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editorials - May - June 2004

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COMPLETING the March - April 2004 Special Edition, our 200th magazine, and distributing it to the farther parts of the world in good time, has been like lifting a heavy weight from my shoulders. Already, many letters from our supportive readers have been received, with their congratulations and comments, and I hope, in time, to be able to respond and acknowledge each one personally. But for the moment that may not be possible as I must devote myself to the preparation of the May - June 2004 Editorial, before I leave Hong Kong by air on March 20th to cover in person the events of Asia Week in New York City, from Sunday March 21st to Wednesday March 31st.

From here I would first like to advise readers briefly of the contents of the May–June 2004 magazine. Its main Philippine articles are followed with reviews of major international art exhibitions in Switzerland and America by appropriate specialists - The Müller Collection of Chinese Ceramics at the Baur Museum, and Painted Poems: An Exhibition of Rajput Paintings at the Norton Simon Museum.

In his first article on the Paulino Que Collection of Philippine Paintings for our July - August 1991 magazine, noted Philippines poet, art critic and museum curator Emmanuel Torres pointed out fourteen years ago that the then young property developer Paulino Que might have been considered a beginner in Philippines art collecting and had, in 1980, started "rather late in the game". Already prices of known masterpieces had reached astonishing levels.

However, with his continuation of that article in our May - June 2004 magazine, the equally distinguished art critic, historian and author Ramon N. Villegas, an hereditary jewellery designer, reveals the collection now consists of a thousand paintings, reflecting Philippine artists' work at the peak of their creative powers. From forty exclusive masterpieces that hang on Paulino Que's walls seen and evaluated in the Ramon N. Villegas article - covering colonial religious art, late 19th century secular paintings, the Amorsolo School, the early Moderns, the Neorealists and PAG (Philippine Art Gallery) group, the social realists, and the late 20th century or "new" painters - the largest number are recent acquisitions.

The Philippines has one of the earliest and richest postal history in Asia, according to Paulino Que's younger brother, Mario Que, a major philatelist collector and researcher. For our May - June 2004 magazine he covers the 18th and 19th century Classic Period, when the Philippines was under Spanish colonial administration. Not only will all stamp collectors find Mario Que's article of enthralling interest, but the article is also of far wider historical importance. Through the first stamps and postmarks, both postal and commercial history is traced, starting with the galleon trade between Manila and Mexico, and the Spanish colonies in America, up to 1877 when the Philippines became a member of the General Postal Union.

As Mario Que points out in his article, collecting Classic Philippine stamps and researching their postal history is challenging. The stamps are rare and very scarce. Though much valuable stock has been destroyed, he has discovered and records Asia's earliest postal history extensively with thirty illustrations from his own exclusive collection.

The 19th century history of the Philippines as a Spanish colony continues with the third article, the second contributed by author Ramon N. Villegas, on "Juan Luna, Filipino Painter and Patriot (1857 - 1899)". From training as a ship pilot, Juan Luna passed on to his preferred art studies in Madrid, Rome and Paris, successfully undertaking large prize-winning Salon-type academic paintings. These were a distinctive art feature of the time, as also part of a campaign in Spain for the acceptance of the assimilation of Filipinos, his expatriate Paris friends, Dr Jose Rizal included, being amongst the leaders.

I head my Editorial with Juan Luna's 1892 oil on canvas painting, Parisian Life (1), which provides a glimpse of the artist's daily life in Paris as he meets two of his close friends in a café. The painting is of historical importance as Dr Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, is depicted with his back turned, and revolution supporter Dr Ariston Bautista-Lin sits closest to the lady on the far right. This painting was purchased by Mr Winston Garcia, President of the Government Service Insurance System, a pension fund for the government employees of the Philippines, at Christie's Hong Kong October 27th, 2002 auction for HK$6,674,100 (estimate HK$1.8 - 2 million).

In 1892, in a jealous rage, after wounding his brother-in-law, Juan Luna accidentally shot and killed his mother-in-law and wife. Turning his back on a successful career as an historical painter in Paris and Madrid, Juan Luna returned to the Philippines where he devoted himself to portraits, landscapes and scenes of everyday life. In 1896, with two brothers and many other prominent Filipino advocates of reform, he was imprisoned but later released. He visited New York in 1897 and the following year London. On his way back to Manila in 1899, he stopped in Hong Kong where he died three days later at the age of forty-four from a heart attack. He was buried in the Happy Valley cemetery in Hong Kong, and following a state funeral in 1953 was interred in San Agustin Church in Manila.

