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editorials - March - April 2002

THE FRONT COVER of this magazine, in a light-hearted way, draws the attention of our readers to the two main articles in this Japanese issue. An astonishing thirty-one page coverage of the events, exhibitions, publications and activities associated with Japan 2001 and The Japan Society (London) is led by distinguished British diplomat, former Ambassador to Japan (1980-1984), Sir Hugh Cortazzi. He is seen with Lady Cortazzi in the garden of their house in the East Sussex countryside (1), not too far from London where they also live.


In September last year he wrote to me that he had just spent a week in Tokyo and at seventy-seven still remained active in and involved with Japanese affairs-which encouraged me to ask him to write his article. This undoubtedly involved all his diplomatic skills to compile swiftly and efficiently.
In connection with the illustrations, he has tactfully reminded me to inform our readers that his favourite items, though fully referenced, have not always been followed with illustrations. The reason has been the general continuity and relevance of section to section, and the appearance of these images as a whole. However, as he asks me to mention, those that we have not illustrated can be found in the published catalogues of the exhibitions to which he refers. He also feels I will like to acknowledge here, and in this he is correct, "the great efforts on the part of the Japanese and British organisers to make such a success of Japan 2001 whose exhibitions feature so prominently in the columns of this issue". (Christopher Purvis who has been the unpaid British organiser of Japan 2001 was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours. Lord Blakenham, the Chairman at the UK end, has been actively involved from the beginning. A former Chairman of Pearsons, he is currently Chairman of the Trustees of Kew Gardens.)

Sir Hugh Cortazzi's own contributions to reactivating The Japan Society (London) date from his election to the Chairman of the Council from 1985-1995. You can trace his career in Japan and Back and Places Elsewhere, his memoir, published by Global Oriental, an imprint of Global Books Ltd in 1998. This also records his earlier upbringing, university studies at St Andrews, Scotland and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies, London University); wartime volunteer service in the RAF (Royal Air Force) as an interpreter of Japanese and for intelligence and security duties; his presence in 1945 when Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten accepted the formal Japanese surrender in Singapore.

Readers whose sets of Arts of Asia date back at least to September-October 1987, will find Sir Hugh Cortazzi wrote an article for that issue on "The Ohara Museum of Art at Kurashiki". It is of interest to refer to when reading our latest article here, "Ohara Museum of Art and Munakata Shiko: Histories and Memoirs in Woodblock Prints". Written in Japanese by Mr Hara Michihiko, the Vice Director of the Ohara Museum, this has been specially collected and translated for us by contributor William Shang, who is Associate Professor in the Department of International Sociology and Industrial Studies, Kibi International University, Okayama, which is nearby. Mr Hara presents the later history of the Ohara founding family, and their enlightened support of the famous Japanese woodcut artist, without which I doubt he could have achieved such eminence and international fame.

Our third major Japanese article is on Shirayama Shosai (1853-1923). Shosai was the leading Japanese lacquer artist in the beginning of the 20th century, and Jan Dees, a Dutch medical doctor resident in Rotterdam well known for his researches of the subject, has spent the past year collecting the illustrations from six museums, three dealers, five major collectors, one auction house and one library.

Due to his recent travels in India, the late arrival of the illustration of a writing box in the Tokyo National Museum showing birds on the bough of a plum tree, within a cutaway circular window, is shown here (2).
It was in 1972 that Emma C. Bunker published three views of the unnamed temple in Prakhon Chai, Buriram province in Northeast Thailand where numerous Khmer bronzes had been supposedly found in 1964 and reported in 1965. "Today, the so-called Prakhon Chai bronzes have the distinction of being amongst the most misunderstood objects in Southeast Asian art history. Even the Prakhon Chai designation is wrong", Emma says.

