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Ceramics Galore: A Comparison of Three Asian Clay Traditions
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Ceramics Galore: A Comparison of Three Asian Clay Traditions

Eighty-four diverse and visually striking ceramic vessels from ancient and Islamic Iran and the Khmer Empire (802-1431) will be on view at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) from Oct. 29 through April 22, 2001 in a new exhibition, titled "Asian Traditions in Clay: The Hauge Gifts."

Given to the Sackler between 1996 and 1998 by private collectors, Osborne and Gratia Hauge and Victor and Takako Hauge, these objects provide the focus for a detailed comparison of the ceramic traditions of ancient and Islamic Iran and the Khmer empire. Visitors are invited to admire the sheer beauty of the multiple forms and styles of ceramics that are on view. They will be able to explore the distinctive regional characteristics, including firing and glazing technologies employed by potters working in these different areas, as well as learn about the various ways in which these objects were used.

"The Hauges formed the major portion of these collections during the 1960s and early 1970s-a fortunate period, since Iran and Cambodia became almost completely inaccessible to scholars and travelers from the United States until the gradual reopening of these regions during the past few years," says Milo Beach, director of the Sackler Gallery and the neighboring Freer Gallery of Art.

Included in the Hauge gift is an array of domestic and utilitarian objects including jars, jugs, ewers, bowls, bottles, boxes, basins, vases, sieves, cups and mortars. Ranging in date from the fifth millennium B.C. to the early 20th century, many of the works, like the beautiful burnished beak-spouted jar featured on the cover of the exhibition catalog, resemble contemporary works of art.

These objects "reflect a universal human instinct to transform a simple material such as clay into something that is beautiful both to look at and to hold," says curator Ann Gunter. "With examples spanning nearly 6,000 years of ceramic production in Iran, the Hauges' collection richly documents the region's major ceramic traditions together with its distinctive repertory of shapes and forms of decoration."

Objects on view from ancient Iran include a painted ceramic jar from the fifth to fourth millennium B.C., and a small earthenware cup dated 800-600 B.C. that bears a striking resemblance to a modern-day mug. Jars painted with geometric decoration from the late Bronze Age (2400-1350 B.C.) represent important styles from western and southwestern Iran.

A turquoise, gilded 14th-century eight-pointed tile from Iran -known to have formed a part of a larger architectural frieze in the northwestern palace at Takht-i-Sulayman-and a ninth-10th century glazed earthenware painted bowl-prominently featuring the potter's signature in a central cobalt blue inscription-are two objects that "reflect the human impulse to add color to objects used within a largely arid environment," says curator Massumeh Farhad. "This overwhelming impulse to color and decorate surfaces is one of the distinguishing features of ceramics from the Islamic world and has remained its most enduring and recognizable characteristic." Both ancient Iranian and later Islamic ceramics drew inspiration from metalwork, often translating their form and metallic sheen onto the medium of clay.

An array of glazed stoneware ceramics produced for the elite stratum of society of the Khmer Empire (eighth - 14th centuries) centered in Angkor in the area that is now northwest Cambodia completes the exhibition. Included are examples of the baluster-form jars, ash-glazed covered boxes and anthropomorphic bottles that are associated with this culture. Several whimsically attractive, palm-sized zoomorphic lime paste jars are also on view. Shaped in the form of a lion, bird, frog or rabbit, these Khmer jars were used to store an ingredient for a digestive stimulant and correspond to uniquely Khmer forms in precious metals or bronze.

"Khmer stoneware ceramics show a preference for stately architectural forms," observes curator Louise Allison Cort. "But the repertory of Khmer glazed stoneware gives us access to the makers and consumers of such wares in the Angkorean period in a way that the famed stone monuments of Angkor cannot."

Public events
A program of lectures presenting new research on ancient and Islamic Iranian and Cambodian ceramic traditions will be held in the Freer Gallery's Meyer Auditorium on Saturday Nov. 4, from 1 to 5 p.m. The speakers are St. John Simpson, department of western Asiatic antiquities, the British Museum; Hellen Philon, an independent scholar; and Sugiyama Hiroshi of the Nara National Cultural Properties Research Institute University. The program discussant is Professor Rita Wright, department of anthropology, New York University. The lectures are funded by the John A. Pope Memorial Lecture Fund.

Funding for the accompanying 160-page color-illustrated catalog was provided by the Freer and Sackler galleries' Publications Endowment Fund, initially established with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and generous contributions from private donors.

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call 202.357.2700 or TTY 202.357.1729, or visit the galleries' Web site at

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