Swirls Before Pine *
Further to my Chinese clichés (inspired by Flann O’Brien), a young scholar—whose own enterprising fieldwork suggests a radical reassessment of Chinese art—has sent me this telling critique (“On visiting the Asian Art Museum but finding the Indo-Tibetan section closed for renovation“):
New AAM Exhibition Reveals How “Chinese People Used to Like Porcelain Pots that were Glazed mostly White but sometimes Other Colors, and Paintings of Water and Mountains, And Stuff”
April 12, 2019 / Khanat Beg
“A lot of people think they know Chinese art,” says curator Adreanne Chao. Slim and straight-backed in a black turtleneck by Japanese designer Yu Amatsu, Chao is sitting on a bench in the second-floor gallery, unrecognized by the stream of museum-goers around us. Together, we watch two women speaking Mandarin pose with a selfie-stick in front of a painting by the 14th-century Chinese artist Ni Zan.
Chao says, “People come in here, and they think they’re going to see monochrome ink-paintings of mountains, water, clouds. Sometimes there’ll be a lonely fisherman out poling across the lake, or a scholar-recluse composing poetry in an old pavilion.”
But Chao’s new exhibition, which opened April 1st at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, has sent ripples of surprise through the art world. Chao leads me over to inspect a scroll painting, twelve feet long and one wide, by the 15th-century Chinese literatus-painter Wu Liao. “But these artists are really toying with convention. Here you can see the painter has used monochrome ink and brushwork to create the impression of clouds, water, and mountains.” Chao laughs puckishly, “And yes, I’ll admit it—there’s also a fisherman poling a skiff past an old pavilion!”
We haven’t even got to the room with all the little porcelain pots and pans, glazed mostly white but sometimes beige or off-green. […]
I may add that the solitary boatman is not to be confused with this tribute to Uncle Xi:
See here for spoof Tang poems that I composed in my own Yoof (“precocious signs of the pointless inanity that was to distinguish my later writings”). Among posts under the art tag, try this, this, and this.
And for Chinese music clichés, see here.
* This should become a compulsory title for all lectures on East Asian Art. As it happens, “pearls before swine” is best rendered in Chinese with a musical metaphor, dui niu tan qin 对牛弹琴, “playing the qin zither for an ox” (for an Indian parallel, see here, under Chapter 2).