editorials - November -
I START this Editorial for
our Singapore Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) issue with
documentary illustrations from my visit to Singapore in
June 2001; though I can say our first Singapore issue dates
back to July-August 1971 (and we have regularly had Singapore
issues and museum coverage since then). The main article
thirty-one years ago was titled "Singapore's
Museums-An Imperial Legacy" and was written by Ilsa
Sharp. It is to Singapore's credit from a heritage point
of view that in establishing the ACM it was decided to
restore and update the Empress Place Building and its gardens,
on the elbow of the Singapore River (1) overlooking the
Boat Quay (2).
The site is of undoubted historical importance
as it marks Sir Stamford Raffles' landing site, where you
can now pick up river boat rides and taxi boats. The Empress
Place Building needed considerable sensitive adaptation and
extension for its museum gallery purposes. In the process
the best features of the classical neo-Renaissance 19th century
building were carefully retained and also followed.
In the third photograph (3)
I am posed in front of the first Asian Civilisations Museum
building on Armenian Street, once a school, with museum
staff who I sincerely thank for their contributions without
which this issue would not have been possible. In the group
photograph, adjoining me is Kenson Kwok, the museum's director,
who I am sure will not mind my mentioning has a doctorate
in architecture and planning from London University. He
worked for the Housing and Development Board, Singapore
from 1984 until joining the National Museum as senior curator
in 1992. For the history of the museum's establishment,
the restoration and extension of the Empress Place Building,
arrangement of the galleries and displays, you cannot do
better than turn to Dr Kenson Kwok's "Introduction" which
starts on page 44.
Amongst the museum group, standing behind me are Ms Heidi Tan and Mr Tan
Boon Hui (who writes about the Edmond Chin Collection). Edmond Chin himself
is standing on the far left of the picture, slightly apart from the others.
On the right side of the picture are, Ms Chung May Khuen (the taller of
the ladies) and Ms Tan Huism, while standing behind them is Mr Danny Tan.
We very much enjoyed being shown the landmarks
around the site by our friend Kenson. We are seen together
at the museum's entrance end of the Cavenagh Bridge close
to the bridge's twin-turreted arch (4).
At the other end of the bridge can be seen
The Fullerton Singapore, the hotel across the river on
the left. The second landmark is the Victoria Theatre and
Concert Hall with its clock tower (5). This can also be
seen in our final picture of the museum and its terrace
and garden from the river. It rises above the Cavenagh
Bridge turret on the right-hand side of the picture (6).
While still on Singapore I would like to draw
attention to our specially commissioned article for this
number from the regional writer Mr Fong Peng Khuan. On our
behalf he visited Singapore to personally interview Nancy
Gan at her charming house and garden. He traces Nancy's career,
first as a fashion designer, then music student and London-trained
music teacher. Finally he records her chosen passion as an
artist and skilful porcelain painter, and the materials she
Nancy is seen in this most recent photograph as the centre of attraction
of a group of American and international teachers at the Century Plaza
Hotel in Los Angeles, where she was attending the International Porcelain
Arts Teacher Convention in 2002 (7).
As the publisher of this art magazine since
its foundation in 1970 I was delighted to be able to meet
once again Ulrich von Schroeder when he called at my office
(8) on August 6th, 2002 on his way to Beijing for a conference.
This gave me the opportunity to conduct an interview but
before recounting this some background is appropriate.
Ulrich von Schroeder who was born in 1943 in
Zurich, is a Swiss citizen. He is married, his wife Heidi
is also interested in Buddhism (9), and their son Aaron Alexander
was born in 1978. In his personal data, from which I have
drawn this information, he gives his hobby as Buddhism and
his occupation as historian of Buddhist art and culture,
but in truth, both categories have been his life work starting
in 1965 to 1975 when he had his first contacts with Asian
cultures and especially Buddhism during numerous travels
to South and Southeast Asia.
