20-inch prints are both starkly clear and evocatively dreamlike. Emphasizing both beauty and decay, these photographs serve as commentaries on the passage of time as they picture a range of Buddhist achievements and expressions that spread across the Asian landscape. View Kenro Izu's photographs on the Silk Road interactive.
The Potter's Brush: The Kenzan Style in Japanese Ceramics
The Kyoto ceramic artist Ogata Kenzan (16631743) treated the ceramic surface like a painting, using it to express visual themes alluding to Japanese literary traditions. Kenzan's distinctive decorative style has influenced Japanese ceramics profoundly ever since. The proliferation of works in the Kenzan style has posed a challenge to traditional methods of distinguishing between the authentic and the fake. This exhibition approached the phenomenon known as the Kenzan style by differentiating more precisely between Kenzan's own imitators, and even forgers. The exhibition was based on the one hundred signed Kenzan works in the Freer collection, the largest group of Kenzan wares to be found outside Japan. View the Potter's Brush online exhibition.
The Adventures of Hamza
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery was hometo a major exhibition of Mughal arts of the book. The Adventures of Hamza, on view from June 26 to Sept. 29, presented 61 folios from a vividly illustrated, action-filled adventure, commissioned by the teen-age- Emperor Akbar (r. 1556–1605) in India. Begun around 1557 and completed 15 years later, the Hamzanama (Story of Hamza) is one of the most unusual and important manuscripts made during the Mughal dynasty (15261858) and represents a crucial turning point in the development of Indian painting.This exhibition for the first time brought together some of the finest paintings of the Hamzanama drawn from more than 20 collections throughout the world. These include a core group of 28 paintings from the MAK-Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, Vienna, the principal lender to the exhibition, whose superb holdings have never been exhibited in the United States.
This exhibition was made possible by generous grants from Juliet and Lee Folger/The Folger Fund and The Starr Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, and the Else Sackler Public Affairs Endowment of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. This exhibition was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. View the Hamza online exhibition.
Year of the Horse: Chinese Horse Paintings
Dating from as early as 1000 B.C.E., the traditional Chinese method of counting years is based on the sixty-year rotation of the planet Jupiter (known as the "year star") around the sun. Every sixty-year period is divided into five cycles of twelve years, and each of the twelve years is associated with a particular animal. In general, each year contains twelve lunar months of twenty-eight or twenty-nine days, with occasional adjustments.
Accordingly, Chinese years vary in length and do not begin or end at the same time as Western years. The current Year of the Horse lasts from February 12, 2002 to January 31, 2003.
According to recent archaeological discoveries, the character for "horse" (ma) appears in the most ancient form of Chinese writing, which dates from the fourteenth to eleventh century B.C.E., while surviving painted images of horses date from around the fourth century B.C.E. The species of horse native to China were not as large or strong as those from Central Asia, especially the highly coveted "heavenly horses" (tianma) from the Central Asian kingdom of Ferghana, which traders began to import during the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.–220 C.E.).
However, it was not until the Tang dynasty (618–907) that the horse emerged as a prominent independent category in the Chinese painting tradition. Subsequently, the horse became a recurring theme, especially in depictions of travel, trade, hunting, and military exercises and in genre paintings showing the nomadic tribes that lived to the north and west of China.
In the exhibition Year of the Horse: Chinese Horse Paintings, nineteen works of horse paintings and calligraphy, dating from the eleventh to twentieth century, depict several major themes, such as hunting, grooms and horses, and Central Asian nomads and horses.
The Cave as Canvas: Hidden Images of Worship Along the Silk Road
To coincide with the latter part of the Silk Road Festival in Washington, DC during the summer of 2002, the Sackler Gallery presented an exhibition of Central Asian Buddhist murals. This exhibition presented a group of fifteen 5th-century wall-painting fragments from the great Buddhist cave site of Qizil (also spelled Kizil) in what is now the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. These intriguing and rarely seen examples of Buddhist mural painting are used to examine the religious meaning and function of a typical Chinese Central Asian Buddhist cave.
The exhibition also explored the interdependent nature of the art and architectural design of these lavishly decorated cave temples. Adopted from India, the practice of excavating Buddhist caves dates back in this region to at least the third century AD. Rock cut cave temples represent one of the largest groups of monuments from medieval Chinese Central Asia. View Cave as Canvas online gallery guide and Silk Road interactive.
Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing
Although Xu Bing is recognized by Chinese artists and the international scholarly community as one of the most important Chinese artists to emerge during the last 25 years, there has been no major exhibition of his work since 1991. A self-imposed exile, Xu Bing was a leader in the avant-garde movement that emerged in China between the end of the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Xu Bing's seminal, best known piece, A Book from the Sky(Tianshu ) on view here, includes books and scrolls wall posters printed using two thousand unreadable imitation "Chinese characters" that were invented by the artist to express humankind's struggle with communication. Three other works, Square Word Calligraphy,The New English Calligraphy and A,B,C demystify the art of calligraphy and several new works including large landscripts (calligraphic landscapes) address issues of communication while also offering visitors the opportunity to experiment with Chinese calligraphic tools. View the Word Play online exhibition.
Visual Poetry: Paintings and Drawings from Iran
In the first exhibition of its kind, 32 exquisite single folios of painting, drawing and poetry from 16th- and 17th-century Iran intended for assembly into albums were on view at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from December 16, 2001 through May 5, 2002. Visual Poetry: Paintings and Drawings from Iran included seven works by Riza Abbasi (ca. 1585–1635), one of the most celebrated Persian artists, particularly known for his innovative single-sheet compositions. Also on view were works by the notable 16th-century painter Aqa Mirak and Ali Riza Abbasi, the favorite court calligrapher of Shah Abbas I ( r. 1587–1629).
In Iran, illustrations have been an integral part of secular manuscripts since the early 13th century. By the late 15th century, Persian artists also created independent drawings and paintings, a genre that reached its apogee during the reign of the Safavid dynasty (1502–1722). Some of the folios comprised artful assemblages of paintings, drawings, and poetry, while others focused exclusively on one or the other medium. Although no longer illustrating a specific text, single-page compositions still maintained their literary link. They were collected in elegant albums, and many depicted idealized single figures, inspired directly or indirectly by poetic conventions and imagery, such as the beautiful beloved, the yearning lover, or the wise old shaykh or scholar. Further enriched by Sufism (Islamic mysticism), the compositions lent themselves to a variety of interpretations. Much like the poems of Rumi (d. 1273), or Hafiz (d. 1390), they could be viewed as evocations of earthly or spiritual yearning, or as metaphors for human or divine beauty. Instead of words, artists now used line and color to create visual poems, implying a range of meanings. The new format also encouraged artists to experiment with the genre of portraiture in the later 17th-century and integrate it within the repertoire of single-page compositions.
The exhibition is primarily drawn from the permanent holdings of the Sackler Gallery and the Art and History Trust collection (on long-term loan to the gallery) which include some of the finest single-page compositions ever produced in Iran. It highlights some of the salient characteristics of an artform that became a formal and thematic alternative to the manuscript illustrations after the 16th-century in Iran and the rest of the Islamic world. View Visual Poetry online gallery guide.
Current ExhibitionsThe Peacock Room Comes to America: Exhibiting Freer’s Bibles
Through February 16, 2014
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Future ExhibitionsIn Focus: Ara Güler's Anatolia
Opens December 14
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