This in-depth article on the career and art of Juan Luna, a hero and committed nationalist of the Philippines, is illustrated with thirty-two masterpieces from the collections of the National Museum of the Philippines; Museo Del Prado and Palacio Del Senado, Spain; Ayala Museum; Eugenio Lopez Foundation; and other private collections in the Philippines including that of Mr and Mrs Paulino Que.

Rita Tan, a past President of the Oriental Ceramic Society of the Philippines, is a respected writer and researcher on Chinese ceramics who received her MA degree in Art and Archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. For the May–June 2004 magazine she has been invited and qualified to write on the momentous donation to the prestigious Baur Museum in Switzerland of two hundred superb Chinese ceramics of the Mr and Mrs Charles Müller Collection. Mr Charles Müller was the former Swiss Ambassador to Indonesia, a country with more than a thousand years of trade relations with China. On November 13th, 2003, the special exhibition of the Müller Collection of Chinese Ceramics donated to the Baur Museum, with periods ranging from Han (206 BC - 221 AD) to Ming (1368 - 1644), was officially opened. The exhibition lasted until March 21st, 2004. Mrs Rita Tan's article with thirty-two illustrations is a lasting record of the most memorable pieces and deserves its place in our readers' libraries.

"Painted Poems: An Exhibition of Rajput Paintings at the Norton Simon Museum" is reviewed by Christine Knoke, a senior staff member of the museum in Pasadena, California, who holds a BA in art History from UCLA and an MA in Museum Studies from the University of Southern California. She writes that Ramesh and Urmil Kapoor and their sons have been donating paintings to the museum since 1999; that the exhibition marks the culmination of the bequest and is augmented by twenty additional paintings on loan from the family. Dr Pratapaditya Pal, who is closely connected with the museum, has noted for our readers that the exhibition is a milestone, being the first exhibition of Indian paintings to enter the museum's collection. Eighteen paintings dating from circa 1450 to the early 19th century are illustrated in Christine Knoke's article, mainly watercolour and gold on paper, though the earliest is a Jain Tantric Diagram, opaque watercolour and gold on cloth.

Researching back to the Asia Society I came across in our records to Dr Pal's six-page beautifully illustrated article on "The Rockefeller Gift of Asian Art" in our July - August 1975 magazine. Since then we have mentioned the Asia Society and the Asia Society Hong Kong Center several times, but it will be interesting for readers to see the 1975 description which I reproduce here from nearly thirty years ago.

"The Asia Society was founded in 1956 under the guidance and inspiration of John D. Rockefeller 3rd to promote better understanding and appreciation in the United States of the peoples of Asia. These goals of the Society are expressed in public affairs programming for members and the business community as well as in historical and cultural activities.

"A rapidly changing Asia requires better understanding by Americans. The Asia Society, through its diverse programs, stimulates responsible analysis of the major issues confronting Asian-American relations today in an attempt to gain more understanding and cooperation by the peoples on both sides of the Pacific.

"The Asia Society is an educational, nonprofit, nonpolitical organization supported by contributions and grants by interested individuals, corporations and foundations."

Since then, of course, its aims have been considerably widened and it now has approximately ten thousand members. The Asia Society Hong Kong Center was established more than ten years ago by a group of Hong Kong community leaders as the Society's first overseas office. Today it is the largest outside of the United States and currently hosts about one hundred events each year in Hong Kong and mainland China. Programmes include lectures, exhibitions, tours, seminars, films and conferences.

The Asia Society Hong Kong Center (13/F, Baskerville House, 13 Duddell Street, Central, Hong Kong, Tel: 852-2868-6765, Fax: 852-2877-5343) has become one of the community's premier forums for public discussion of regional and global affairs. Prominent speakers in recent years have included Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates (1995), China historian Jonathan Spence (1996), former US President George Bush (1996), Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa (1997), World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn (1997), AIDS researcher David Ho (1999), Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (2000), Chairman and CEO of Sony Corporation Nobuyuki Idei (2000), Malaysian Minister Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad (2000), and Hong Kong SAR former Chief Secretary for Administration Mrs Anson Chan (2001).

