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To the Nines

18 June, 2016 (11:28) | china | By: xensen

Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei

Now on view at the Asian Art Museum

Nine goats bring peace to the New Year. Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Tapestry (kesi) with embroidery. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Gusi 000096. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Nine goats bring peace to the New Year. Qing dynasty, reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736–1795). Tapestry (kesi) with embroidery. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Gusi 000096. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Emperors’ Treasures, which opened to the public at the Asian Art Museum yesterday and continues through September 18, is an exhibition of greatest hits from the Chinese imperial collections. Objects on display span nearly a millennium of imperial rule, from the time of the early Song-dynasty ruler the Huizong emperor, who reigned in the early twelfth century, through that of the formidable regent Cixi (pronounced something like “Tsuhshee”), the Qing-dynasty counterpoint to England’s Victoria, who ruled by proxy from 1861 through 1908. Objects are grouped around a set of nine Chinese rulers.

Museum exhibitions might be divided into those that are narrative-driven and those that are great objects driven (the latter might be termed “connoisseur shows”). I confess to a preference for narrative, but the objects on display in Emperors’ Treasures are of such high quality and have so rarely toured that this is a show not to be missed if you have any interest at all in imperial Chinese art. If you’re a selective museum-goer who is likely to attend only a couple of AAM exhibitions this year, this one and  the Ramayana show opening in October are the ones to see.

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China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy

8 March, 2013 (10:03) | ancient, ceramics/metal/stone, china, sculpture | By: xensen

That’s the title of the exhibition showing at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco through May 27. I received my new camera — an Olympus E-PL2 — a couple of days ago and took of few pictures of the warriors yesterday. The E-PL2 is a micro four thirds mirrorless camera that has a near-DSL-size sensor but a small body. It should be perfect for the travel photography that I like to do.

The AAM display features dark-colored walls and dark rooms with moody lighting. The warriors are not, of course, light sensitive — originally they were brightly painted, but they are never shown that way today — but the exhibition design makes an effective display. Low light situations are not really this camera’s strength, but it performed pretty capably.

terracotta warriors and horse

terracotta warrior (kneeling archer)

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Terracotta Warriors opening party at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

18 February, 2013 (20:19) | ancient, ceramics/metal/stone, china, sculpture | By: xensen

Terraacotta Warriors opening party invite

The Asian Art Museum (200 Larkin Street in San Francisco’s Civic Center) is hosting a party to celebrate their opening of an exhibition featuring some of the First Emperor’s terra-cotta warriors. The party, beginning at 7:00 this Thursday, February 22, will feature  CHERYL, an artist collective that throws “the Big Apple’s most outrageous party” (Time Out London).

In other news, 7junipers has been inactive for some time dealing with nonvirtual projects. I hope to return to more active blogging. We shall see.

Ai Weiwei, 1983

15 August, 2011 (05:00) | ancient, china, contemporary, prints/photographs, sculpture, south asia | By: xensen

This fellow in a New York mood is Ai Weiwei, self-photographed in 1983. His show at Asia Society just completed, but there is still what looks like an excellent exhibition of Buddhist sculptures from Pakistan at the Asia Society Museum, including this handsome Gandharan bloke, on loan from the Lahore Museum:

The ten most confounding Pinyin pronunciations

30 July, 2010 (05:00) | china | By: xensen

English speakers have an uphill slog to make sense of Chinese pronunciation from its transliteration. The Wade-Giles transliteration system used a lot of diacritical marks, with all the annoyances that entails. But the Pinyin system, which now far predominates (and is used in the museum’s materials) has its own challenges. Such as:

  1. Q
    This one at least is easy to learn. Q is pronounced like “ch,” so “Qin” is pronounced “Chin.”
  2. Zh
    You would think this would represent the initial sound of the French word “jardin,” or the way some people pronounce the second gee in “garage.” Nope. It’s pronounced like a J. “Zhou” is “Joe.”
  3. Ang
    What could be simpler, right? Wrong. No really, wrong: it’s pronounced more like the “ong” in “wrong.”
  4. X
    Who knows how to pronounce X in any language? In the U.S. many people just give up and pronounce the Spanish name Xavier as “Ex-avier.” In Pinyin X represents a kind of “sh” or “hs” sound, sort of like in the word “sheer.”
  5. C
    If you know Western languages you would have three guesses about this one: the C in “cat,” the S in “sat,” or the CH in “chat.” But it’s actually pronounced more like the “ts” in “nets.”
  6. Iu
    When you get to the IU sound you know when Pinyin was constructed someone must really have been trying to be difficult. This is pronounced like the “yo” in “yoyo.”
  7. I
    After c, s, or z the “i” sound is pronounced like the “i” in “sir”: after ch, sh, zh, or r it’s like the whole”ir” sound in the same word, “sir.”
  8. Z
    This isn’t really too bad. Just add a little initial dee sound, like the “dz” in “adze.”
  9. Er
    Not the sound a hesitant speaker makes, this is a homonym for the English word “are.”
  10. Ong
    This is pronounced like the “ung” in the German “achtung.”

Got that? Now we’re ready to tackle any Chinese name. Can you say the name of the late Ming painter Dong Qichang? Sure you can. It’s something like “Dung Chi(r)chong.” Er, I think. Please correct me.

The Longest Way

7 September, 2009 (06:00) | china, contemporary, literature/performance/film/music | By: xensen

This fellow walked across China and made a spectacular time-lapse video about it.

Photo Wednesday: Hongkong lights

12 August, 2009 (07:00) | china | By: xensen

This photo of Hongkong at twilight comes from Stuck in Customs’ photostream

Cut-paper lamps

24 November, 2008 (05:00) | china, contemporary, sculpture | By: xensen

memory cloud lamp by yu jordy fu

The Chinese invented paper, and paper cutting is an art form with a long history there. Yu Jordy Fu is a designer who was trained as an architect at the Royal College of Art in London. She has developed a 3D style of paper cutting that she turns into lamps with clever use of LED or other lighting. A selection of these, such as the Memory Cloud Lamp, above, are for sale on her website.


Memory Cloud Lamp, 21st c., by Yu Jordy Fu (Chinese, b. 1982). Paper.


Standing Bodhisattva

18 July, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, medieval | By: xensen

standing bodhisattva, walters art museum, baltimore

While we’re at the Walters Art Museum (see the previous couple of posts), let’s check out this interesting Boddhisattva. As you can see from this detail, the enigmatically smiling figure has an oddly square face and jaw, with very wide eyes. Features such as these, along with the drapery on the shoulders, lead the Walters curators to suppose that it may have been made in what is today Shaanxi province, in the sixth century.

Standing Bodhisattva, 6th century. China, Shaanxi province. Limestone. Acquired by Henry Walters, 1920, 25.5.


Zhan Wang’s San Francisco

30 June, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, contemporary | By: xensen

zhan wang's san francisco (asian ast museum exhibition)

I posted about Zhan Wang’s San Francisco landscape made of pots and pans before. For this image I used this nifty technique for removing color cast. (Compare the color to this image.)


Endless warriors

29 April, 2008 (05:00) | ancient, ceramics/metal/stone, china | By: xensen

the first emperor's warriors

Can’t get enough of the First Emperor’s terra-cotta warriors? Well, you’re in luck: The Bowers Museum is presenting the largest loan of the terra-cotta figures ever, called Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor. The exhibition opens May 18 and runs through October 12. What a cash cow this discovery has turned out to be!


Fast Food

28 April, 2008 (05:00) | china, contemporary, paintings | By: xensen

fast food, oil painting by chinese artist kang can

This painting by Kang Can (Fast Food III, 2007, oil on canvas, 35.5 x 31.5 inches) is a good example of Chinese Neo-Pop art (it was shown at ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries in Coral Gables, Florida earlier this year). In the contemporary Chinese context pop often has a satiric element, aimed at materialism and self-indulgence. At times, as here, the satire can get a little heavy-handed.


Mu Rui’s medallion

23 April, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, early modern | By: xensen

gold plaque given mu rui by the yongle emperor, from the najing municipal museum

Recently I’ve been reading Perpetual Happiness by Shihi-Shan Henry Tsai, a biography of Zhu Di, who ruled the Ming dynasty as the Yongle emperor from 1403–1424 (more on this later). Formerly the Prince of Yan, the Yongle emperor usurped the throne from his nephew and moved the Ming capital from Nanjing to his personal power base at Beijing; in 1406 he began construction of what would become the Forbidden City.

This gold medallion, now in the Nanjing Municipal Museum, was buried in the tomb of Ma rui in 1627, during the reign of the Tianqi emperor (1621–1627).; it was discovered during a 1974 excavation near Nanjing. Mu Rui served as the Yongle emperor’s Vice Commissioner-in-Chief, but he was implicated in an attempted revolt. He died in prison in 1609. How did he obtain this plaque? In the forthcoming catalogue of the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition of Ming court arts, He Li offers an explanation:

A court record may provide a clue. In 1408, the Yongle emperor held a banquet to celebrate a successful battle against Annam, in which Mu Sheng was the chief commander (see cat. no. 103). The emperor is said to have awarded to the guest of honor, Mu Sheng, items including the emperor’s own handwritten poem, a jade belt, and a golden plaque (Mingshi, chap. 126, p. 7397); the latter was most likely the surviving medallion here. With the commands possibly engraved by Sheng, it must have been passed down as a family heirloom to later generations. Unfortunately, two hundred years later, its orders were sullied by Mu Rui. Eighteen years after his death, the family was able to conduct Mu Rui’s funeral. By burying the prestigious medallion with him, they announced the end of the legendary name of Mu, which had once been glorified for its support of the Ming court.


Ming bling

21 April, 2008 (05:00) | ceramics/metal/stone, china, early modern | By: xensen

ming dynasty lotus ornament from nanjing municipal museum

My mind has been on China’s Ming dynasty (1368–1644) recently because of the show of Ming dynasty court art that is coming up this summer at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. So let’s look at a few examples from this long-lasting dynasty (the last to be ruled by native Chinese).

Shown here is an ornament of nephrite and gold depicting a lotus pond, from the Nanjing Municipal Museum. Egrets and aquatic plants appear beneath two large lotus leaves. According to He Li, there is some uncertainty whether such ornaments, used as hat knobs during the previous Mongol Yuan dynasty, were repurposed during the Ming as covers for vessels.

According to Terese Tse Bartholomew, the combination of lotus and egret is a rebus, or visual pun, signifying a wish for advancement in the governmental meritocracy. This is because “egret” is pronounced lu and “lotus” lian; together the two words suggest yilu lianke, or “May you pass your [civil service] exams all the way.”


Huge tomb find in China’s Shaanxi Province

2 April, 2008 (05:00) | ancient, ceramics/metal/stone, china | By: xensen

The discovery near Xi’an of a Qin Dynasty tomb group is believed to be the largest found in China; it comprises 604 tombs.

“I was astounded by the sheer number of tombs,” said Sun Weigang, a researcher with the Shaanxi Institute of Archaeological Research. “We know Shaanxi is rich in cultural relics, with over a thousand tombs unearthed every year. But we have never found so many in such a small area”.

Most of the tombs are of ordinary people and do not contain particularly valuable objects, but are of enormous interest to archeologists researching the social life of the period. A vast collection of pottery and bronze ware has been unearthed including cauldrons, pots, jars, axes and swords, as well as more than 200 complete human skeletons.

Archaeologists hope the discovery of the tombs will help them locate the site of the ancient Qin Dynasty city of Liyi.


via Dream Art Gallery


Huntington’s Garden of Flowing Fragrance

31 March, 2008 (05:00) | architecture/public, china | By: xensen

terrace of the jade mirror at the huntington gardens near pasadena california

The Huntington Gardens in San Marino near Pasadena, California, recently opened their new Chinese-themed garden, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance (Liu Fang Yuan). (Last time I was there the garden was under construction, but I will make a point to see it when I am in LA this May for BEA, the book publishing trade fair.)

The garden is inspired by the Chinese literati tradition of gardens as places of contemplation. Such gardens were seen as analogous to scroll paintings — as one walks through the garden carefully arranged scenes are encountered as if a scroll was being unfolded. Architecture and allusion are important aspects of these gardens.

The Huntington explains the garden’s name on their website:

The garden’s name, Liu Fang Yuan, has both literal and symbolic meanings. The words liu fang, or “flowing fragrance,” refer to the scent of flowers and trees, including the pine, lotus, plum, and other native Chinese plants found here. The Chinese poet Cao Zhi (192–232) first used the words in his “Rhapsody on the Luo River Goddess” to describe how the fragrance of flowers trailed in the goddess’s wake as she walked among the scented flora. And liu fang echoes the name of famed Ming dynasty painter Li Liufang (1575–1629), known for his refined landscapes.

Shown is an image from the Huntington’s site, of the Terrace of the Jade Mirror.


Bird’s Nest

17 March, 2008 (05:00) | architecture/public, china, contemporary | By: xensen

Seven Junipers has been occupied on other matters recently but hopes to return to blogging in earnest in short order.

Here is a trailer for a film about Ai Weiwei’s Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium in Beijing, being constructed by Herzog and de Meuron.


Wang Yi Guang

10 March, 2008 (05:00) | 20th c, china, himalayas, paintings | By: xensen

wang yi guang

Wang Yi Guang is a Chinese artist who studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. He has produced a series of romanticized visions of gambols in the fields of Tibet. According to Paintalicious

Wang’s fond memories of Tibet — particularly catching sight of young girls running and laughing across the magnificent Tibetan plains, their sheep and cattle in tow — remind the artist that Feitain (or flying Devi, a mystical character, which is primarily found in the murals at Dunhuang and in sculptural forms in a handful of cave grottoes in China) does exist in life.

Do these paintings have a political agenda? I’d like to think not.


Shown is River to Paradise, O/C, 130 x 140 cm, 2004.