China Then and Now, the exhibit which just opened at the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, Long Island, is not just its first major exhibition of Chinese art – in many ways, it’s also a homecoming.
Exhibits at the NCMA are always extraordinarily intimate, as if for the moment, these important works of art are your own – because the museum, itself, was formerly the mansion home of Childs and Frances Frick, son of industrialist and art collector Henry Frick.
But the heart of China Then and Now is an installation of blue-and-white porcelains from the Ming and Qing eras (17th to 18th centuries) collected by Childs and Frances Frick and on loan, for the first time, from The Frick Collection in New York City. This display returns these works to their original setting.
One of the most interesting and unique aspects of the NCMA exhibit are the black-and-white mural-sized photographs that show the various items in these very rooms as they were when it was their home.
The rest of the exhibits that occupy the various rooms of the mansion and thrillingly collectively span three millennia of Chinese art, heritage and range of techniques, media and subjects, from classical, early modern and contemporary periods, from the perspective of American collectors on Long Island.
One gallery is filled with exquisite Buddhist stone sculptures from caves, dating back to 300 AD, the collection of Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, who lived on Searington Road. The 11 large-scale classical stone sculptures lent by the Art Properties, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, had never been on public view before.
Upstairs, galleries feature items of Long Island collectors; one gallery is devoted to the collection of bronzes and calligraphy of Dr. Jeffrey Appelbaum of Great Neck.
In yet another hometown connection, the co-curator of the exhibit is Amy G. Poster, who grew up in Great Neck (she graduated Great Neck South, and was a classmate of Roger Tilles whose family established the Tilles Center). She is the Curator Emerita of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
“We always had people in Great Neck and the local area with a keen interest in China,” she said. The exhibit also is an open invitation by the Nassau County Museum of Art to the growing Asian population in the community. “The idea is to bring our diverse communities together – there has always been interest and appreciation in Chinese art.”
On view through March 8, 2015, China Then and Now sheds new light on a fascinating chapter in America’s engagement with China and its arts. This exhibition reveals the passion of American collectors of both the past and present for the culture and history of China.
Actually, the interest in collecting Chinese art in America goes back to the 17th century. “We have diaries from Brooklyn which show people’s most prized possessions were their China ware,” Poster said at the opening night reception, November 21.
China Then and Now unfolds over three galleries, each of which showcases the elegant beauty of Chinese art of different eras and media. The exhibition opens with 11 large-scale classical stone sculptures from the collections of Arthur M. Sackler.
Dr. Sackler, who lived near here, was a major collector who sponsored building of many Asian collections including the Sackler at the Smithsonian, and the Sackler Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but, Poster said, it was little known he developed university collection in China. “Many made their way to Columbia University in the early 1970s but are not shown to public – except for students and faculty –they are in the law library, with not much access.” This is the first time they have been loaned for an exhibit.
The heart of China Then and Now (and the emotional heart) are the blue-and-white porcelains from the Ming and Qing eras (17th to 18th centuries) collected by Childs and Frances Frick and on loan, for the first time, from The Frick Collection in New York City, essentially reuniting these pieces with their original setting.
Poster and her co-curator, Chinese scholar, Kaijun, Chen, PhD, a post doctoral fellow at the Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science, present the collection in a very unusual way: by themes and purpose with wonderful notes that enhance your appreciation of the objects: one case is themed “Imperial Aspirations” – objects that closely resemble works created for Imperial Chinese commissions; “Stories from the East,” hold items that depict narrative and decoration, such as subjects derived from “Romance of the Three Kingdom’s, one of china’s great literary classics; another case is themed, “Curious Forms”– animal forms and other shapes; and still another is “Objects for Scholar’s Taste” – small scale objects intended for use by the literati, a particular favorite of Childs Frick.
My favorite is a Honeycomb Form Tea Pot, Qing Dynasty 1662-1722, with breathtakingly delicate construction.
A third gallery presents ink paintings by the renowned Beijing artist Liu Dan (born 1953) whose works bridge traditional forms with contemporary practices. My favorite of these is Mingsha Diabolo, 2013, from The Xiling Collection. The Other Eye is the first film about Liu Dan, China’s major modern-day exponent of ink painting, is presented daily.
Upstairs are galleries devoted to Long Island collectors. One gallery is devoted to Dr. Appelbaum’s collection of bronzes and calligraphy. At the opening night reception, he points out his favorite piece (and mine), a large bronze flower vase with a long twin neck, which he says was actually a game that goes back 2000 years, played in the emperor’s court with formal rites, then became popular.
There are also galleries devoted to Long Island collections – among the most marvelous pieces are a pair of Qing Dynasty Spinach Jade bowls so fine as to be translucent, lent for the exhibition by the Planting Fields Foundation.
Among the special events in conjunction with the exhibition:
Daisy Yiyou Wang, Curator of Chinese and East Asian Art at the Peabody Essex Museum, will give a lecture on Saturday, December 20 at 3 p.m, A Thousand Graces: Chinese Buddhist Sculpture in America Then and Now. The talk traces the journeys of Chinese Buddhist sculptures from early 20th-century temples to their display in American art museums as they fascinated noted American collectors such as Dr. Arthur M. Sackler, Charles L. Freer and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Wang shares her new research on Charles L. Freer, the founder of the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, exploring his collection of Chinese Buddhist art. She is the author of a forthcoming monograph on Freer and his collection. Admission is $15 (museum members, $5) and includes museum admission. Register at nassaumuseum.org/events.
