In other news, I went to the China Institute last night for a talk/lecture event with artist Qiu Zhijie. A most interesting artist, whose works are extremely deep and thoughtful, cross all media (sculpture, ink painting, found objects, photography etc) without discrimination, are extremely relevant to Chinese politics, history and culture while still being quite modern, yet not overly abstract.
When his works failed to arrive in NY from China for his solo show at Chambers Fine Art this past month, he went to Chinatown, bought some brushes, and covered the walls of the gallery in incredible paintings over a 20-hour period.
But this post is not about that. This post is about the small, but amazing, Mawangdui exhibit they have up at China Institute right now. Mawangdui is a Han dynasty tomb in Hunan Province, belonging to a Marquis and Marquise of Dai, and related persons, excavated in the 1970s.
I’ve never been really into tomb art, i.e. the kinds of things one finds in ancient Japanese Jomon to Yayoi to Yamato period tombs or Chinese Han through Tang dynasty tombs. Clay figures, bronze pots. It’s just not my thing. And I didn’t think I’d heard of Mawangdui before. I basically whipped through the exhibit in five minutes, nodding at familiar forms, feeling I’d seen it all before, all the while thinking that the Marquis of Dai sounded familiar somehow.
And then, I saw it. A funeral banner, known as the “flying garment”, in the shape of a robe, which was originally found draped over one of the sarcophagi. I saw it, and I did a double-take. This object looks familiar. The flying monkey-like creature in the center, flanked by two other creatures… and below it, the Marquise of Dai, facing to the left, with three attendants behind her, towering over the two figures to her left, as she walks towards the afterlife. Is this just a really common Han dynasty motif?, I thought. Or is this the very same object I saw in my Chinese Art history classes? If it is, that would make it a rather famous and important object in Chinese art history, and not just some object from some tomb I hadn’t heard of. If it is that same object, I thought, there should be a raven in the top right, inside a red circle. … There is! … Now I’m really intrigued. Is this that same object, or is it just a really common motif/theme? Who was the Marquis of Dai, and why does that name sound so familiar? .. It turns out that this was a replica of that famous piece that I was thinking of. An incredible chance discovery. My friend Yu said that the original had been on display at a museum in Beijing somewhere, prior to the Olympics, and that she saw it there. Lucky…
The exhibition is up through June 7 at China Institute, 125 East 65th Street (b/t Park & Lex), NYC.