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editorials - January - February 2006

Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919)
Dr Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987)

WITH THIS INITIAL issue of 2006, our 36th full year, Arts of Asia and its worldwide supporters can extensively enjoy the scholarship and expertise of the Freer + Sackler’s Director Julian Raby, his curators and associates. I would be remiss, indeed, if I did not acknowledge my sincere appreciation to all of them, and especially Jan Stuart and Louise Allison Cort, the two guest editors, and designers Rachael Faulise and Rebecca Rogers who contributed so markedly to the cover and leads to the 24 articles.

First I would suggest readers turn to the Listings on pages 64 and 65 where credits are given more fully under “Notes to readers”, and article headings and authors are presented in two columns.

In addition, I would also like to mention that it was Shirley Z. Johnson, a wonderful supporter of Arts of Asia, a personal friend, who introduced me to Dr James Ulak, Deputy Director of the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, who enthusiastically encouraged this unique Freer + Sackler and Arts of Asia combined issue. At that time I was extremely impressed when I was shown the Freer + Sackler Department of Conservation and Scientific Research (DCSR). They have the most advanced facilities and are developing active programs of education and international collaboration.

But Freer + Sackler, what does this mean? As Director Raby explains in his Foreword on pages 66 to 69, the two famous galleries are “physically linked and united under a single administration, a single staff, and a single board of Trustees”, and “to make the Freer and Sackler galleries an inspiring destination for the next one hundred years” is the goal.

Notably this is a centenary occasion which marks Charles Lang Freer’s intended gift of his original Asian and American art collection to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC as he proposed in a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt in December 1905, and was unanimously adopted in a January 1906 resolution by the institution's Board of Regents. When Freer died in 1919, he willed that the public should be able to come and enjoy his collection in the beautiful and serene setting of his new museum free of charge. Freer also bequeathed an endowment that when combined with money from other sources has allowed a long-term commitment to a wide range of activities for the museum, including the active growth of its art collection through purchase and donation.

Charles Lang Freer’s vision for the gallery named after him included the provision that neither should its collections be loaned, nor should any objects from outside collections be exhibited in the Freer Gallery. This is one regard in which the opening of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 1987 proved extremely important. In addition to exhibiting its own major holdings of Asian art under its roof, the Sackler Gallery can also display travelling exhibitions from around the world and organise path-breaking loan shows that can travel to other venues. The Sackler Gallery also continues to actively acquire art, often through the generosity of donors since it does not have endowment funds.

It is interesting to note that Freer’s and later, Sackler’s, vision of the importance of the arts of Asia has been validated by increased international attention to this area of the world. Freer established a legacy of culture and learning that the now joint Freer + Sackler honour by its active programs and contributions to scholarship. Visits of Asian leaders to the West and Western leaders to Asia illustrate the interconnectedness of the world.

How could I ever forget my first visit to Germany in 1955, when I was a student in Paris. With a group of French colleagues we crossed the bridge from West to East Berlin, where we were received with a warm welcome by German students who at the time were living in tents. There were heated exchanges of opinions on the values of the two systems. My French friends advised the Germans of the benefits, as refugees, of coming to France: free university education and financial support enough to live at a basic level.

Our hopes as students, those many years ago, was for a reconstructed, more friendly future world, shared together peaceably and equitably. Fifty years ahead I found myself visiting Cologne with Robin to attend the “Classical Chinese Carpets, 1400–1750” exhibition and conference at the Museum of East Asian Art. (For more details see the November–December 2005 issue, my editorial page 10 and Michael Franses’ article on pages 60 to 71.)

Cologne, once the most prominent German city on the left bank of the Rhine, developed markedly during the 12th century to 1669, and especially in the 14th century. Its power came as a result of its location leading to the Baltic trade and relations with England and Flanders (Belgium, France and The Netherlands).

The towering Dom cathedral with twin spires in Cologne
The arts flourished and many beautiful places of worship were built. The Dom, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe with its great twin spires (1), stands on the site of a church begun in the 9th century, not far from the river and the central railway now. The cathedral was badly damaged in the air raids in 1944. Reflecting its history, the reconstructed city is today an important banking centre.

Prior to our trip to Cologne, Mrs Trudel Klefisch, the unique lady-owner of the Kunsthandel Klefisch gallery and auction house, had told Robin and I that she wished to give a party in our honour. On October 13th we were received most warmly at her gallery (2) where we were happy to meet many of her interesting friends, and most notably Professor Dr Roger Goepper the former director of the Museum of East Asian Art in Cologne. Her guests first briefed us on the Asian art background of Germany, which was very much appreciated, and we then all moved to enjoy a delicious dinner with many local specialties at an Italian restaurant.