Currently a Research Consultant to the Asian Art Department of the Denver Art Museum, and much in demand as author and travelled lecturer, for our readers she not only corrects such misunderstandings but provides the most comprehensive lists of the Buddhist bronzes, their characteristics and where they are now mainly held. The location map, thirty-eight illustrations and extensive bibliography are also a boon. Readers I believe will be interested in the progress of the preparation of Emma's article for us, which I recount from four of the several emails we received:

May 6, 2001. "Just returned from Prakhon Chai. Writing an article about the original find in 1964."

November 16, 2001. "One of the problems, as you will see when you read the article, is location. The site name is actually wrong. The information that I have turned up is rather fun, and should rattle a few cages in a friendly way."

November 23, 2001. "Here is a map which pinpoints the proper site, and is referred to in the text that I sent you. This should make things clearer in the article."

January 9, 2002. "We fly Friday, January 11th and arrive in Hong Kong the evening of the 12th. We will be staying at the Mandarin and I would be delighted to have you for breakfast on Sunday morning…If you still have questions about the Prakhon Chai article, you can leave them at the Mandarin for me, or bring them along for breakfast."

To meet Emma (3), with two of her grandchildren and a travelling companion for breakfast on their Hong Kong stopover on their way to Cambodia, was a pleasure for both of us. My husband reminded me that he was still one of the three partners in the established firm of architects and engineers who designed that famous hotel when the Mandarin opened in 1963.
So it is nice to see it has survived the dramatic changes that have overtaken Hong Kong since then.

We are also delighted to welcome back to our pages Malaysian contributor Fong Peng Khuan, who from three years living and working in Kuching, Sarawak, has now moved with his family back to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In his latest article, researched before the move, P.K. Fong writes on "Pua Kumbu, Textile Art in Sarawak, Malaysia".

I was encouraged to visit Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) at the end of December, by an exhibition of the work of a selected group of Hanoi contemporary lacquer painting artists held earlier in 2001 in Hong Kong. That exhibition was organised by Culturimex, Vietnam's official corporation for the export and import of works of art. Part of the Ministry of Culture its Information in Hanoi with General Director Nguyen Lai (22B Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi, Vietnam, Tel: 844-825-2257, Fax: 844-825-9224, E-mail: namson@fpt.vn).

We had arranged to stay at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi (15 Ngo Quyen Street, Hanoi, Vietnam, Tel: 844-826-6919, E-mail: sofitelhanoi@hn.vnn.vn), a former French Colonial hotel, which has been excellently restored and extended. It is within strolling distance of the officially supported Nam Son Art Gallery, whose display front window reflects one of the many other art galleries across the road and along the street (4).

Within the gallery we were met and drank tea with the Manager, Dan Van Long (5), an elder gentleman and were briefed on our visit by Nguyen Lai (6).

Later, following a tour of the varied artists' work on the walls (7) we were joined by Cong Quoc Ha (8), a classified third generation lacquer painter born in Hanoi in 1955, and already internationally known, whose works I had spotted when they were seen in Hong Kong.


Ha, who designs for the graphic media as well as being a painter, is notable for his strong decorative use of colour and form with lacquer, and the variety of his subjects which include nudes, young women of Vietnam (including his daughter) dressed in the traditional ao dai, Hanoi streets, plants and birds-which I was later to see he kept in his home.
Of the many independent art galleries we visited in Hanoi, one of the strongest, and surely best appointed for viewing the contemporary painters work is the Apricot Gallery (40B Hang Bong, Hanoi, Vietnam, E-mail: apricot@fpt.vn) (9).

But I strongly recommend you do not try to reach these galleries by yourself. It is easy to get lost in Hanoi's crowded streets, and contacts are a great help. Cong Quoc Ha's wife was our guide on this occasion. But for a still wider collection of Vietnamese arts, and the history of the lacquer painters in an historical context, I can not do better than recommend a visit to the Fine Arts Museum (66 Nguyen Thai Hoi Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam). Here we were briefed by the Director Cao Trong Thiem, who like Nguyen Lai, a fellow artist, had been students together when they started their careers. Director Cao Trong Thiem, and his curators, will support a special museum issue later, but meanwhile he introduced us to two earlier lacquer painters, one of the second generation and the other perhaps the last survivor of the first generation.

