Asian Art at the Met: Why Self Loves Chinese Painting

Dearest Mum is leaving tonight for Japan, where she is slated to give a concert, at the behest of one Sister Remedios, who self remembers as her sixth grade art teacher (To this day self knows her only as “Sister Remedios”) Self called Dearest Mum to wish her Bon Voyage. In the midst of the conversation, Dearest Mum suddenly said that if self was planning to bring books to Tel Aviv for Ying, self had better make sure they were audio books. She said it so casually, as if it were the most matter-of-fact thing in the world. Sighing, she then added, “Well, you know, when the body starts to go downhill . . . ”

* * * *

Self found this article in the Weekend Arts section of the Friday, 14 March 08 New York Times, along with a picture of a section of Qian Xuan’s masterly painting, “Wang Xizhi Watching Geese” :

An Art Review by Holland Cotter:

From his terrace, the world is blue and green — mountains and trees — or almost green. Spring is on the way: the geese are back. One, then two, alight on the river, with more still invisible but close behind. Pavilion living! The only way. With the city somewhere down there, and nature everywhere up here, he watches mist rise. River meets sky.

The calm watcher is the fourth-century scholar-artist Wang Xizhi, father of classical calligraphy and model for living an active life in retreat. He is depicted by the painter Qian Xuan, another connoisseur of reclusion, in a 13th-century handscroll at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The scroll is in “Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings,” a spare, studious show that offers , along with many stimulations, a retreat from worldly tumult — the religious fervor, the courtly pomp, the expressive self-promotion — that fills much of the museum.

This exhibition is also a refuge from the hurly-burly of Asia Week in New York, which is now in session and has mushroomed into three weeks this year. Dealers are in town from abroad with special shows; others arrive next week. Two art fairs are returning. Add a passel of events devoted to contemporary Asian art, along with the auctions, and the situation is clear: a marathon stretch of looking, judging, sorting, tsk-tsking and oh-mying, not to mention wheeling and dealing. Naturally, the urge to get away from it all can be strong.

I mean, isn’t part of the point of our Western passion for Asian art to find a serenity that we can’t seem to cook up on our own, a metabolic slow-down, a less-is-more state of grace? One 15th-century Chinese writer recorded such an ideal in a lifestyle wish list that includes:

“A nice cottage. A clean table. A clear sky with a beautiful moon. A vase of flowers. No cares of the world.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

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