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