"Vietnam Behind the Lines: Images from the War 1965 - 1975", is an exhibition which has been showing at the Hong Kong Museum of Art until May 2nd this year. It has been presented by the Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Asia Society and organised by the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the British Museum and the Asia Society. "The mission is to foster deeper understanding of the countries and cultures in Asia", and the Asia Society hopes that this exhibition and the numerous programmes organised around it will play a part in that effort. "We hope" they say "to encourage a better understanding not only of the war but also of the vibrant society and culture of Vietnam and the far-reaching developments that have taken place in the country in recent years."

The large format four-page bilingual brochure produced by the Hong Kong Museum of Art does briefly mention in the section on the aftermath of the Vietnam War that over two million Vietnamese lost their lives. But that is not the purpose of the exhibition which presents an unfamiliar aspect of the conflict: works created by North Vietnamese artists engaged in the creation of propaganda, between 1965 and 1975 in the collection of the British Museum. Combining traditional and contemporary techniques, the works reveal an extremely diverse range of media including hand-painted posters, pen and ink sketches, watercolour and ink paintings, drawings in crayon and chalk, acrylics on cardboard, and printed compositions.

Seen at the ribbon cutting at the opening of the exhibition are (from the left): Dr Christina Chu, Chief Curator, Hong Kong Museum of Art; Mr Nguyen Hong Hai, Consul General, Consulate of Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Hong Kong; Professor Nguyen Thu, exhibition artist, former Director, Hanoi University of Fine Art; Ms Choi Suk-kuen, Deputy Director (Culture), Hong Kong Leisure and Cultural Services; Mr Robert Miller, Asia Society Trustee, Asia Society Center Advisory Council Member; Mrs Thu Stern, collector and exhibition contributor; and Mrs Mary Lee Turner, Director, Asia Society Hong Kong Center (2).

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Asia Society organised a series of lectures, films and other events about Vietnamese history, culture, politics and contemporary affairs. For a more exclusive interpretation I interviewed in my Hong Kong offices Vietnamese-born Mrs Thu Stern (3), the original collector and exhibition contributor of the posters and artwork, now in the collection of the British Museum.

Mrs Stern, born in Thai Binh province, left Vietnam at the age of thirteen to study in France. She moved in an artistic circle and was a close friend of the Vietnamese painter Le Pho (born in Vietnam 1907, died in France 2001). Crossing the channel to study English, she married a London English artist in 1959. She was encouraged by her second husband, who is also English, to go back to Vietnam and buy paintings. She returned to Hanoi in 1994 and met many Vietnamese artists who used to work for the Vietnamese propaganda group during the war, such as Ho Viet Dung, Nguyen Thanh Binh and Vu Thang. Other equally good genre artists were Van Da and Quang Tho for their portraiture and street scenes. She bought their best works of art during the period of 1994 to 2000, bringing back to London the last batch in 2001.

In 1996, just for one year she opened an art gallery in London and as it happened Jessica Harrison-Hall, Assistant Keeper at the British Museum, heard of her activities and in 1998 came to see her. It was Jessica who suggested the British Museum acquire them, and indeed they did buy 140 examples.

Her aim, Mrs Stern told me, was to get good drawings which represented the view from the North during everyday military life. The artists, who were reserved in her presence in the beginning, over the years became good friends. Some of the artists during the war had been very young at the time, only sixteen to twenty years old and very patriotic. She is very impressed with the beautiful presentation of the exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which has much more space devoted to the show than at the British Museum.

In addition to painting for official propaganda purposes, the artists also depicted the lives of the servicemen and citizens behind the lines in documentary works that were presented in national exhibitions with the intention of boosting the morale of the military. With this in mind, the exhibition is put together around five themes: official propaganda; communications and life at the base camp; battle and the new role of women; portraits; and agriculture and industry. Professor Nguyen Thu, exhibition artist, former Director, Hanoi University of Fine Art is pointing out these themes to Mr Nguyen Hong Hai, Consul General, Consulate of Socialist Republic of Vietnam in Hong Kong in the next photograph (4).