Vu Duy Nghia, born 1935 in Quang Ninh province, is seen standing by one of three framed large wartime lacquer paintings which hang along the side wall of his ground floor sitting room (10).
Formerly lecturer since 1960, and head of Hanoi's Applied Fine Art College, he lives in retirement in his spacious living quarters, where both he and his daughter have separate studios on the upper floors. He continues to paint, though the larger works are oils on canvas, while only his smaller works are now lacquer paintings on seasoned and lacquered wood panels which he carefully selects. A woodblock carver and zinc engraver, he is a technician who is very conscious of his materials.
In Hanoi I was taken to the modest home of Hoang Tie Chu, a Vietnamese artist born in 1912 in Ha Bac province. A first generation lacquer artist, he graduated in 1941 from the Indochina Fine Arts College. He is seen in a family photograph from ten years or so ago (11).

On the day of our visit he was ill in bed, but his elderly wife, herself in her eighties, pointed out his framed commendation from President Ho Chi Minh himself before leading us to his studio. This, an even smaller room, better lit by a street window, has his brushes and working materials laid out on a table, as though to demonstrate his skills. On one wall hangs a rare lacquer painting (evidently influenced rather surprising by the school of Paris painters, Leger and Matisse), while on the opposite wall is the full-size squared up esquisse on tracing paper from which it was developed. But this venerable painter is best known in Vietnam for his politically correct landscapes with farm workers in collectives in the countryside, a fine example of his 1950-1960 style being also on his studio table as though only recently completed.


In Ho Chi Minh City I found Do Xuan Doan (12), the reclusive second generation Hanoi lacquer artist (born 1937 in the north) whose work was featured on the cover and inside the previous January-February 2002 issue. The artist is seen in front of his most recent four-panel lacquer painting at the gallery of his agent, Mrs Xuan Phuong, who runs with several staff Lotus Gallery (55 Dong Khoi Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Tel: 848-829-2695, Fax: 848-930-3947, E-mail: xuanphuonglotus@hcm.vnn.vn).
Also in Ho Chi Minh City I met again Nguyen Quan (born 1948) (13), the son of a late general from the north, who has built a small villa in the suburbs where he lives with his young family. A 1971 graduate of a German university, he returned to Vietnam as a history lecturer, where he encouraged a younger group of more progressive artists and became a controversial art critic and editor of a review in the late eighties. A self-taught successful travelled artist (we had previously met in Hong Kong and Hanoi), he paints in a Western, Vietnamese modified dream-like surrealist style with lavender-like colours.

I am myself seen in Ho Chi Minh City, outside the spacious premises of Galerie Vinh Loi, The Art of Vietnam (41 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Tel: 848-930-5006, Fax: 848-930-3154) (14). On my right is Pham Anh Dung, the gallery director, and on my left the bearded realist portrait painter, Do Quang Em, born in 1942 in Ninh Thuan province. He graduated from Saigon Arts College in 1962 and taught there from 1971-1973. A keen photographer, which he followed from his father, he continues to paint carefully posed and smoothly executed portraits of his wife or himself mainly as models, alone or with identifiable traditional Vietnamese draped textiles and village utilitarian artefacts, usually with strong theatrical side lighting contrasting with deep opposite shadows.


I spent several hours with Pham Anh Dung, who is knowledgeable though not a painter, and at my request, for publication gave his criteria for acceptance of artists' work for his gallery. "It should be beautiful," he says, "in a Vietnamese way and it has to relate to the taste of our gallery. It must be in harmony with the other artists exhibited. The artists should already have painting skills." In the past he has successfully promoted work by Nguyen Thanh Binh (born Hanoi 1954), a graduate of The Fine Arts University of Ho Chi Minh City, 1983; as also of Le Quang Ha (born Hanoi 1963), a graduate of The Fine Arts University of Ho Chi Minh City, 1989, followed by Hanoi Industrial Fine Arts University, 1992.