During 1976 to 1981 he was involved as co-author
and consultant with his wife Heidi with three public exhibitions
on various aspects of Buddhist arts of India, Himalayas and
Tibet, requiring extensive field research. The results were
to be seen in his first major work, Indo-Tibetan Bronzes
(1981), which established the style of Buddhist Sculptures
of Sri Lanka (1990), and Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet (2001)
that followed at approximately ten-year intervals. Indo-Tibetan
Bronzes, which was the result of his sixteen years of studying
Buddhist art, has been my own primary source as a minor student
and collector in this same field. How can I forget when he
first came to our offices in 1981 and sold me his Indo-Tibetan
It may be said each of von Schroeder's major works takes
close to ten years of travel and field research and study
to prepare and produce. His Buddhist Sculptures of Sri
Lanka, with the collaboration of the Archaeological Department
of Sri Lanka, was again published in Hong Kong, in 1990. The latest work,
the result of no less than fourteen trips to the sites, is Buddhist Sculptures
in Tibet, published in 2001 in two volumes: Volume One-India & Nepal,
Volume Two-Tibet & China. The first volume is 655 pages with 766
illustrations; the second volume is 675 pages with 987 illustrations.
I have a tremendous respect and admiration for von Schroeder's endurance,
tenacity and perseverance during his last ten years of research and writing
for his most recent two volumes. To me his Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet
is his finest achievement so far. According to the author, his books and
further information are available from Visual Dharma Publications Ltd,
c/o Zurcher Freilager AG, Freilagerstrasse 47, P.O. Box, CH 8043 Zurich,
Tuyet Nguyet: For ten years you devoted your time on
such a tough book project, Buddhist Sculptures in Tibet.
Did you ever despair?
Ulrich von Schroeder: No, I never despaired, because
I had earlier successfully completed other big book projects.
For me such a project is not work but rather a form of
meditation. It is my passion. Friends were amazed with
my energy level. In the end either you are finished or
the book is finished. Obviously I finished the book.
It did not finish me. The obstacles did not defeat me.
When I worked on this project I knew that unless my health
failed I would finish the book.
However, if I had known that it would require fourteen trips to Tibet
to obtain sufficient documentation I might not have started the project.
Travelling in Tibet is very complicated and expensive. It is difficult
to get the necessary permits. When you get ill in Tibet you have to leave
the next day. I took all the photographs myself, which was a very difficult
task. That is why it took fourteen trips. Some other Western scholars
were wondering how I managed to get access. I am persistent. They also
recognised through my earlier two large books that this kind of work
is my way of life.
In the beginning I started my research with the smaller monasteries and
found the valuable pieces had all disappeared. The day arrived when I
realised that unless I got access to the collections of the Potala in
Lhasa there would have been no book. Otherwise my work over the previous
three years would have been useless.
It was a time-consuming process to get the trust of the Tibetans in charge
of the Potala Palace. In return for the permissions to take photographs
I provided them with books and cameras in addition to the documentation
of all statues photographed. I also made them aware of the importance
of protecting their collections.
It is sad that anyone who wants to study Tibetan art these days has to
depend on exhibition catalogues and sales catalogues illustrating objects
all dislocated from their original settings. Mine is the first and only
major publication documenting Buddhist sculptures which are still in
Tibet. It is also very likely that the pieces will remain in the Potala
for centuries to come. That means future generations of scholars can
refer to the same pieces at the Potala.
In the beginning I complained that I did not have enough photographs
of a sufficient number of sculptures to make a book. But once I got access
to the Potala I realised all the information would not fit in one volume.
My wife and friends encouraged me to add a second volume. Personally
I was a little concerned that the market would not be able to absorb
it. I have done this work as a private individual without any official
permission or grant.
On May 17th, 2002, the Swiss Ambassador to China invited numerous Chinese
officials and scholars of Tibetan culture to the inauguration of my book.
Everyone seemed to be delighted. On that occasion I gave away ten free
copies to local institutions and libraries. In June 2002 I visited together
with my wife and son the monasteries in Tibet where I had taken photographs
and presented copies of my book. The reaction of the Chinese and Tibetan
scholars has been very positive. I have since been invited to give lectures
at various institutions.
TN: What is your most vivid
memory in Tibet? UvS: The cold gilding to the Jobo Rinpoche
together with my wife and son last June. This image is
the most sacred and famous of all Buddha images in Tibet
and traditionally believed to have been donated in the
7th century by the Chinese Princess Wencheng. Most people
are only allowed to gild the face with gold powder. However
for me they held a major ceremony with monks chanting while
the whole statue was cold gilded and the eyes painted (10).
It should be mentioned that the books are dedicated to
the Jobo image.
TN: Of all the beautiful
arts you have seen which would you treasure most?
