Avalokitésvara. Chinese, Northern Zhou Dynasty to Sui Dynasty, Northern Zhou dynasty (557-581) to Sui dynasty (581-618). Carved limestone. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Gift of T.T. & W.F. Chao Global Foundation in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Ting Tsung Chao, with additional funds provided by the Director´s Accessions Fund.
Installation Features Gunpowder Drawing by Artist Cai Guo-Qiang, Newly Created in Houston for the Gallery
Media Preview: Wednesday, October 13, 11 am — 12:30 pm
The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery will open to the public on Sunday, October 17, providing a permanent space of three adjoining rooms to showcase the museum´s growing collection of Chinese artwork. Stunning examples of ancient and contemporary art will be displayed side by side in an innovative juxtaposition. Objects in the gallery will range from Zhou and Shang bronze ware, ceramics, and painting and calligraphy to video and installation pieces.
This gallery will also feature the first of four permanent, site-specific works for the Asian galleries by major contemporary artists. A monumental landscape by Cai Guo-Qiang, created in Houston just prior to the gallery´s opening, will line the walls of the largest of the three rooms. The design and materials in the gallery were chosen to reflect a distinctively Chinese aesthetic. To direct people to the new gallery during opening week, a banner will hang in Cullinan Hall featuring a calligraphic depiction of the character guan, meaning "to view," created by calligrapher and professor of Chinese art at Boston University, Bai Qianshen.
Before the public opening, a media preview will take place on Wednesday, October 13 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. MFAH Asian art curator Christine Starkman will lead a walkthrough; Cai will be available to speak to reporters about his commission; and Chinese guzheng performer and composer Wang Changyuan will play the zither. To RSVP for the preview, please email MFAH Communications and Marketing coordinator Lisa Sursavage, LSursavage@mfah.org.
"Because of the generous support from Houston´s Asian communities, the museum´s initiative to expand its presentation of Asian art is gradually being realized," said MFAH director Peter Marzio. "This gallery, showcasing the rich heritage of China, features the museum´s first-rate collection of bronze vessels, statues, calligraphy and painting, all of which will be given a fresh and immediate context by the unique installation created by Cai Guo-Qiang, one of the foremost artists of our time."
"Cai´s project combines the mythic and modern aspects of China, creating a delicate balance between past, present and future," added Christine Starkman, MFAH curator of Asian art. "It will be an imaginative and beautiful setting for artworks in the gallery, which also layer ancient tradition with contemporary China to achieve a timeless quality."
Artwork on View
At the entrance to the gallery a 20th-century painting by Wu Changshi (1844-1927), Flowering Vine (undated), will be paired with four hanging scrolls by the 16th century artist Wen Zhengming (1470-1559). Wu was trained as a calligrapher but after age 50 turned to painting, after he met a painter who admired his calligraphic stroke and encouraged him to paint. Flowering Vine is an important work that shows the artist´s talent at the height of his painting career. Wen Zhengming was regarded as one of the Suzhou area´s leading painters, and was also a great calligrapher, poet, and painter. He and his teacher Shen Zhou (1427—1509) founded the Wu school of literati painting. Flowering Vine and the set of four calligraphy scrolls are on long-term loan to the museum from the Richard Fabian Collection. A full-scale exhibition of the Fabian collection will be mounted at a later date. A large bronze Ritual Vessel (Ding) (Eastern Zhou Dynasty, early 5th century B.C.), used to heat and serve meat during ritual feasts and royal banquets, will be placed at the end of the hall before one enters the main room.
This entry room opens into the largest of the three Arts of China gallery spaces, where Cai Guo-Qiang´s commission, his first permanent, site-specific installation in a U.S. museum, will line the walls. Spanning 42 panels totaling 10 by 162 feet, the work will be created the week before the gallery´s opening in a Houston warehouse, first sketched, then layered with gunpowder and finally, ignited. The finished piece, Odyssey, will depict a mountain in the northwest corner and mist-enshrouded flora and fauna wrapping around the rest of the room, culminating in a Chinese garden in the southeast corner. According to Cai, Odyssey is intended to embody the tranquility of a literati painting, so as to best showcase the objects displayed on pedestals within the space.
