Magazine Home  |  News  |  Features  |  Reviews  |  Books  |  People  |  Horoscope  

Bihar Earth Goddess
1st century BC-1st century AD
at Plum Blossoms

Jain Tirtankara
Central India, 11th century
at Plum Blossoms

Fragment of Brahma & Brahmini
Central India, 11th century
at Plum Blossoms

Square Mirror with Two Phoenixes and Floral Sprays
Northern Song Dynasty
at the China Institute

Mirror with Handle, decorated with "Double Happiness" and Five Bats
Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
ca. 1800
at the China Institute

Yingqing porcelain flower-shaped wine cup and stand
Northern song
10th-11th century AD
at J.J. Lally

Silver flower-shaped wine cup and stand
Northern Song
960-1127 AD
at J.J. Lally

The Arts of India
by Joseph M. Dye III
Art from the East
by Fred Stern

Surprises at Chelsea's new Asian art gallery
Plum Blossoms, the new Asian art gallery in Manhattan's Chelsea art district, is huge! Sprawling in perfect space, between 10th and 11th Avenue at 555 West 25th Street, the gallery feels like a museum, a good museum.

The current show, "Carving the Divine," celebrates the first anniversary of the gallery, whose main space is in central Hong Kong. There, too, I had marveled at the great use of space, light and imagination.

"Carving the Divine" is a first-rate sculpture show covering 1,000 years of Indian stone sculpture between the 2nd century BC and the 12th century AD. Of course, a selection of 32 objects cannot even begin to suggest the superb work of Indian artists in the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain tradition during this period. But judging by the crowds attending this critically acclaimed display, all the vibrations are good.

The prime characteristic of Indian art and especially in sculpture is the sensuality of form and with it the clear understanding of the human body and its spiritual components.

Take a look at the Fragment of Brahma & Brahmini. Brahma is the creator of the world and Brahmini is his daughter. The buff sandstone sculpture of the divine couple shows them in all their finery surrounded by eight attendants. Not content with a simple structure, the sculptor created five heads for Brahmini.

The most spectacular object in the show is a double architrave, the principal beam of a structure, usually supporting columns, here 11 feet long in red sandstone. The assortment of figures is almost too complex to describe. One side depicts a central Stupa (reliquary of the Buddha) surrounded by groups of Bodhisattvas (would be saints and monks. The reverse side features Makaras (mythological creatures part fish and part crocodile).

Hurry to see this show, which ends Mar. 9. Next up is "China Diary: The Oxen," Mar. 15-Apr. 13, 2002, an exhibition of recent paintings by Zhu Wei, a contemporary Chinese symbolist who uses ink and color on paper.

"Circles of Reflection" at the China Institute
In many ways, the history of humankind parallels the history of mirrors. Only when people really knew what they looked like, could they more fully understand their relation to the outside world.

All this is illustrated by the current show at the China Institute (125 East 65th Street), "Circles of Reflection: The Carter Collection of Chinese Bronze Mirrors." The show of some 90 mirrors spans the Warring States period (480-221 BC) to the end of the Qing dynasty (1911 AD). Some mirrors are pocket-sized, while others are as large as 15 inches in diameter, with perforated knobs at the center of the decorated side through which ribbons were strung.

The most common production technique was mold casting, but the cire perdue (lost wax) was almost as popular. A more complex casting method, "jinyin pingtuo," in which gold and silver are layered on a lacquered base, was also common.

Mythological and historic figures feature prominently in the collection, as do astronomical signs, flowers, birds and other animals. In fact many of the mirrors are purely ornamental.

Often the mirrors were buried with their owners or passed along to heirs. The elaborate catalogue is an intriguing keepsake and reference work. The exhibition, which was organized by the Cleveland Museum from its holdings, is on view till June 2, 2002.

The golden age of Chinese ceramics
The theme of this year's Asia Week exhibition at J. J. Lally & Co. in New York (at 41 East 57th Street) is the relationship of silver and porcelain objects in the Song Dynasty (960 AD-1279 AD). The survey features 25 porcelains and 10 silver vessels of the era.

The dynamic interaction of silversmiths and potters in the Song dynasty is perfectly demonstrated by the silver flower-shaped wine cup and stand. The flaring foot of the cup rests on a low pedestal in the center of a saucer-shaped stand with high-flanged foot. The pale blue glazed porcelain example very carefully follows the silver prototype, even though the high foot is not a natural ceramic shape.

Today, although there are many Song porcelain objects, Song silver has become quite rare, retaining its strong following.

New catalogue of Asian arts at Virginia Museum
Paul Mellon was instrumental in providing the funds for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, whose Indian art collection today ranks fourth in the U.S.

Now, Joseph M. Dye III, curator for the collection, has brought out with the assistance of others at the museum a comprehensive tome -- weighing in at more than seven pounds -- that serves as catalogue and scholarly guide. It is also a superb example of the kind of thing that today's printing industry can achieve.

By far the most spectacular chapter in the book covers Mughal painting, which triumphed from 1526 to 1605 and is often said to be India's equivalent to Renaissance art. The mughals came from Samarkhand, and many of the artists served them at this Persian court.

The Rajahs of the Punjab hills and the Deccans had their own brilliant painters, who depicted the rulers themselves in their splendid garments, as well as their Maharanis, their magnificent horses, their hunts and durbars (tourneys), and the flora and fauna of the subcontinent. The perfect color work of the printers especially in the botanical sections greatly enhances the book's value.

Their brilliant work is not only at the Virginia but in many American museums, in private hands and of course at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Great religious monuments abound in India and from the very first they were suffused by a sensual quality not readily found in religious sculpture anywhere else in the world. The museum's holdings, modeled in sandstone, schist, limestone or cast in copper alloy and portraying the figures of Buddha, the dancing Vishnu and the ever-present Devi, are astonishing in their variety and completeness.

Most interesting also is the section on the decorative arts and textiles which ordinarily get short shrift in most Indian histories.

FRED STERN writes on art and antiques.