Appropriately I close this coverage with a lighthearted and human 1966 painting by Nguyen Thu of six Vietnamese nurses (5). Wearing blue uniforms with red-cross armbands and with rifles over their shoulders, they are likely walking in line down a Hanoi street. But note the children waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road - to the symbolic future I suppose.

I have heard from Leigh Mackay, President of the Oriental Rug Society of New South Wales, and Christina Sumner, Curator of International Decorative Arts and Design at the Powerhouse Museum, that they are ahead with organising Australia's first International Conference on Oriental Carpets, "ICOC Down Under" (6). This will be held in Sydney from September 16th - 19th, 2004. The conference and two exhibitions will be launched together at a gala event at the Powerhouse Museum and topics will focus on the rugs and trappings of Western and Central Asia, with additional talks on Southeast Asian textiles and Indigenous Australian and Oceanic art and textiles.

One exhibition, "Bright Flowers: Textiles and Ceramics of Central Asia", drawn from state museum collections in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, and international loans, is curated by Christina Sumner who has spent four years travelling the region, with input from consultant ceramics specialist Guy Petherbridge. The other exhibition of Oriental rugs and trappings comes from Australian public and private collections and is curated by two of Sydney's leading rug specialists: Ross Langlands of Nomadic Rug Traders and Ian Perryman of Perryman Carpets.

Related events include an international dealers' fair and gallery viewing of Asian art, textiles and indigenous art; also in planning is an active social programme. A post-conference trip to Canberra, the national capital, will include a special viewing of items from the National Gallery of Australia's world-class collection of Southeast Asian textiles. Registration forms outlining the conference programme and other activities will be available on the ICOC website at www.icoc-orientalrugs.org

Gary Dickenson and Linda Wrigglesworth are the co- authors of Imperial Wardrobe (ISBN 1-870076-07-9, originally published by Bamboo Publishing, Ltd, London) which was reprinted in 2000 by Ten Speed Press, California in a US edition. By now a standard work on the subject, much of the information is made available through the 'Who's who?' exhibition that will be held from 7th–19th June 2004 at the new venue of Linda Wrigglesworth Ltd (HQ Executive Offices, 42 Brook Street, London W1K 5DB). The exhibition informs the viewer about Chinese court costume, mandarin insignia and accessories, explaining who wore them and why. Illustrated is a rare example of a Kangxi period insignia badge displaying the crane of the first rank. The bird is shown with wings forming an elegant circle within a square frame of the badge with stylised clouds and water motifs. The ground of the badge is irregularly couched with gold wrapped thread to catch the light as the wearer moved. The badge's border and stylised rock beneath the bird are couched with peacock feather filaments (7).

While still on the subject of textiles and costume I would like to draw our readers' attention to the April 25th - 7th November 2004 exhibition "Shuttle, Brush and Thread Ball" of antique textiles from Egypt and their production during the 2nd to 8th centuries when three great civilisations overlapped in the Nile delta - the late Graeco-Roman, the Christian and the Islamic. The result was an epoch of exceptional cultural productiveness and diversity, which left its mark on the textiles of the period. The exhibition is being held at Abegg-Stiftung, CH-3132 Riggisberg/Kanton Bern (see location map) (8). This supplements the institute's permanent exhibition which focuses on textiles from Europe, the Mediterranean and the Orient as well as the regions along the Silk Road - including China. The museum and the research library are open to the public. An in-house workshop for textile conservation and restoration offers six places for a four-year degree programme at university level, while annual international conferences and regular publications promote scientific exchange in the field of textile art (for more information visit their website: www.abegg-stiftung.ch).

Among our mainly London supporters who will be taking part at the 9th–15th June 2004 Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair (Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London W1, website: www.grosvenor-antiquesfair.co.uk) under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra who will open the Fair, I am happy to mention for our readers' attention S. Marchant & Son (Chinese and Japanese ceramics, furniture, jades, ivories, cloisonné and other works of art); Ben Janssens Oriental Art (Oriental works of art); Marks Antiques (antique silver); Robert Kleiner & Co. Ltd (Chinese works of art, jades, porcelains and snuff bottles); Sandra Whitman (Chinese, Tibetan and Korean costume and textiles, Chinese rugs and carpets, decorative Chinese textiles and furniture); and Martyn Gregory (British paintings and watercolours, China Trade paintings and pictures relating to the Far East).