The first artist, now largely a painter of white ao dai dressed sweet schoolgirls, competently executes in simple posed groups against flat backgrounds, vaguely reminiscent of Degas though in this Vietnamese case with blank faces; the second artist combines Western expressionist and primitive references and is certainly forceful in a brutal way.

But most dominant in the gallery at the time of our visit were the apparently dashed off, but perhaps carefully composed from old photographs, massively framed canvases of Thanh Van, who is described by a Western art critic in the gallery's promotion as "currently one of Vietnam's premier impressionists". It is however curious that these paintings, already popular abroad, are of a Hanoi as I had recently seen that no longer exists. True, the paintings strikingly come to life when seen from a distance, but the leaves of the trees glow constantly in reds and yellows, the schoolgirls as with Nguyan Thanh Binh wear the white ao dai, conical hats, once Vietnam's identifying symbols, and trams still trundle through the Hanoi streets near the downtown market. It is a wishful dream still handled in Vietnamese embroidery, which I also commend and enjoy. But it is still just a dream of the past.

As usual Arts of Asia will be taking part at The International Asian Art Fair. This year with Benefit Preview for Asia Society on Thursday March 21st, 2002: 6 pm to 9 pm. It will be open daily from March 22nd through March 26th, 2002: 11 am to 8 pm. Sunday: 11 am to 6 pm. Last day: 11 am to 7 pm. Admission is US$15 and this year it takes place at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Damrosch Park, W. 62nd Street, New York City. My son Robin and I will be happy to greet you and answer your questions at our stand B-9.

Leon and Karen Wender of China 2000 Fine Art, also announce they will be taking part and will be showing a major exhibition of New York artists from China with the title "Contemporary Brush Strokes". These five artists, Hou Wenyi, Wei Jia, Xu Bing, Zhang Hongtu and Zhang Jianjun were born and began their training in China before moving to New York.

The Wenders say, "the various personalities of these artists have inspired works uniquely different from other artists living in China and from native New York artists. The 20 works in the exhibition have been selected to show the explosion of creativity among these artists and to convey a sense of the dynamism in their work."

Of others taking part, John Eskenazi will present rare Indian sculpture including a Buddhapada, or footprints of the Buddha, Gandhara religion, northwestern Pakistan region, 1st/2nd century, grey schist, height 80 cm, width 127 cm; a moving sculpture of the Legend of Savitri and Satyavana, India, southern Rajastan or Madhya Pradesh, 11th century, beige sandstone, height 56 cm; and a sarasundari writing on a temple wall, India, Madhya Pradesh, 10th century, beige sandstone, height 84 cm (15).
According to John Eskenazi, who holds a History of Art degree from Milan, these important pieces exemplify his understanding of the spiritual life and the arts of Asian civilisations. It was in 1977 he joined the Eskenazi family business in Milan which was started by his great uncle in 1925. In 1994 he opened his London gallery and his expertise and scholarship in Asian sculpture, rugs and textiles is today recognised internationally, with amongst his clients some of the world's greatest museums.

A first time exhibitor at the International Asian Art Fair under her own name will be Theresa McCullough Ltd, who tells me she has formerly regularly exhibited there with Spink since 1996. She thinks the organisers have done well to find an alternative venue at short notice and is looking forward to great success. Theresa will be showing of particular interest a schist head of Buddha from the ancient region of Gandhara, Pakistan, 2nd/3rd century. This head, with its beautifully modelled features and serene expression, is a good example of the Buddhist images produced in this region (16).

Indeed, she has put together she says an interesting collection, which includes amongst others, "a rare haunting bronze mask of Bacchus from the Bactrian period of Afghanistan, 1st century AD." She will also be showing a sarasundari, northern India, circa 10th century, buff sandstone, height 29 cm. The term sarasundari refers to the beautiful women who adorn the walls of northern Indian temples. Such goddesses on the walls of a temple increases the strength of the prayers offered to the principal god. Her example is embellished with jewellery carved in the stone adding richness to the form.