Placed in the gallery, surrounded by Odyssey, will be a carved limestone Avalokitesvara (Northern Zhou dynasty (557-581) to Sui dynasty (581-618)), standing just over two feet tall and portraying a bodhisattva or enlightened being. The figure wears stylized draped garments associated with the Northern Wei period, but his heavy-lidded eyes and high nose are typically associated with Indian and Central Asian depictions, thus synthesizing foreign and Chinese styles and representing cultural exchange. A painted earthenware Figure of a Courtesan (Tang dynasty, 618-906), standing just under two feet high, depicts a woman of the emperor´s court who represents the ideal feminine beauty of her day. Two beautiful bronzes will stand with the two sculptures: a beaker from the 12th century used to offer wine to the spirits, and a 13th century B.C. tripod.
In addition to Odyssey, two more contemporary works will be on view at any given time (as the contemporary works will be displayed on a rotating basis). At the gallery´s opening, four books from Xu Bing´s (b. 1955) Books from the Sky (1987-1991) series will be prominently displayed with the sculptures and bronzes. A contemporary artist who was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Award, Xu focuses on language and meaning. Trained as a printmaker during the revolution, Xu saw the Chinese writing system change throughout his life (from a time when traditional characters were the standard to the rise of simplified Chinese). To create Book from the Sky the artist spent three years carving thousands of characters— but each with strokes missing and thus rendered illegible and meaningless.
Yang Fudong (b. 1971) questions the status and role of young intellectuals in China today through a reinterpretation of an ancient story: a group of 3rd-century Daoist Chinese scholars and poets withdraw from society to write, make music, admire nature and drink wine. Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, Part 1 (2003) will screen on a continuous loop in the third gallery room, portraying seven 21-year-old intellectuals exploring Huangshan, a sacred mountain in China. The mountainous landscape in the video will complement Cai´s gunpowder drawing landscape in the adjoining room. To learn more about the video, visit http://www.mariangoodman.com/artists/yang-fudong/ or http://www.yangfudong.com/artwork/newfilm.htm.
Two more artworks will be on view in the room with the Yang Fudong video. Cizhou Wine Jar Painted with Birds and Bamboo, a stoneware piece from the Yuan Dynasty (1297-1368), adorned with a bamboo and magpie motif, will be paired with a Scholar´s table screen (Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th century), a double-sided steatite table screen enclosed in a Qing dynasty (1644-1912 CE) red sandalwood frame. The screen is carved with elaborate scenes, depicting a mythical beast called a qilin on one side and courtiers and officials engaged in scholarly pursuits as they relax in an idyllic garden.
Interpretive Materials and Education
An interactive touch screen will be installed in the gallery, featuring maps, timelines and information about the individual objects in the gallery, as well as material concerning important themes in Chinese art such as Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, painting and calligraphy, and the tradition of the intellectual in Chinese society. The screen will also feature a short video with commentary by MFAH director Peter Marzio and MFAH Asian art curator Christine Starkman, providing context for the juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary works of art and showing the creation of Cai Guo-Qiang´s Odyssey.
Education is an integral and crucial component of the new gallery and this emphasis will help introduce Chinese art and culture to new audiences, promoting cultural understanding among visitors of diverse backgrounds. It will also provide Chinese American visitors with a strong sense of cultural heritage. A variety of public programs will be offered annually in relation to the gallery, from drop-in art workshops for families and story-time tours for children to lectures by visiting scholars and workshops for teachers.
Arts of Asia at the MFAH
The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China gallery installation follows the Arts of Korea, Indonesian Gold, and the Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India gallery openings in December 2007, December 2008, and May 2009 respectively, with the final Arts of Japan gallery planned for late 2011.
Partners and Funding
The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery is made possible by the Chao family with additional support from John and Diane Riley, Friends of Asian Art 2010, and WA Development/Warehouse Associates.
MFAH Collections and Campus
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is the largest art museum in America south of Chicago, west of Washington, D.C., and east of Los Angeles. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers nearly 63,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. Featured are the finest artistic examples of the major civilizations of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Italian Renaissance paintings, French Impressionist works, photographs, American and European decorative arts, African and Pre-Columbian gold, American art, and European and American paintings and sculpture from post-1945 are particularly strong holdings. The MFAH collections are presented in six locations that make up the institutional complex. Together, these facilities provide a total of 300,000 square feet of space dedicated to the display of art. The MFAH comprises two major museum buildings, the Caroline Wiess Law Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe, and the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo; the Glassell School of Art; two house museums, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens features American works, and Rienzi features European works; and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, created by Isamu Noguchi.
For museum information, the public can call 713-639-7300, or visit www.mfah.org.