Published on: December 2, 2016 | Last Updated: December 4, 2016
A jade pendant with two female dancers, from China's Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE) from the exhibition From the Lands of Asia: The Sam and Myrna Myers Collection at Pointe-à-Callière museume Lands of Asia: The Sa
THIERRY OLLIVIER / SAM AND MYRNA MYERS COLLECTIONe pendant with two female dancers, from China's Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE) from the exhibition From the Lands of Asia: The Sam and
Montreal has an exhibition of ancient jade, porcelain, fabrics and sculpture that is a world premiere, thanks to a curator who has created exhibitions for the Pointe-À-Callière museum.
Jean-Paul Desroches, along with museum director Francine Lelièvre, discovered a collection of 5,000 works of Asian art accumulated over half a century by an American couple who have lived in Paris since 1966.
About 450 pieces — the best in the collection, according to Filippo Salviati, a lecturer in Chinese and Korean Art at the University of Rome — are in the exhibition From the Lands of Asia: The Sam and Myrna Myers Collection.
The exhibition is also a testament to how “old school collectors” follow their passions over many years, buying art they love and learning about what they had through study and consultation with scholars and dealers.
“The Myers were discreet collectors,” said Saliviati, who organized an exhibition of the couple’s jade collection in 2000. “No dealers or museum people knew the extent of their collection. ”
The Myers were interested in Greek and Roman antiquity, but soon found themselves drawn to the jades, porcelains and silks of East Asia.
The collection of jade, which Salviati described in an interview as one of the three best private collections in the world, includes ceremonial weapons from Neolithic times — as early as 3300 BCE. The Chinese ascribed magical properties to jade, and dragons made of the material were intermediaries between heaven and earth.
Part of the exhibition focuses on Buddhism, and the Myers’ collection starts with 4th-century stone figures from its origins in Northern India, and continues with objects of wood and bronze from China, Tibet, Korea and Japan. There is a marble lion — whose roar could awaken the world to the Buddha’s teaching — from China’s Tang dynasty (618-907) and a life-size painted wood Bodhisattva about 900 years old.
Another section of the exhibition is devoted to costumes from the 16thto the 19th centuries, a basis for the Myers’ education about the customs of societies throughout Asia. Silk fabrics reflected the wearer’s wealth and social status in China, and the colour and decoration changed from dynasty to dynasty. There are kimonos from Japan, samurai tunics that fit over armour, and the flamboyantly colourful garments of Uzbek traders.
There is also a large collection tracing the development of porcelain over 500 years, much of it recovered from shipwrecks. Some of the pieces were underwater for centuries, yet have retained their lustre.
Sam Myers recalled in an interview being frustrated by the breadth of the subject: “What makes this porcelain an object of the 17th century rather than the 19th?
“It took two years to learn the difference between blue and white porcelain,” he said. “Then you go beyond that, to the 12th to 15thcenturies. It’s a continual learning process, the experience of which is what makes collecting enjoyable.”
After they purchased their first pieces, Myrna Myers went to the École du Louvre as a student, where she met Desroches, curator of this exhibition.
“After they bought, they learned about it,” Salviati said. “They had the eyes of collectors; they could recognize quality and then they refined their knowledge.
“Shopping is the easy way to buy,” he said. “You just need money. The Myers had limited means and when the price was too high, they just walked away.”
The Myers sought advice from scholars as they continued to collect, Salviati said. “Old-school collectors cultivated relationships with scholars and dealers. This is the first time they have shared their passion with a much larger audience.”
Salviati noted that many museum shows serve to generate interest for a future auction: “Not this show. The Myers live with their art.”
“We can appreciate the beauty of much art, but we didn’t buy anything we didn’t want to live with,” Sam Myers said. “That’s true of everything we acquired.”
Myers said the movers were in his house for two weeks packing objects.
“I saw the empty spaces and felt bad, so the exhibition will travel no more than two years,” he said. “I am a lawyer, but I have one law book on my bookshelves. The rest is about art, and the row of porcelain objects on the top shelf is no longer there.”
When you search for quality, the value will rise over 50 years, not five months, Salviati said. The Myers acquired objects that would cost millions today.
“Acquiring an object always begins with our reaction to it,” Sam Myers said. “You feel the mystery, the beauty and the power in the piece.”
From the Lands of Asia: The Sam and Myrna Myers Collection continues to March 19, 2017 at Pointe-à-Callière, the Montreal Archeology and History Complex, 350 Place Royale. More information: pacmusee.qc.ca.