Gifts from the Tang Center

The Art Museum often undertakes exhibitions and projects in collaboration with professors, libraries, and research centers at Princeton University. In Asian art one of the most steadfast campus partners has been the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art. This spring will mark the Tang Center’s fifteenth anniversary, and to celebrate this occasion the installation Gifts from the Tang Center is on view in the Asian galleries.

Liu Heung Shing (Chinese, born 1951), Three Youths in Simao, Yunnan Province, 1981, printed 2002. Gelatin silver print, 37.5 x 55.8 cm. Gift of the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art. © Liu Heung Shing The Tang Center was established with the goal of building upon Princeton’s long history of scholarship and activity in the realm of East Asian art. During the past decade and a half, under the leadership of director Jerome Silbergeld, the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Professor of Chinese Art History, and Dora Ching, associate director, the Center has organized an impressive array of international symposia, lectures, workshops, graduate student conferences, and publications.

The Tang Center and the Art Museum were natural partners from the beginning, and the close collaboration between the two has been remarkably fruitful. This was signaled even by the Tang Center’s inaugural activities, including a 2002 joint purchase with the Museum and the East Asian Studies Program of the seminal Book from the Sky, a set of four hand-printed books by the contemporary artist Xu Bing. This was followed by a symposium on the art of Xu Bing and an exhibition of the artist’s work in the Museum.

Xu Bing (Chinese, born 1955), Mountain City (Shan cheng) from the Shattered Jade Series, 1982. Woodblock print; ink on paper, block: 15.2 x 14.7 cm. Museum purchase, Asian Art Department Fund and gift of the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art. © 1982, Xu Bing / photo: Bruce M. WhiteIn subsequent years, the Tang Center has continued its generous support of Museum acquisitions. Gifts from the Tang Center displays almost the entire scope of these purchases (an additional piece is Zhi Lin’s Drawing and Quartering, from the series Five Capital Punishments in China from 2000–2003, on display in Marquand Mather Court). Including both traditional and contemporary works by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean artists in a wide variety of media, these gifts and joint acquisitions clearly demonstrate the Center’s commitment to enriching and broadening the Museum’s Asian art collections. Highlights from the installation include a second Xu Bing gift, Mountain City (Shan cheng) from the Shattered Jade Series, a print from the early period of the artist’s career. Also on view is Hon’ami Kōetsu’s Selections from the New Collection of Japanese Poems. Made before 1615, the work contains poetic verses dynamically brushed across the surface in a manner known as “scattered writing.” The rhythm and intensity of the ink allow the fluid characters to harmonize with the rhythm of woodblock-printed designs on sheets of colored paper. The Tang Center gifted many photographs to the Museum, including Liu Heung Shing’s Three Youths in Simao, Yunnan Province. An arresting image of three young men wearing sunglasses taken at the end of the Mao period, the photograph captures the confidence tinged with defiance that characterized the period’s youth.

Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637), Japanese, Edo period, 1600–1868, Selections from the New Collection of Japanese Poems from Ancient and Modern Times (Shinkokin wakashū) with Printed Designs of Plants and Animals, before 1615. Handscroll; ink and mica on colored paper, 24.1 x 414.5 cm. Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund; Executive Committee of The Embodied Image: Chinese Calligraphy from the John B. Elliott Collection in Japan; and the P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art. Photo: Bruce M. WhiteExhibitions have been one of the more ambitious collaborations undertaken by the Center and the Museum. Rarely has a major Tang Center symposium occurred without an accompanying installation in the galleries; however, three projects in particular attest to the full strength of our working partnership. In 2005, during Recarving China’s Past: Art, Archaeology, and Architecture of the “Wu Family Shrines,” an exhibition with a comprehensive catalogue, the Tang Center held a large symposium that brought scholars together to engage the themes of the exhibit. Working closely with the Museum, the Center published the symposium proceedings, which resulted in a distinguished volume that further enhanced interest in and study of the Wu Family Shrines and the broader field of Han dynasty art. A second large-scale collaboration was equally significant: the 2009 exhibition Outside In: Chinese x American x Contemporary Art curated by Jerome Silbergeld. The most recent joint exhibition, Sacred Caves of the Silk Road: Ways of Knowing and Re-creating Dunhuang, focused on the art and architecture of China’s Dunhuang caves. The project was the result of years of research by Cary Liu, curator of Asian art; Dora Ching; and Zoe Kwok, assistant curator of Asian art.

While the installation Gifts from the Tang Center celebrates the Center’s anniversary, it is also a celebration of the close and continuing relationship forged between the colleagues of these two Princeton institutions. We work together because of high mutual regard, understanding, support, and friendship. We happily anticipate many more joint projects.

Zoe S. Kwok

Assistant Curator of Asian Art