As I mentioned several posts ago, the Metropolitan is currently hosting an exhibition of works acquired in the last 30 years, under Philippe de Montebello’s leadership as Director. Each department chose their favorite pieces to include in the exhibition, and I’m sure that each visitor has their own favorites from within that group. Here’s some of my favorites.
“Night Shining White”, by Han Gan and “Old Trees, Level Distance” by Guo Xi, two of the most famous of all Chinese paintings, or at least two of the most core pieces in the college-level Chinese art history curriculum here in the States as far as I’m aware. Guo Xi stands as a paragon of Chinese literati painters, his works defining the core examples of the genre. Meanwhile, “Night Shining White” remains one of the most lauded Chinese paintings of a horse. Despite the relatively simple composition and basic brushstrokes, it has been said that he captured not only the image of the horse, but its fiery spirit as well. Having seen these images in my college Chinese art history classes, it’s really amazing to see these works in person.
“Marilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City”, May 6, 1957, by Richard Avedon. We are all used to Marilyn Monroe as the ultimate celebrity, the object of admiration and adoration. To see her as a vulnerable, innocent, young woman, tired, and not playing the character, is really something.
“Aki no yonaga monogatari emaki” (Handscroll painting of ‘Tale of a Long Autumn Night’). The opposite of the Han Gan and Guo Xi works, I’d never heard of this one at all. Which is in itself interesting and attention-grabbing. What is this story? Is it a historical event? A well-known legend? Or something else? With relatively few emaki from this period surviving, or at least relatively few outstanding examples, it’s a pleasant surprise to be introduced to a new one.
A koto with case. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so complete before; that is to say, with the lacquered case as well. The main thing that struck me about this piece was the crane crest (mon); the gallery label identifies this as the Karasumaru clan mon, though other clans used it as well. This was displayed near another case, which held a Chinese qin (the Chinese cousin to the Japanese koto) and Congolese ivory trumpet, a keen example of the way the exhibit sought to inspire the visitor to contemplate connections across place and time.
One of two busts of Medicis in the exhibit, I thought the inclusion of both was unnecessary and overkill, considering how many other pieces were cut, and how much the exhibit was striving for diversity. That said, one of the two was displayed right next to a Congolese “power figure”, making an interesting comparison of a European “power figure”. Marble is an extremely hard material, and I have a hard time imagining how one would even go about carving/sculpting it, but on this piece in particular, the features seem especially soft, gentle, and flowing.
A Tibetan-style Chinese Ming Dynasty rag-dung trumpet. These instruments are normally fairly plainly decorated – the main body being made of wood, bamboo, or some other naturally material, with brass or other metal fittings and highlights. As the gallery label explains, cloissonne is normally reserved for lacquered boxes, or vases. But this piece is covered in enameled cloissonne, and a beautiful image of dragons running all the way down the trumpet, chasing a Buddhist object typically translated into English as “wish-granting jewel”.
I don’t normally study Indian art, or give it much thought. But this piece really caught my eye. It’s an amazingly sharp and realistic depiction, and not what I would have expected from Indian art, given that the art of China, Japan, Arabia, and pretty much everywhere else have their respective distinctive stylistic elements that distinguish them from one another; straightforward, sharp, direct, detailed sketches don’t really strike me as being “distinctively Indian.” But then, what do I know?