Also exhibiting at The International Asian Art Fair will be Flying Cranes Antiques Ltd, whose owners, Mr and Mrs Clifford Schaeffer will surely be present showing no doubt their exquisite Japanese porcelain and lacquer, as well as a good range of other Japanese artefacts.

Antique and old Chinese rugs will be shown by Sandra Whitman, as usual, at her Stand D-1. She tells me she will be bringing some of her most important pieces that have passed her hands last year, such as Khotan rugs, from East Turkestan, China, both 18th and 19th century, and 19th century Yarkands.

There are several other galleries in New York who to coincide with Asia Week March 2002 will be holding special exhibitions in their home galleries. Scholten Japanese Art, as well as participating in The International Asian Art Fair, will be showing in their townhouse galleries an exhibition of the modern print shin-hanga artist Ito Shinsui (1898-1972). This they have main titled: "Modern Landscapes, Modern Beauties".

One of Shinsui's most striking prints is Eyebrow Pencil (1928). This print was both a critical and commercial success in its day. It differs from Shinsui's typical bijin pictures in many respects. The print is in a horizontal rather than a vertical format and a deep red saturated background is achieved by multiple printings. The actress, who is partially unclothed, is intent on her make-up, and seems perfectly natural.

The vertical bijin print of a beautiful woman protecting herself from snow and wind, Blizzard (1932), is exceptionally dynamic (17).

The diagonal line of the design and the inclination of the beauty's head, the flow of the kimono, effectively contribute to the suggestion to the eyes of movement. A rather different representation of a place in snow, Ito Shinsui's Ukimodo Temple, Katada (1917), a more classical interpretation, is still illustrative of his attempt to bring the genre up to date, which he does successfully (18).

Suzanne Mitchell Asian Fine Arts and Kippei Gallery, Tokyo, have joined together to present under Suzanne's auspices in her New York City gallery to coincide with Asia Week a truly wonderful show. Entitled: "Japanese Art: Medieval to Modern", the show will appeal to many tastes. Kippei Gallery was established in Japan in 1965 and is still headed by its founder, Setsu Yoshihira. Although up to now they are less known in Europe and America, their clients in Japan are an impressive list of significant private collectors and museums.

An important focus of their exhibition is Buddhist art from the Kamakura period. Among the works on view from this period are a section from an Illustrated Sutra of Cause and Effect, a large and commanding ink sketch of Fudo Myoo and a petite sculpture of Nyoirin Kannon. Secular objects include extraordinary Eichizen and Shigaraki jars from the "Six Old Kilns" of the Muromachi period and a large, varied group of rare cloisonné mountings from fusuma (sliding screens) and furniture, spanning the entire Edo period. Other calligraphy and paintings include a letter written by the great warrior and tea devotee, Hosokawa Sansai (1563-1646) and a bold painting of Crane, Pine and Rising Sun by one of Japan's most eccentric artists, Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889).

Suzanne Mitchell is a private dealer in New York, specialising in Japanese and Korean art. The exhibition is being held at her townhouse gallery, March 20th to 30th, Monday through Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm.

For their thirty-fifth anniversary of exhibiting Asian art, E & J Frankel Ltd is showing forty-one works by Professor Wang Qingli of Hong Kong University. Wang Qingli was a student of China's great 20th century masters Li Keran and Lu Yanshou, and received his Ph.D. at Kansas University in America. His first one-man show was at E & J Frankel Ltd in 1985. There is a catalogue both in English and Chinese, with eight commentaries by foremost experts of Chinese painting, including the associate directors of both the National Palace Museum in Beijing and the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. Leading curators of Chinese art at the Freer Gallery, Washington D.C. and several important United States universities have added their enthusiastic analyses.

