Friday, March 14, 2014

Chinese Painting at A.I.C.

Chen Daofu (1483-1544)
Pavilion of Eight Poems, 1538

Back in 2010, Gallery 108 of the Art Institute of Chicago was re-purposed as the Roger Weston Wing of Japanese Art and Chinese painting has been off-view ever since.  Until now. 

Unfortunately, no deep-pocketed donor like Weston has stepped forward to support the Chinese collection so Chinese gallery space in the museum has shrunk even as the museum's total floor space gained 33% with the addition of the Modern Wing.

 The new vitrines for Chinese scrolls are now located where Chinese ceramics used to be in a space that's more like a walk-in closet than an art gallery. But apparently, even in its diminished display area there still is not enough Chinese painting in the collection to devote that area entirely to it since proper conservation requires that pieces be off-view for 5 years after being shown for 3 months. The AIC website only lists 91 Chinese paintings in its collection.

But at least this wonderful painting was recently on view,
and here are some pictures of it.

It's on that timeless Chinese theme
of noble minds seeking refreshment
in nature.

Qian Du (1763-1844)
Xuehong Pavilion in a Scholar's Garden (1831)

Here's another depiction of the aesthetic/scholarly life.

According to gallery signage, the "Xuehong" (goose-snow) Pavilion refers to the title of a poem by Su Shi (1036-1101) , whose calligraphy I once discussed here

According to signage,  the windows of the building in front offer views of ceramic and bronze vessels, a painting rolled up for storage, and a writing desk--- but I can't see them.

This appears to be a  "scholar's rock" that was found in nature, and then re-located to a garden for aesthetic appreciation.

The Wangchuan Villa, early 13th Century, artist unknown

This is the oldest piece in this exhibit - and also the darkest and most faded. It depicts the country villa of a famous scholar/statesman/poet/painter/musician, Wang  Wei,  who lived 500 years earlier - and it depicts various features that his poetry mentions.

It also includes a spurious signature, that of Li Gonglin (1049-1106), suggesting that this may be a copy of his work.

In it's current state, it's not very attractive - and only seems to hint at qualities that may have been found in the original.

Here are some details of the attached calligraphy - much more enjoyable than the landscape.

It feels elegant, sophisticated, and sensual

TangYin (1470-1523), 'Bamboo Stove", 1509

Here's a little picnic - with what appears to be a root-wood chair

The accompanying calligraphy feels looser,  more joyous, and more energetic.

And it seems more aware of the empty space behind it.

Tang Yin is a very famous name in Chinese art history. I don't know with how much confidence this attribution was made, but apparently he is well known for his semi-cursive script.

Hsu Kuo-Huang  (. 1950) , "Poem to Zhifu by Huang Tingjian", 2010

I didn't care much for this contemporary piece - but still wish I had taken a better picture of it.

The characters are too aggressive - they feeling like they're elbowing  each other for space,  like basketball players fighting for position beneath the basket.

That's the modern world, I suppose.

Huang Tingjian (1045-1105)

It's not from this exhibit, but here's a piece by the celebrated Sung calligrapher to whom the Hsu Kuo-Huang was paying tribute.

Perhaps it's not fair to make comparisons - but this seems so much more joyful and enjoyable - and the characters are so much happier to be around each other.  No fighting here -- just the harmony of notes in a melodic phrase.

Here's more Huang Tianjian - from museums around the world

I can't get enough of him

Each individual character has more interest, quality, and internal energy  than entire paintings from this exhibit.

Li Huayi (b. 1948), "Landscape" 2002

Here's another contemporary painting,  this one done by an American my age.

This piece seems to be more about being in the  wilderness than being in a painting.  So I guess I'd rather visit that mountain myself - the painting feels boring.

But I'm glad that the museum is showing contemporary-traditional Chinese painting.  The A.I.C.  almost completely ignores contemporary painting done in the European tradition of landscape- as if it were an anathema.