On Satuday, January 10, 2015 at 3 pm., Kathleen Yang discusses C.C. Wang: Collector, Connosseur and Painter, whose holdings include one of the world’s great collections of classical Chinese paintings and Chinese literati paintings of the 20th century. Yang, the author of “Through a Chinese Connoseur’s Eye, Private Notes of C.C. Wang,” studied with Wang for decades. She will discuss Wang’s collection and how he judged paintings for acquisition.
Kaijun Chen, Ph.D. will present A Cosmopolitan Taste: Chinese Blue-and-White Porcelain in the Frick Collection, on Saturday, February 28 at 3 p.m. The co-curator of China Then and Now, is a postdoctoral fellow at the Max-Planck-Institute, Berlin, and a specialist in the porcelain production at Jingdezhen, the premier center in China from the 14th to the 20th century. Chen discusses the Frick Collection of Chinese porcelains with a focus on the blue-and-white porcelains amassed by Childs Frick, a Long Island collector whose mansion now houses Nassau County Museum of Art. Frick’s collection of porcelains epitomizes the dynamic connection of China and the world as well as reveals the cosmopolitan vision of American entrepreneurs in the early 20th century. Reservation required, $15 for nonmembers includes Museum admission; $5 for members.
Exhibit Curator Amy Poster will present Chinese Art and Long Island Collectors: A Curator’s Perspective, on Saturday, March 7 at 3 p.m. She presents highlights of the exhibition, focusing on extraordinary works collected by some of Long Island’s great aesthetes from yesteryear and today. A recognized expert of Asian art and culture, Poster is an independent curator and consultant who has published numerous scholarly catalogues and articles, including recent studies of early American collectors of Chinese art.
Docent-led tours of the exhibition are offered at 2 p.m. each day; tours of the mansion are offered each Saturday at 1 p.m.; meet in the lobby, no reservations needed. Tours are free with museum admission. Family art activities and family tours are offered Sundays from 1 pm; free with museum admission.
There is more going on in the museum – all the more remarkable given its intimate spaces.
An exhibit of the artist Gavin Rain is extraordinary. A native of Cape Town, South Africa, Gavin Rain works primarily in a neo-pointillist style. He cites two main narratives in his work: Hidden in plain sight, in which the subject cannot be seen until the viewer takes a few steps back; and Pseudo digital, in which the artist uses rows of dots in a pattern similar to television or computer screens. He credits Seurat, Russian avant garde art of the 1900s and the work of many architects as his main artistic influences. Rain’s work has been seen in solo and group exhibitions throughout the world. His subjects are famous people, like Mandela, Liz Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
Also on exhibit are selections from the museum’s permanent collection of paintings and watercolors by Louis Comfort Tiffany: Works on Paper.
Definitely visit the gift shop, which offers a superb selection of items that compliment the exhibit.
And make sure to make time to explore the grounds of this magnificent estate:
Sculpture Park: Approximately 40 works, many of them monumental in size, by renowned artists including Fernando Botero, Tom Otterness, George Rickey and Mark DiSuvero among others, are situated to interact with nature on the museum’s magnificent 145-acre property.
Walking Trails: The museum’s 145 acres include many marked nature trails through the woods, perfect for family hikes or independent exploration.
Gardens: From restored formal gardens of historic importance to quiet little nooks for dreaming away an afternoon, the museum’s 145 acre property features many lush examples of horticultural arts. Explore expanded gardens and beautiful new path to the museum.
Most of the 145 acres originally belonged to poet, lawyer, conservationist, political activist, patron of the arts and preservationist William Cullen Bryant, who settled in Roslyn in 1843. the long-time editor of the New York Post built is home, Cedarmore, and founded Roslyn’s public library. In 1862, he built a cottage for his friend and fellow poet, Miss Jerusha Dewey (you can see the cottage when you explore the hiking trails). In 1900, Lloyd Stephens Bryce purchased Bryant’s ‘Upland Farm’ and commissioned architect Ogden Codman, Jr. to design Bryce House, the present mansion. Henry Clay Frick, co-founder of US Steel Corporation purchased Bryce House in 1919 as a gift for his son, Childs Frick, a Princeton graduate who became a vertebrate paleontologist and naturalist.
A private, not-for-profit institution, the Nassau County Museum of Art is ranked among the nation’s largest, most important suburban art museums. Seeing the paintings hung on walls or in cases within the mansion rooms, you feel an intimacy with the objects that you don’t get at the major museums, as if for that moment in time, they are yours.
Nassau County Museum of Art is located at One Museum Drive in Roslyn Harbor, just off Northern Boulevard, Route 25A, two traffic lights west of Glen Cove Road. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Call (516) 484-9338, ext. 12 to inquire about group tours. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (62 and above) and $4 for students and children (4 to12). Members are admitted free. The Museum Store is open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 516-484-9337 for current exhibitions, events, days/times and directions or log onto nassaumuseum.org.
© 2014 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit zoomdune.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin, zoomdune.com/eclectic-traveler-in-long-island/karen-rubin, zoomdune.com/international-travel-in-national/karen-rubin and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures. See our newest travel site at www.tidbitts.com/karen-rubin/where-in-the-world.