Asia Society Presents Two Rockefeller Collection Exhibitions Including Several Rarely Seen Objects

January 29 - July 27, 2008

January 29 - May 4, 2008

Asia Society concurrently presents two exhibitions of East Asian art from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, the Society's permanent collection of traditional art. The Shape of Things: Chinese and Japanese Art examines the form and function of selected ceramics, metalworks, sculpture and painting while First Under Heaven showcases extraordinary stoneware and porcelain from Korea.

The Shape of Things: Chinese and Japanese Art from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection

The Shape of Things includes works dating from the Neolithic period through the nineteenth century and considers how the form of an object reveals a depth of information about its function and production. Divided into three sections, the exhibition considers the unique forms and materials of objects designed for ritual use, daily use, and decoration. Approximately 90 works from the Society's permanent collection, several of which have been displayed only rarely, have been selected for this exhibition.

Objects for Ritual Use
Among the earlier pieces on display are earthenware sculptures and vessels believed to have been used for ritual and funerary uses. A clay female figure made in the northeastern region of Japan during the final phase of the Jomon period (ca. 1000-300 B.C.E.), decorated with twisted cords pressed onto clay, is linked to magical healing. Elegantly formed and elaborate Chinese bronzes from the Shang (ca. 1600-1050 B.C.E.), through Han (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) period have forms derived from Neolithic ceramic prototypes.

Examples of later Chinese imperial stem cups and plates on display also have ties to ancient ritual forms. Ming-period (1368-1644) imperial porcelains with specific colors and patterns were commissioned for temples where imperial ceremonies took place.

Objects for Daily Use
The exhibition includes sumptuous dishes, bowls, platters, cups, jars, bottles, and vases used for eating and drinking by the masses as well as by royals and elites. The development of strong, high-fired stonewares and porcelains with equally tough glazes has ensured that many of these wares have maintained much of their original beauty over hundreds of years. Exquisite lacquer objects played a central role in Japanese life and culture and were used on furniture and boxes for writing utensils and scripture. A Meiji-period (1868-1912) box cover on display is elaborately decorated with a flower surrounded by phoenixes, each of which holds a branch in its beak, a pattern that has links to an eighth-century classical Japanese design. While most of the objects in this section were created for the domestic market, some of the objects were made expressly for export to Western markets, as evidenced by their motifs.

Objects for Decoration
Carvings of wood and stone, ornamental ceramics, decorative metalwork, and paintings in this section attest to the breadth of artistic output of purely decorative objects. Most of the decorative works on view were created for domestic tastes and markets. Paintings in the form of hanging scrolls, album leaves, and screens feature symbolic imagery or visual narrative references to well-known stories or poems.

The Shape of Things is curated by Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Curator of Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society, with Xiaojin Wu, Asia Society Museum Fellow.

First Under Heaven: Korean Ceramics from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Collection of Asian Art

First Under Heaven showcases exquisite celadon glazed stonewares of the Korean Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) as well as earlier stonewares, rarely on display, and underglaze cobalt blue porcelains.

Throughout their long history, ceramics in Korea have functioned variously as religious, burial, and utilitarian vessels. It was during the Three Kingdoms period (57 B.C.E.-668 C.E.) that Koreans first produced the grey, high-fired ceramics known as stoneware. Over time, production and glazing techniques became more highly developed and refined. The emergence of celadon, or green-glazed ware, during the Goryeo dynasty marked a turning point in the history of Korean ceramics. Not only was celadon a technological progression from earlier stonewares, it also represented a shift in the concept of ceramics: beyond having functional or symbolic value to being objects of aesthetic appreciation.

For centuries, Goryeo ceramics have been prized for their extraordinary craftsmanship and beautiful glaze, which is seen on an elegant pair of Foliate Bowl-and-Saucer sets in the exhibition. Potters made the best porcelains for the court at royal kilns, and also produced a range of porcelains for the general population at provincial kilns. Symbols of longevity, such as the crane, pine and moon seen on the large Joseon-dynasty (mid-18th century) storage jar on display, were among the more popular motifs.

The exhibition title refers to the twelfth-century Chinese author Taiping Laoren, who characterized the beautiful celadon glazed stonewares as one among a list of items he designated as "first under heaven." Over the centuries, Koreans themselves have highly prized such pieces for use in both royal and Buddhist contexts.

First Under Heaven is curated by Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Curator of Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society.

About Asia Society's permanent collection
Long known to specialists and enthusiasts of Asian art throughout the world, the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection forms the basis of the Asia Society's permanent collection. Often described as "gemlike," the collection ranges from sculpture to imperial Southeast Asia. The Collection is noted for its high proportion of masterpiece-quality works and for the scholarly importance of many of them. The gift of the collection in 1978, which includes 258 objects, served as a primary impetus for the building of the Asia Society's headquarters on Park Avenue.

About the Asia Society
Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders and institutions of the United States and Asia. The Society seeks to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of policy, business, education, arts and culture. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit educational institution with offices in Hong Kong, Houston, Los Angeles, Manila, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, and Washington, D.C.

Asia Society Museum presents groundbreaking exhibitions and artworks, many previously unseen in North America. Through exhibitions and related public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art.

Asia Society and Museum
725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City. The Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Closed on Mondays and major holidays. General admission is $10, seniors $7, students $5 and free for members and persons under 16. Free admission Friday evenings, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.
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Contact: Elaine Merguerian at 212-327-9271