• NEW YORK, New York
  • /
  • March 02, 2012

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Head of a Bodhisattva (Mahasthamaprapta?), China, Northern Qi Dynasty, 550-577 A.D., limestone with traces of polychrome, The Morgan Library & Museum. Bequest of Belle da Costa Greene. Photography: Graham S. Haber, 2012.

The Morgan Library & Museum is pleased to present a small selection of Chinese works of art to coincide with Asia Week New York 2012. The exhibition will be on view from March 13 to March 27.

Although known primarily for its outstanding European and American drawings, manuscripts, and rare books, the Morgan has, since its inception, also had a small Asian collection. This includes a fine group of Islamic manuscripts and single leaves, a selection of which was shown at the Morgan in fall 2011. In addition, the Morgan houses a small number of Buddhist texts from China, Japan, Thailand, and Tibet, as well as such little-known works of art as a head of a Bodhisattva from the cave shrines at Xiangtangshan.

Pierpont Morgan, the museum’s founder, had a strong interest in Asian art, and he assembled a collection of some 1,400 Chinese ceramics, almost all of which were sold after his death and are now widely dispersed. Moreover, in 1913, he was involved in negotiations that—had they come to fruition—would have brought to New York the lion’s share of the Qing imperial collection. Morgan’s librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, who was the Morgan’s first director when it became a public institution in 1924, shared this interest, as have later donors. In summer 2011, the Morgan installed a large new version of contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing’s The Living Word 3 in its Renzo Piano-designed Gilbert Court.

Works on view at the Morgan to celebrate Asia Week include:
• a ritual bronze vessel (you) datable to the Western Zhou Dynasty (ca. 1046-771 BCE), which Pierpont Morgan’s son, Jack, purchased from C.T. Loo in 1917, and which formerly was in the collection of the Qianlong emperor (r. 1736-1795);
• a never-before-exhibited Northern Qi (550-577) limestone head of a Bodhisattva (Mahasthamaprapta?), formerly in the collection of Belle da Costa Greene, which came from the important complex of mountainside shrines hewn from the living rock at Xiangtangshan;
• a Tang Dynasty handscroll (618-907) that transcribes the second chapter of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra;
• a Kangxi-period bottle vase from the collection of Pierpont Morgan, the last piece of his large holdings of Chinese ceramics that remains at the Morgan;
• and a selection of documents, in code, related to Pierpont Morgan’s 1913 negotiations to purchase the Qing collection—an effort thwarted only by his death the same year.

Visitors to the exhibition also will have the opportunity to explore the Morgan’s recently restored 1906 original building, by architect Charles McKim, and to see three special exhibitions: Rembrandt’s World: Dutch Drawings from the Collection of Clement C. Moore (through April 29, 2012); Dan Flavin: Drawing (through July 1, 2012); and In the Company of Animals: Art, Literature, and Music at the Morgan (through May 20, 2012).

Carrying forth a mission to celebrate and promote Asian art in New York City, Asia Week New York 2012 is presented through a collaboration of Asian art specialists, auction houses, museums, and Asian cultural institutions in the metropolitan New York area. In addition to Asian art auctions and open houses hosted by thirty-three art galleries, multiple locations will host special events related to Asian art, including lectures and symposia by leading experts in the field.

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