UvS: There is not just one particular image. Each time
I would point out another sculpture. But it would always
be one of the early statues of the Yarlung dynasty
dating from the 7th/8th century. In all previous books
on Tibetan art published sculptures date at the earliest
from the 11th century. My discoveries have expanded the
Tibetan history of art by almost four hundred years! One
of the oldest Tibetan statues I know is in my collection
and had earlier been published three times as Nepalese
(11). So far there have been no objections to my attribution
of similar statues of the Yarlung dynasty. Among them
is the composite image with aspects of Agni, Yama,
Kubera and Hayagriva in the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. My
conclusions are based on thirty-seven years of research
modified by collaboration with other scholars. If ten years
ago I thought I already knew everything then I would not
have produced another two volumes. Still, everyday
I learn something.
TN: What criteria can you
use to assert whether something is Nepalese or made in
Tibet? UvS: For me history of art is the history of style.
At present there is an academic dispute whether a thangka
was painted by a Tibetan or an Indian. However this debate
neglects references to the style, which according to
my personal opinion in this case is purely Indian. The
same applies to sculptures. Works cast by Nepalese artists
within their own culture differ in style from those cast
by Nepalese for Tibetan patrons and those cast by Tibetans
Himalayan and Tibetan art is the most complicated in terms of style for
the whole Southeast Asian region. That is why it takes a very long time
to build up the aptitude and experience. That is why there are only few
new books written in this field. It is also important to handle personally
the objects and not to work only with pictures.
TN: You have mentioned in your writing that during the
second propagation of Buddhism in the 11th century no
Tibetan artists would have been able to cast refined
UvS: In my opinion it takes several generations to become
master craftsmen. It is also something that has to be
inborn. If it had been easy to master these crafts, then
would the Tibetans have invited Nepalese and Indian craftsmen
to come to Tibet?
TN: How do you explain the numerous Chinese metal statues
of the Yongle (1403-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) periods
UvS: These statues were gifts by the Chinese emperors
of the Ming dynasty to particular Tibetan teachers and
monasteries. That may be an explanation why the Yongle
inscriptions sometimes read left to right as the Tibetans
do in their own language. There exist Chinese records
which list the number of statues given as gifts during
the Yongle and Xuande periods. There are hundreds of
Yongle statues in the collections of the Potala Palace.
But the repetitions of certain iconographies limited
the number of statues to be illustrated in my publication.
Chinese Buddhist statues were mostly made in China's
Beijing Imperial workshops. In general they were made
with the help of reusable wax matrices. This is why the
styles are so consistent. If the workshops in China were
not so controlled and "centralised" then you
might have a greater number of styles as in Tibet. Some
of the Yongle period statues in the Palace Museum in
Beijing were received as a gift from a Dalai Lama.
TN: How do you distinguish metal statues of the Yongle
and Xuande periods?
UvS: If an early Ming Buddhist statue has anarrow pedestal
it is more likely to be Yongle. If the pedestal is broader
then it is more likely to be Xuande. I go into this in
the last chapter of my book.
TN: Do you feel the Xuande images are as beautiful as
the Yongle pieces?
UvS: In general the finishing touches of the Xuande
statues are less refined than of those cast during the
Yongle period. The quality of some of the Yongle statues
is unsurpassed in Ming China. The Xuande statues are
however more rare. In my book I regret there are only
three Xuande examples.
TN: You distinguish in your book between brass and gilt
statues. Which ones are superior?
UvS: "Real" connoisseurs go for non-gilt pieces.
However, the quality of craftsmanship has nothing to
do with whether it is gilded or not.
TN: Besides Tibet where in the world should we go to
see high-quality Tibetan art?
UvS: Actually Tibet is not the place where you want
to go to see Tibetan art. The larger sculptures are all
dressed up and the smaller pieces are kept behind glass.
I would advise your readers to go to the following museums:
the Ashmolean Musuem in Oxford, Asian Art Museum of San
Francisco, Brooklyn Museum, Cleveland Museum of Art,
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Metropolitan Museum,
Musée Guimet in Paris, Museum der Kulturen in
Basel, Newark Museum, Norton Simon Foundation in Pasadena,
or the Berti Aschmann Foundation at the Rietberg Museum
TN: Finally what is your next project?
