[Buddha-l] Exhibit at Met Museum of Art NYC - Ming-Qing art

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Fri Sep 9 05:26:44 MDT 2011

An exhibit at NY's Metropolitan Museum of Art titled "The Art of Dissent in 
17th-Century China: Masterpieces of Ming Loyalist Art from the Chih Lo Lou 
Collection" will run through Jan. 2nd.

The NYTimes offers an insightful review.


Despite the patriotic emotion generated by its demise, the late Ming dynasty 
was never paradise by any stretch, as some artists recognized. And in 
general the further the art gets in time from the initial, violent 
midcentury crisis, the more complex its messages become. This is clear in 
the work of the exhibition's two star figures, both descendants of the Ming 
royal line, both Buddhist monks, both singular, snappish personalities. Zhu 
Da (1626-1705), better known as Bada Shanren, took monastic vows to escape 
persecution. Decades later, after experiencing (or faking) psychotic 
episodes, he returned to secular life as a professional artist.

Crazy or not, he produced exceptionally inventive art, outsiderish in its 
oddity but formally sophisticated and ripe with historical allusions. He's 
best known for his portraits - which could be taken perhaps for 
self-portraits - of birds and fish, solitary creatures with eyes fixed in a 
baleful, mistrustful stare as if alert to trouble approaching.

Less conspicuously eccentric, though, are landscapes that anticipate Cézanne's 
in the way they transmute nature into an abstract idea of nature by cutting 
its forms loose from space and space loose from gravitational logic. If his 
fish and birds have an uneasy, monomaniacal bite, funny and scary, his 
landscapes can be delicate beyond belief, mist-muffled detonations of tone 
and line.

His younger contemporary, Zhu Ruoiji, known as Shitao (1642-1707), was also 
a Ming prince by descent. But because he was only an infant when the dynasty 
ended, he may have felt somewhat detached from his imperial identity, free 
to acknowledge or deny it. His ambitions for advancement within the Buddhist 
hierarchy brought him into the Qing court. When he failed to find sufficient 
patronage there, he converted to Daoism and to a life of relative solitude.

In one thing he was consistent: his brilliance. And part of that brilliance 
lay in his never staying still. The exhibition - which comes from the Hong 
Kong Museum of Art and was organized in New York by Maxwell K. Hearn, the 
curator in charge of the Met's Asian department - gives a sense of Shitao's 
restlessness. It moves from a big, emphatic painting, all spritzes, swipes 
and spiny rays, of a sinewy pine tree and a thundercloud of a rock to a 
suite of vegetable still lifes (Shitao referred to himself as "a bitter 
gourd," only for the discerning palate) to a dozen album paintings 
illustrating poems by Huang Yanlu, a patron and friend.

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