November 2012 – August 2014
The Crow Collection of Asian Art is home to a small but engaging group of objects from places that are somewhat obscured by the collective term “Southeast Asia.” The name came into use at the end of World War II to describe a part of the world that had for several generations appeared on Western maps variously as Tonkin, French Indo-China (later North Vietnam and South Vietnam), Dutch East Indies, and various other names and boundaries that have disappeared with the reemergence of independent states, many of which have chosen names to contrast with the colonial period. Burma is officially Myanmar (although Burma is making an internal comeback), Cambodia is Kampuchea, the former Sultanate of Brunei is Brunei Darussalam, Singapore is independent from Malaya, and Malaya is Malaysia. East Timor—which was a Portuguese and Catholic outpost on the island of Timor, claimed by the Dutch after centuries of trade monopoly, invaded by Japan, handed back to Portugal, and then ceded to Muslim Indonesia—is now independent, with claims to large underwater gas reserves in the maritime (always murky) region that separates it from Australia.
Southeast Asia is a part of the world where boundaries continue to change, and the segments of this complex history portrayed in Peninsulas and Dragon Tails suggest the potential for enriched understanding of the modern world through greater familiarity with the region’s past and current cultural geography.
Lacquered wood sculptures of young monks from the Mandalay period of Burmese history conjure the missing object of their devotion, the historical Buddha, who taught renunciation as a path to bliss, even while British colonials expelled the last king and queen, cooled themselves on sultry porches, and oversaw immense plantations of rubber trees on land where there had recently been only forest. A textile from 20th-century Bali reflects ancient associations between fortune, misfortune, time, and spirits, mixed with advice on preferred market days for various goods, local cults, and Hinduism as imported with people arriving from Java. The Crow Collection’s 7th-century sandstone sculpture of four-armed Vishnu, a rare example of early Khmer culture in Cambodia, takes its place alongside several later sculptures from the period of the Angkor sanctuaries. As always, the sculpture seems to occupy more space than its actual measurements would suggest. The scope of this exhibition touches on only a few times and places within the rich and complex history of Southeast Asia and its diverse cultures—ethnically varied, speaking localized languages, writing with different scripts, wearing different clothes, practicing different faiths, honoring different social structures. The objects shown are grouped by the modern countries with which they are particularly identified—Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The exhibition includes maps with boundaries of the shifting cultural spheres that produced the objects on view. The importance of geography to culture in this region emerges: the Himalayan mountains of the Eurasian continent branch to the southeast in fingers of land and terminate in the islands of the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” where the earth’s mantle shakes, and the land, rivers, and seas mete out judgments that are repeatedly honored.
Over the centuries, Korean artists have produced superior examples of calligraphy, sculpture, lacquerware, and paintings, but it is ceramics for which they have gained special renown. In the early 12th century, Korean ceramic artists mastered the highly prized green, blue, and gray hues of glazed celadon ceramics.
Xu Jing, a Chinese scholar and connoisseur who visited Korea as part of an official envoy in 1123, wrote that these Korean celadon wares were “first under heaven.” Xu compared them to the famous Ru ware of the Northern Song (960–1127), the rarest of all ceramics made exclusively for the Chinese court, grand monasteries, and a few high-ranking noble households. Japanese connoisseurs also prized Korean ceramics and imported select pieces for use in their tea ceremonies, especially during the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo (1615–1868) periods. Often overshadowed by China and Japan, Korea largely escaped the attention of Europeans and Americans until the early 20th century, thus its ceramic traditions have only recently gained recognition in the West.
This exhibition introduces the Jerry Lee Musslewhite collection, a small but stellar group of fifty-three artworks from Korea acquired by the Crow Collection of Asian Art in 2010. This collection includes beautiful examples of the three major areas of Korean ceramics, including Goryeo dynasty (918–1392) celadon and Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) porcelain as well as rare gray stoneware from the early Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.–A.D. 935). The collection also includes a small selection of Korean paintings and some very fine chests, boxes, and other examples of decorative art. Together, they give the Crow Collection the foundation for a comprehensive collection of Korean art.
The original collector, Jerry Lee Musslewhite (1937–2009), was a longtime docent at the Crow Collection toward the end of his life. Born in Arp, Texas, he studied fine arts in college and subsequently took a position in South Korea working for the US Army as an arts instructor. He remained in Korea for more than twenty-five years, and in his spare time he became an avid collector of Korean art and antiques, which he shipped to Texas for storage every three years or so. Eventually this vast collection numbered in the thousands, the best of which are showcased in this exhibition as a tribute to his keen eye for quality, his passion for art, and his desire to share his love of Korea with museum visitors in his home state of Texas.
Jade is a word applied to many different stones–so many that it is useful now and then to re-claim mastery of the differences for understanding and appreciating Chinese “jade.” This exhibition draws on the Museum’s Collection and generous loans of natural worked stones to encourage just that. Works of art to which the term “jade” has been applied and misapplied are grouped by their discernable distinctions as stones, rather than by style, subject, function, or date they were worked. An exercise in training the eye is presented for the pleasure it affords, along with any practical benefits that may accrue for the collector. The value added of skillfull carving, pleasing shape, fine polish,
The exhibition is dominated by natural and worked stones most commonly prized among collectors of Chinese “Jade”: Nephrite and Jadeite—two distinct materials. Other stones that sometimes pass for “Jade” also appear to serve for visual comparison: Serpentine, Chrysoprase, Agate, Soapstone, Malachite, Opaque Dolomite Marble, and others that abound particularly in snuff-bottles for the delight of the discerning eye.
Nephrite and Jadeite are both legally traded as “Jade” in the international marketplace. Both are geologically identified as metamorphic rocks, materials transformed by heat, pressure, and water from igneous magma flowing into the earth’s mantle. Both are chemically classed among minerals as silicates, that is they are rich in silicon, the second most abundant element in the earth’s outer layer, but they are grouped differently because of dissimilar chemical compositions and physical structures. Among minerals, Nephrite is an amphibole, and Jadeite a pyroxene. Nephrite is not even technically a full-blooded mineral; it lacks a developed physical crystalline structure in which atoms bond into regular, repeating, three-dimensional shapes. The conditions of heat and pressure that transformed igneous rock to metamorphic Nephrite were followed by a phase of rapid cooling that inhibited the growth of crystals. It’s structure is described by minerologists as “crypto- or micro-crystalline.” The microscopic crystal structure of Nephrite is an irreglar felt-like bond of matted chains. Jadeite has a clearly defined crystal structure of octa-hedrally co-ordinated aluminum atoms and 8 co-ordinated sodium polyhedra connected by silicate chains running parallel to the C axis of the geometric form. The grainy structure of Jadeite is denser and harder than the fibrous arrangement of Nephrite: Jadeite is the more difficult, for example to scratch. The interwoven structure of Nephrite is more resistant to breakage, and by definition the tougher of the two compounds.
The artist Shen Wei defies classification. He is a renowned choreographer and dancer who has also designed sets, video projections, costumes, and makeup for his company’s dance performances. The result is always a gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis of the arts where creativity moves freely between mediums. Instead of conforming to a recognizable style, Shen Wei’s creations are unified by his sensitivity to the expressive possibilities of gesture, color, and shape. Shen has been internationally recognized for his many artistic accomplishments, including “Scroll,” a stunning section of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing in which dancers moved across a large rectangular cloth, their hands and feet dipped in paint, leaving behind the traces of their movement in ribbonlike lines. The mesmerizing synthesis of choreography and drawing came together at the end of the piece, when the dancers departed and the horizontal scroll was lifted into the air, revealing a landscape in the tradition of Chinese shan shui, mountains and water.
Shen Wei is one of the select few to have received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship, and his breadth of creative artistic accomplishment reflects the diversity of his training and inspiration. From his early training in the art of Chinese opera and calligraphy to his later interest in the painting of Cézanne, Degas, and Lucien Freud, these sources inform his practice and provide a launching pad for bold new directions. During the mid-1980s, Shen branched out from his childhood studies of traditional Chinese visual and performing arts to explore oil painting and modern dance, some of the “Western” arts closely identified with China’s significant period of artistic experimentation: the ’85 Art New Wave. Since 1995, Shen Wei has lived and worked in New York, where he immersed himself in the vibrant cultural life of the city. His artistry as a dancer and choreographer has continued to relate to his keen interest in the visual arts on view in the city’s many galleries and museums, as well as his own painting. As a result, he is a truly international artist whose work owes as much of a debt to the avant-garde and alternative art scenes of lower Manhattan as it does to classical Chinese arts.
In the significant recent series of paintings featured in this exhibition, Shen Wei narrows his focus to a study of the grisaille palette and the expressive textures of oil paint. These compositions in black, white, and gray are shrouded in an aura of mystery. The shapes and textures can, in places, appear to resemble elements of a sublime and awesome landscape—jagged rocks, rushing water, imposing clouds, and elusive figures and animals. These same works, in places, recede into shadow, abstraction, and above all the materiality of a heavy impasto and thick textured paint on canvas. They have a dreamlike quality reminiscent of surrealist explorations of the unconscious that melds, unexpectedly, with visible brushstrokes and the traces of swift, decisive action. Meditations on landscape, the subtly beautiful, and the strange have long been the domain of literati artists in China. Shen Wei, with this new series, takes these meditations to new heights and profound depths.
Tai Chi in the Galleries Saturdays | 9 – 10:30 AM | Free
Simplify your Saturday and discover your inner chi with instructor Eng Khoo. All levels of experience welcome. Space is limited; no reservations required.
Tours of the Collection
Saturdays | 1 PM | FREE
Join Crow Collection docents for enlightened conversations in the galleries each week. No reservations required.