Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Silk Road Luxuries from China

FREER SACKLER, The Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art
Future Exhibitions

Opens November 5
Freer Gallery of Art

A vast network of caravan trails has long linked the oasis settlements spread across the Central Asian desert. For nearly two millennia these trade routes, now collectively known as the Silk Road, facilitated the spread of Buddhism and provided a course for the long-distance exchange of luxury goods between merchants and traders in China and the West. The impact of foreign imports on the arts of China is particularly apparent in objects dating from the sixth through eighth century, when Chinese craftsmen explored new materials, techniques, forms, and decorative patterns. They also began to use silver and gold for tableware and other functional objects. Exceptional examples of this phenomenon are now on view in the Freer Gallery. Most were made in the vicinity of the Tang capital at Chang’an (modern Xi’an) and attest to the cosmopolitan tastes of Chinese elites interested in foreign styles and customs.

Many of the traders on the Silk Road were ethnic Iranians originally from Sogdiana (modern-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan). Also on view are portions of an elaborate stone burial couch that was apparently made for the tomb of one of these Sogdians, who died in China in the late sixth century.

Opens November 5
Freer Gallery of Art

The Freer’s Korean gallery reopens with an exhibition embodying the evolution of the distinctive Korean ceramic decoration known as sanggam. Originally, sanggam involved inlaying white and black pigments into stamped or carved motifs to create images of cranes, clouds, ducks, lotuses, and willows that appear to float within a limpid green glaze. This technique appeared in Korea by the mid-twelfth century; it would adorn tableware and ritual vessels used by the court and nobility for two centuries. Once porcelain replaced celadon as the elite ceramic, however, the appearance of inlaid decoration changed radically. White pigment, applied in dense patterns to cover everyday bowls and dishes, approximated the snowy appearance of porcelain.

The National Museum of Korea has provided generous financial and curatorial support for this installation of the Freer Gallery’s Korean collection. A new location within the museum positions the Korean gallery adjacent to an exhibition of Chinese ceramics of the tenth through thirteenth century and, eventually, to galleries of Chinese arts of the Song through Qing dynasty (tenth through nineteenth century).

Opens November 5
Freer Gallery of Art

Potters in both north and south China perfected the skills needed to control and modulate ceramic glazes—in shades of white, green, blue, brown, and black—during the Song dynasty (960–1279). In some modes, the glaze complemented carved or incised decoration; in others, its purity of color became a focal point on its own. Two dozen Chinese ceramics from the Freer collection highlight these glazes and the skills of Song dynasty artisans.

Silk Road Luxuries Glitter at the Freer
A Newly Renovated Gallery Showcases the Decorative Arts of a Cosmopolitan Tang China

October 4, 2011
Highways and byways crossing the vast Central Asian desert did more than facilitate the spread of Buddhism in the early Common Era, they also paved the way for the exchange of luxury goods between China and the West. “Silk Road Luxuries from China,” opening Nov. 5 in newly renovated Gallery 16 at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, reveals the cross-cultural impact of Silk Road trade on Chinese luxury goods.

The small but exquisite array of 21 objects, including intricately decorated mirrors, cups and other forms of tableware, display the highest levels of craftsmanship practiced by Tang dynasty artisans working in precious materials.

“A revolutionary change began to happen in China’s decorative arts, fueled by an open and cosmopolitan, multicultural society centered in the vibrant Tang capital, Chang’an,” said J. Keith Wilson, curator of ancient Chinese art. “The intermingling of Chinese traditions and foreign influences led to a remarkable change in luxury goods produced for Chinese urban elites in the sixth through the eighth century.”

Sogdian traders—ethnic Iranians originally from Sogdiana, now Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in Central Asia—introduced the Chinese to new ideas in the decorative arts in the form of western and central Asian luxuries they offered in exchange for silk and other sought-after Chinese products. Objects such as tablewares made of precious metals and glass helped transform Chinese secular artistic traditions and promoted explorations of new materials, techniques, forms and decorative patterns.

Ideas and goods traveled both into and out of China along the Silk Road. Among the objects that will be on view is a lobed Sogdian dish of hammered silver, decorated with the image of a lion, that may have influenced Chinese metal artisans. An eighth-century silk brocade with floral medallions that was once among the treasures held by the Shōsōin repository in Nara, Japan, reveals how Chinese exports inspired craftsmen further east.

Groupings of exquisite mirrors and silver vessels presented in the exhibition illustrate new fabrication methods and decorative motifs inspired by foreign models. Chinese smiths and founders set aside old practices and began creating objects from precious metals, adopting western hammering and gilding techniques to forge a new Chinese luxury aesthetic. One of the highlights of the exhibition is a massive piece of burial furniture made in China for the repose of a Sogdian who died far from home. This and a small number of other Chinese burial couches feature layered decorative styles and Buddhist and non-Buddhist iconography, including depictions of foreign musicians and dancers. Although made for Sogdians, the objects belong to a Chinese tradition and reflect a multicultural vision.

“Silk Road Luxuries from China” in Gallery 16 and “Chinese Ceramics: 10th-13th Century” in Gallery 15 are the most recent installations in the Freer’s plan to reimagine the entire suite of six Chinese galleries, showcasing major collections in redesigned spaces that reflect the founder’s original focus on aesthetics and comparative study. Both galleries will reopen to the public Nov. 5.

The Silk Road Gallery project was made possible with the support of the Thaw Charitable Trust.

For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other events, the public may visit The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 633-5285.

No comments: