Jan Stuart Appointed First Melvin R. Seiden Curator of Chinese Art at Smithsonian's Freer and Sackler Galleries

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  • October 14, 2014

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Jan Stuart

Jan Stuart, currently Keeper of Asia at the British Museum, will return to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art, on Nov. 3 to resume her previously-held role as curator of Chinese art. Stuart will oversee the galleries’ collection of Chinese decorative arts, which is one of the finest outside of China. The position has been recently named the Melvin R. Seiden Curator of Chinese Art thanks to a gift by an anonymous donor. 

“We are delighted to welcome Jan back to the museums where she has contributed so much in the past,” said Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art. “At the forefront of her field, she carries with her a deep knowledge of Chinese art, and a special love of our remarkable collections.”

The addition of Stuart to the curatorial team—which includes J. Keith Wilson as curator of ancient Chinese art and Stephen Allee as associate curator for Chinese paintings and calligraphy—creates a complement of expertise in Chinese art and culture. Stuart will be primarily responsible for ceramics, textiles, furniture, lacquer and other decorative arts.

“Joining the Freer and Sackler, with its mission for the ‘increase and diffusion of knowledge,’ provides a fantastic opportunity to study and present the richness of Chinese culture to the American public and a broad global audience,” said Stuart. “It has been a great privilege to have headed the Department of Asia at the British Museum, and I’m now able to return to my passion for curatorial work with fresh vision.”

In her previous tenure at the Freer and Sackler galleries from 1988 to 2006, Stuart was instrumental in bringing greater attention to the fields of Buddhist sculpture, Chinese portraits and court paintings, and the later decorative arts of China through her research, original publications, and thought-provoking exhibitions. She organized and contributed a number of highly important exhibitions and catalogues, including “Challenging the Past: Chang Dai-chien” (with Shen Fu), “Joined Colors: Decoration and Meaning in Chinese Porcelain” (with Louise Cort), “Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits” (with Evelyn Rawski) and “The Return of the Buddha: Sculptures from Qingzhou.” Stuart also secured a number of significant acquisitions, such as the Pritzlaff collection of Chinese ancestor portraits and an imperial portrait of the Qianlong emperor with the face painted by Giuseppe Castiglione.

Since 2006, Stuart has led the British Museum’s Asia Section, comprised of East, South, Southeast and parts of Central Asia, as well as Siberia, and supervised a staff of approximately 25—including curators, technicians, administrators, and research specialists—and overseeing a collection of approximately 125,000 objects from prehistoric to contemporary. In the last several years, she created two new galleries and updated a third, among them, the Sir Joseph Hotung Centre for Ceramic Studies, which houses the celebrated Sir Percival David Collection of Chinese art. She also supervised and contributed to a number of Asia-themed exhibitions, such as “The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army,” “Xu Bing: Background Story” and “Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art.” Her most recent exhibition, currently on view through Jan. 5, 2015 is “The BP exhibition, Ming: 50 years that changed China.”

Stuart has degrees in Chinese art, archaeology and East Asian studies from Princeton and Yale Universities, and is fluent in Mandarin. She has been a consultant, partner, jury member and producer on a wide range of international educational and curatorial initiatives, including art fairs, films and conservation projects.

The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day (closed Dec. 25), and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other public events, visit asia.si.edu or follow twitter.com/freersackler or facebook.com/freersackler. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000.

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