Illustrated is a hanging scroll by Wang Qingli (19). The Chinese inscription on the scroll reads: "The bell rings late at night when the neon lights are flashing. Business runs fast as customers are pouring in. Can I ask you, Karaoke girl, what is a poetry monk after all? Qingli." The colophon reads: "My wife thought this was not a serious piece because the past masters were too much ugly. I replied that these two people earned their salaries at the tourism department." Seals: Yan gui jian (fewer words mean more), Wan Xiao Pengyou. Title: Hanshan and Shide. Ink and light colour on paper, 134 x 35 cm, 2000.

The petite and attractive Chinese lady standing amongst her Chinese furniture and antiques is Annie Yau of Annie Yau Gallery (20). She is pleased to announce their first New York exhibition and sale entitled "Rare Song Porcelain and Warring States Bronzes" to be held in their gallery (Suite A, 173 West 88th Street, New York City) from 15th March to 7th April, 2002. Annie has told me, "It is an excellent opportunity for art collectors, museums and the antique community to have my father, Professor Yau, and myself among its New York members."

It is indeed as Annie and her father have over forty years experience in the field of Chinese antiquities, and come from Xi'an, near home of the Terracotta Warriors, a city known for its major archaeological excavations.

For twenty-five years in Xi'an Professor Yau has been a prominent and esteemed expert of Chinese porcelain. He is also the co-author, with Mr Geng Baochang, a recognised world leading authority, of Ming and Qing Porcelain. Professor Yau has been a mentor to his daughter, Annie, for over twenty years, and today they still continue to work very closely together. For their coming exhibition the Annie Yau Gallery will feature thirty rare Chinese porcelains, ten Warring States bronzes and Tang gold and silver wares.

I have known James J. Lally for nearly twenty-five years and from time to time I ask his advice on the Asian art market which he knows both as an Oriental specialist and a major New York dealer. From 18th March to 8th April, which overlaps Asia Week 2002 in New York, his gallery at 41 East 57th Street is showing an exhibition of Chinese porcelain and silver from the Song dynasty. The collection is accompanied by a catalogue giving a full description and a colour illustration of each item. I have chosen to illustrate here his glazed white porcelain ewer and cover with warming basin, cups and cupstands, Liao/Northern Song dynasty, 10th/11th century, height of ewer and cover 25.4 cm (21).
In the exhibition and catalogue this is echoed by an equivalent gilded silver cover ewer and warming basin of approximately the same period, but slightly earlier. So here we are probably shown a porcelain with its prototype.

When you see the name Gisele Croes you can expect the highest standards. This Belgian lady has since 1980 onwards taken part in major international exhibitions such as the Biennale des Antiquaires in Paris, The International Asian Art Fair in New York, and the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht. Over the years her main ambition has always been to develop a better understanding of Chinese art.
From 18th to 28th March, 2002 she will be exhibiting in New York at Danese Gallery, 41 East 57th Street, New York City. Illustrated is one of her four large bronze bells of the Eastern Zhou period (22). Their decoration is marvellous, enhanced by the exceptional quality of the casting, which is characteristic of the famous Houma bronze foundries. Such an ensemble is almost unparalleled, whether in major museums or in private collections. Infinitely smaller but important nonetheless is a pair of bronze phoenix weights from the Warring States period inlaid with gold and silver with traces of lacquer. Also of the same date is a bronze, gold, silver glass and jade Daigou hook. These are just a sampling of Gisele's first theme "Nine Treasures of Ancient China". Her second theme is "Portraits of Nine Luohan: Splendour of Yongle Painting".

As I come to the end of writing my Editorial on 11th February, the eve of the Chinese New Year, our typesetters, Japanese colour separators and indeed our major Hong Kong printers, Paramount Printing Company, are standing by to take my final instructions to ensure as usual an outstanding published issue. It has taken all their and our efforts to reach the highest level of achievement which we will be sure to do our very best to maintain throughout the Lucky Year of the Horse which starts tomorrow on 12th February. As Publisher & Editor of Arts of Asia I wish you all-our contributors and associates, advertisers, loyal and new subscribers, and increasing international readers-success, wealth and, most important, health and happiness.

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