In his attractively produced catalogue of recent acquisitions 2004, senior London dealer Richard P. Marchant in his foreword says, "Since 1975 we are privileged to have been invited to exhibit at the Grosvenor House Art and Antiques Fair in London, an event as integral to the London season as Wimbledon, Henley and Ascot. The high calibre of the exhibitors, whose stock is subjected to very strict vetting procedures, ensures that the fair is amongst the best in the world...It takes approximately five years to gather worthwhile materials for a thematic show. With this difficulty in mind for the last four years we decided to produce a 'Recent Acquisitions' catalogue; a cross-section of the best items recently purchased in the different fields dealt with by S. Marchant & Son."

Illustrated from this catalogue is a pair of black lacquer two door cabinets with hardstone and ivory inlays (9). These were formerly owned by Mrs Alice Keppel and were sold in 1948 the year after she died. Mrs Keppel was intimately associated with King Edward VII and her great granddaughter is Camilla Parker Bowles (though these minutiae are not mentioned in Richard's catalogue which I applaud, for the cabinets deserve to be recognised in their own rights as fine examples of later 19th century Japanese skilled craftsmanship).

At the same time as the Grosvenor House Art & Antiques Fair, Roger Keverne will be holding a summer exhibition of rare Chinese works of art and ceramics at his gallery (2nd Floor, 16 Clifford Street, London W1S 3RG, Tel: 4420-7434-9100, Fax: 4420-7434-9101) that will open on Thursday 10th June 2004. He is offering for sale a varied spectrum of Chinese art ranging from a fine group of archaic jades of impeccable provenance, to works of art from the Imperial dynasties and colourful textiles of the 19th century. Illustrated from Roger's jades is an exquisite Ming dynasty two-handled cup (10).

I had resolved not to publish any congratulatory letters in this issue but I will make an exception for the following one from Anna Haughton, co-organiser with her husband Brian Haughton of The London Asian Art Fair (31 Old Burlington Street, London W1S 3AS, website: www.haughton.com). Because after the first few sentences it continues with The Dealing in Tainted Cultural Objects (Offences) Act passed in December 2003 which is already having a profound affect in the United Kingdom . For accuracy I print Anna's letter largely as I received it by email on March 11th.



Dear Tuyet,

Thank you so much for sending us your last wonderful issue. More beautiful than ever. I don't know how you do it.

The Dealing in Tainted Cultural Objects (Offences) Act passed in December has created profound uncertainties over offering Asian goods for sale in England. Therefore, we have had to suspend The London Asian Art Fair while dealers weigh up the implications of the act which is applicable in the United Kingdom only.

Dealers in this country may find it difficult to bring in goods from abroad when they buy in case they may be liable for prosecution under the act.

We have had advice that even illustrating an item in a catalogue which subsequently comes under question in the future could make the fair organisers liable for legal action for promoting the object.

There have been many calls and letters of support for The London Asian Art Fair from people who believe the Asian Art market should have its niche when London is the place to be in June. It is hoped therefore that in time the practical application of the law will enable the Fair to be reinstated.

The International Ceramics Fair & Seminar will continue into its 23rd year with top ceramics dealers and the highest standards. The 12 part lecture series will offer fascinating topics and the latest academic research. The Loan Exhibition presents a unique opportunity to view objects and study information that cannot be accessed elsewhere.

You were so kind and supportive about The London Asian Art Fair last year and wrote so wonderfully about it. Also you know many of the dealers were very enthusiastic when you spoke with them. It is so sad we have had to put it on hold. This new Act does not help anyone.

I am looking forward very much to seeing you in New York and again thank you for your friendship and for always being so supportive of our Fairs.

I look forward with much excitement to your next issue of Arts of Asia.

Kindest regards,

Anna



My hope is that the British government will not be overly strict in the application of the new Act, otherwise London would be likely to lose out as a vibrant and sought-after international market place for Asian art and antiques. As a publisher I would not presume to speak on behalf of Asian art dealers, but as many are my friends I know how some feel about the interpretation of this December 2003 Act.

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