Santa Barbara Museum of Art Director Larry Feinberg and the Board of Trustees invited all museum members to a private members reception celebrating the new exhibition “The Artful Recluse — Painting, Poetry and Politics in 17th Century China” held in the museum galleries.
An hour beforehand, a special upper-level preview reception was held for donors, lenders, benefactors circle and director’s patron members, Friends of Asian Art and special guests.
The exhibition presents 57 paintings by scholar artists who lived during one of the most tumultuous eras in Chinese history with the collapse of the Ming dynasty and foreign conquest by the Manchu-ruled Qing.
“It is showing the classical paintings from 17th-century China, and the works that we were able to pull together,” said Susan Tai, Elizabeth Atkins Curator of Asian art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. “It shows the heart of the literati painting tradition. These are scholar painters and scholar officials during a very tumultuous time in the 17th century.”
Tai organized the exhibition and the accompanying catalog, in collaboration with Peter Sturman, professor of history of art and architecture at UCSB.
“This actually began as a class project at UCSB,” Tai said. “So I collaborated with a professor, Peter Sturman, and the students. And it started as a student project, but it became a very important exhibition of national and international importance.”
The exhibition is organized into two chronological sections covering the late Ming and early Quing dynasties with work drawn from six public institutions, plus SBMA, and seven private collections. The exhibition will be seen at only two venues, SBMA and the Asia Society in New York, and will run locally through Jan. 20, and from March 6 to June 2 in New York.
Some of the artists featured in the exhibit include Dong Qichang (1555-1636) and Chen Jiru (1558-1639), and the works show how they reacted to the difficult times through paintings, poetry and calligraphy.
The works are also an example of the emotional impact of the pieces and more than the standard evaluations commonly used by art historians.
“We explore the meanings of the paintings in this exhibition a lot more so than the styles, the subjects and the normal things that art historians do,” Tai said.
Calligraphy is also incorporated into many of the paintings to include poems and inscriptions that enhance the images. Pieces are also displayed atop long, flat scrolls that hang across blue-green walls.
Much of the subject matter includes landscapes done in ink on paper or silk with color or in black and white that showcases, “their individual reactions to the tumultuous times,” Tai said. “And through the subject of landscape, because ultimately it’s nature that inspires the Chinese painters and the poets.”
In addition to the exhibit, there are many upcoming educational events being held at the museum, including a lecture at 2:30 p.m. this Sunday discussing, “A Taste for Business and the Business of Taste: A Collector and his Dealer in Late-Ming China,” with host Timothy Brook, Republic of China chair professor of history at the University of British Columbia.
A special concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, Dec. 6, with Gu-Zheng artist Weishan Liu for a special evening of music inspired by the exhibition in the Mary Craig Auditorium. Also on Dec. 6 will be a Family 1st Thursday, “Calligraphy and Seals,” in the Family Resource Center with an opportunity to add calligraphic poems to a landscape and carve unique signature seals.
Early next year, a symposium will be presented Jan. 11-12, “Image and the Imaginary in 17th Century China,” made possible in part by the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation and is co-sponsored with UCSB.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is a privately funded, nonprofit institution that presents internationally recognized collections and exhibitions and a broad array of cultural and educational activities as well as travel opportunities around the world.