UvS: I am on my way to Beijing to attend an international
conference on Tibetan archaeology and art. It has to
do with new discoveries. At the inauguration of my new
book in Beijing earlier this year I met a number of Chinese
and Tibetan scholars for the first time. I want to further
Coming to visit me on August
20th, was Italian Oriental art specialist, traveller and
author Renzo Freschi. A fluent writer, he first contributed
to Arts of Asia in 1987 on "Mukhalinga-The Countenance of the Hero God" (January-February
1987) and "Indian Horses and Horsemen" (July-August
1987). Renzo's gallery is in Milan and from October 15th
to November 30th will hold an exhibition and sale of more
than fifty stone sculptures from the 2nd-11th century,
coming from Central and North India. Amongst these, a considerable
succession of female figures and Hindu gods' steles includes
a sandstone Nagaraja, Rajasthan, 10th century, height 87
A forty-four page accompanying
catalogue with three essays on "Sculpture, Aesthetics and Mythology" of
India, has been written by two Italian scholars, and presents
thirty particular works with specific texts.
The first forty to fifty pages or so of each issue of Arts
of Asia that follow my Editorial are amongst the most carefully
scrutinised by our worldwide readers. These pages are the
presentations of foremost international art dealers and
auction houses, and show what will be offered in their
galleries and salerooms, and at notable coming events.
For instance, noticeable in this edition are the desirable
pieces which will be offered by London's major Asian art
dealers and auction houses during the fifth "Asian
Art in London", from November 7th-15th, 2002. I list for the record
the names of those participating companies which appear in our pages: A&J
Speelman, Alexander Götz, Anthony Carter, Eskenazi Ltd, John Eskenazi,
Priestley & Ferraro, Oriental Arts (UK) Ltd, Roger Keverne Ltd, S.
Marchant & Son, Sotheby's, and Theresa McCullough Ltd.
The following illustrations
come from five of these companies holding special exhibitions
in their galleries to coincide with the London occasion.
Seen first is a Chinese gilt bronze figure of a seated
louhan (disciple of Buddha), Liao dynasty, height 24.2
cm (13). According to A&J Speelman
it will be seen at their 129 Mount Street gallery together
with over fifty Chinese sculptures and works of art covering
the last two thousand years. No other gilt bronze louhan
from this period appears to have been published.
Eskenazi Ltd is showing two rare Chinese porcelain
fish jars of the 14th and 16th centuries at 10 Clifford Street,
as the centerpiece of their autumn exhibition. Seen here
is the earlier of the two-a porcelain guan (jar) painted
in underglaze blue with four fish swimming amongst aquatic
plants, Yuan dynasty, height 28.5 cm (14). Accompanying these
two exceptional jars will be an excellent range of other
Chinese works of art such as bronzes, early ceramics, sculpture
and other pieces of fine porcelain for which this London
company is noted.
James Hennessy of Oriental Arts (UK) Ltd at
1 Princess Place, Duke Street, told me he, Richard Littleton
and Geoffrey Chapman are delighted to be partaking in this
year's Asian Art in London and look forward to seeing all
their friends during this exciting time. His chosen image
is of a meiping (vase) with plum blossom decoration, Jizhou
ware of the Southern Song dynasty, height 22.2 cm (15). Also
of special interest is their Zhengde mark and period monochrome
yellow glaze dish and a Qianlong mark and period carved cinnabar
lacquer dragon box and cover.
Roger Keverne of 16 Clifford
Street is a well-known expert on jade. He first wrote for
us in our July-August 1975 issue on "Jade: A Review of the Exhibition at the
Victoria and Albert Museum". Of particular note in his
coming exhibition is a rhyton cup formerly in the collections
of J. P. Morgan and the American Museum of Natural History,
New York. There is a similar example in the Forbidden City,
Beijing. A fine and unusual small jade boulder with figures
in relief, 18th century, height 9.5 cm will also be seen
(16). Other offerings include 18th century Chinese examples
of cloisonné, lacquer, glass and scholars' desk
items, and Chinese bronzes of the Warring States, Western
Han and later periods.
Theresa McCullough is a London-based dealer
specialising in Indian and Southeast Asian works of art,
predominantly sculpture as well as Southeast Asian gold jewellery
and textiles. Also a former specialist at Spink and Son Ltd,
where she developed her expertise for an international market,
she opened her own gallery in June 2000. She will be showing
at 35 Dover Street a collection of stone, bronze and terracotta
sculpture from India and Southeast Asia. Her pink sandstone
Sarasvati (goddess of wisdom, music and speech) (17), Madhya
Pradesh or Rajasthan, India, 11th century, height 56 cm is
one of the most popular and easily recognised of the Indian
goddesses. For Hindus she is the consort of Brahma, though
as here is most often depicted separately. She is also revered
by Buddhists and Jains.
I had the pleasure of attending
the opening party and exhibition of fine early Chinese
furniture on September 6th marking the 20th anniversary
of Altfield Gallery in Hong Kong. The neat six-page invitation-brochure
explained there were two distinct groups of furniture displayed. "Firstly
an important group of 'Early Traditional' style pieces, many
of them lacquered" and a second group which "falls
into the 'Traditional Classical' style which are more restrained,
and simple, and often found in the later hardwood furniture
of the Ming and Qing."
The joint owners of the company-David Halperin,
a notable American lawyer, and his radiant associate Amanda
Lack (Mrs Stephen Clark)-are seen welcoming guests (18).
I wish the Altfield group continuing and still wider success,
not only in Hong Kong but also at their expanding premises
in England and Thailand.
The Metropolitan Museum of
Art from October 1st, 2002 to January 5th, 2003 will be
showing an exhibition of Ordos artefacts, mainly a Eugene
V. Thaw gift with selections from other private collections
and the Metropolitan's holdings. "The
more than two hundred works in bronze, gold and silver include
horse harness and chariot fittings, belt ornaments, garment
plaques, weapons and vessels that are characterised by bold
designs and skilled craftsmanship." In recognition of
the gift and exhibition, J.J. Lally & Co. will be showing
in their gallery in New York in October and November a
fine group of Ordos bronzes, including a bronze openwork
plaque with two ibex, northern China, Xiongnu, circa 2nd
century BC, length 14 cm (19).
On December 4th, 2002, Sotheby's Amsterdam
will auction a collection of some thirty Chinese paintings
including four by Qi Baishi, the former property of a late
Austrian owner who lived in China in the 1930s and 1940s.
Drs Feng-Chun Ma, Director of the Amsterdam auction house,
has sent me a most interesting photograph showing the artist
Qi Baishi at the age of ninety-seven at the entrance to his
residence in Beijing (20). Her own father, Mr Ma Wen-Shan,
was a friend of Qi Baishi and is seen on the artist's left
holding his hand. On the right of Qi Baishi are two of his
sons and a friend. The Chinese text in simplified characters
on the top of the photograph identifies the date as April
25th, 1957, the year that Qi Baishi died.
Mr Ma Wen-Shan was one of
the earliest dealers in Chinese antiques in the Netherlands.
He was born in Shandong province and came to the Netherlands
in the 1930s with his wife (Feng-Chun's mother) who was
also from Shandong. Feng-Chun's father "was well-known
for the love for his homeland China and promoted friendly
relationships between China and the Netherlands. He contributed
to the construction of bridges and the building of schools
in his native province Shandong. Until his death in 1979
he had been Chairman of the Society of Overseas Chinese
in the Netherlands. In this function he was received during
one of his frequent visits to China by Chairman Deng Xiaoping
for a banquet in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
He passed on his passion for China and its art and culture
to his children who were all born in the Netherlands."
Before returning to Singapore and closing my Editorial
I would like to mention the unusual exhibition that will
be held by the new National Museum of Australia in collaboration
with the Guangzhou Museum of Art in Guangzhou (Canton)
City, Guangdong province, China where it will take place.
Titled "Past & Present-Stories
from Australia by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Communities",
it will focus on their rich cultures. It opens on December 6th, 2002
to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and
Australia. For more information I suggest readers contact Martin Portus,
Director of Public Affairs, National Museum of Australia, GPO Box 1901,
Canberra Act 2601, Tel: +61(0)2-6208-5351, Fax: +61(0)2-6208-5398, E-mail: email@example.com
Finally, from the very latest information received from Singapore, the
opening date of the Singapore Asian Civilisations Museum is likely to be
the end of February 2003. It is forecast to be a notable occasion and this
November-December 2002 issue of Arts of Asia will have its place as an
important and topical part. The museum has pre-ordered a substantial number
of copies for their supporters and distinguished guests who have been invited
to the opening. One thousand guests are expected to attend including the
Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew and
other representatives of their countries and museums.