Evening reception in the gallery of Trudel Klefisch. Left to right: Professor Dr Roger Goepper, Jeannette Hopfen, Rolf Hirschberg, Christel Blume, Trudel Klefisch, Professor Dr Klaus Müller, Albert Roovers, Ralf Zeller, Andrea Heinrichsohn, Jing Li, Dr Clarissa von Spee, Marie-Therese von Croy, Tuyet Nguyet and Karl-Theodor Heinrichsohn
The tree-lined entrance to Museum of East Asian Art in Cologne

On the afternoon of October 14th we walked from our nearby hotel to the Museum of East Asian Art (3), which is situated in a park, to a preview of the exhibition “Classical Chinese Carpets, 1400–1750” specially presented for VIPs, lenders and participants of the Volkmanntreffen 2005 textile conference (4-6). As I passed through the gallery doors I was immediately impressed by the magnificence and beauty of the carpets excellently displayed on the walls and on the floor. The rarest and delicate fragments were protected in glass cases.

"Classical Chinese Carpets, 1400-1750" exhibition organiser Michael Franses with Professor Roderick Whitfield, Department of Art and Archaeology, School of Oriental and African Studies, London
Liu Baojian and her colleague Yuan Hongqi, Associate Research Fellow, Deputy Director of Palace Department, The Palace Museum, Beijing

Carpet exhibition lenders Nayda and David Utterberg from Seattle, USA

I enjoyed best the floral design carpets as several were familiar to me. However, I learned the most from seeing the geometric carpets on display. This subject was first brought to my attention through the article “Geometric Design in Chinese Rugs” by Sandra Whitman and Erica Yao in our March–April 2004 issue. The colour illustrations and explicit drawings seen there are a useful guide to the various geometric patterns.

I was highly amused to see the invited guests at the evening costume party and reception that was hosted by Hans König and Michael Franses. All did their best to successfully capture the spirit of the Qing period, in some cases echoing the replica imperial scroll portraits hanging on the walls (7-12).

Jacqueline and Michael Franses; Dr Adele Schlombs with her sons Julius and Martin; and Hans König with his wife Marion
Baron Christopher Oppenheim; Tuyet Nguyet; Countess Sophie Walderdorff and her son Count Stephan Walderdorff

Marcel and Gisèle Croës
Christopher Bruckner and Céline Gould
Fausta and John Eskenazi
Jim Burns and Eberhart Herrmann

For a wider overview of the exhibition I first interviewed carpet specialist John Eskenazi.

Tuyet Nguyet: When did you become interested in Chinese carpets?

John Eskenazi: We were among the first to collect Chinese carpets in the mid-1970s. I was interested in Chinese carpets because my family was interested in Chinese art. There were very few of us at the beginning. A large part of the market was only involved with Persian, Turkish and Caucasian carpets. I wrote a book on carpets and put on lots of exhibitions.

TN: What period of Chinese carpets did you like the most?

JE: It was the early Kangxi period that interested me most. It has the wonderful elegance of the Ming and the force of the Qing. The Jesuits in China saw carpets in Ningxia and asked carpets to be made in the imperial courts. Ming carpets were never seen when we first started. There were workshops in Ningxia and also rumours that there was a workshop in Beijing. I am sure there were imperial workshops.

TN: Where do the pieces for the exhibition come from?

JE: Some of the pieces in the exhibition come from me. Michael Franses and I have helped collectors form collections. I let Michael select the pieces for the exhibition which is most extensive and scholarly put together. I hope it opens people’s eyes as Chinese carpets are a great art like Chinese decorative arts, ceramics, etc. They had a heavenly and symbolic role.

TN: Which are the most important pieces in the exhibition?

JE: There are key exceptional pieces in every period. From the Ming group the Wanli throne carpets and the older fragments of carpets are very stunning, so it is very complicated to say which is best. Perhaps the Ming fragment from Frankfurt is best. I love the room with all the abstract geometric carpets. It is very modern and austere.

Fragments can be very early so collectors are unable to get the whole piece of a carpet. But this area of collecting is exciting as it gives a glimpse of the whole and allows one to imagine what the whole carpet would be like.

TN: Where can one see wonderful collections of Chinese carpets?

JE: The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Textile Museum in Washington DC, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Musée Guimet in Paris all have very good collections of Chinese carpets. If the exhibition in Cologne can travel then that would be very good.

I then asked Michael Franses for his thoughts.

Michael Franses: This is one of the most beautiful museums. Director Adele Schlombs allowed freedom for our team to come in and design the exhibition. The museum has been a paradise and I hope everyone enjoys the show. We have done the best we can. Although I did the design myself, my staff was also a great help in organising. The museum staff was very helpful and supportive.

TN: Why did you decide to have the exhibition in Cologne?

MF: Cologne is Hans König’s home town and he has a close relationship with the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst. He celebrated his 80th birthday here a few years ago. He is very enthusiastic about carpets and textiles. He came with me to China last year.

TN: What most pleased you about the exhibition?

MF: The thing that makes me most happy is that you, Tuyet Nguyet, came to Cologne.

On October 15th approximately one hundred and eighty people were present for the official exhibition opening at the museum's lobby. Dr Adele Schlombs, current director of the Museum of East Asian Art, warmly welcomed all the guests including the mayor of Cologne, who also gave a speech in German (13).

Hans König; Dr Adele Schlombs; Michael Franses; Fritz Schramma, Mayor of Cologne; and Mr Yutaka Homma, Director of the Japan Foundation in Cologne
Conference lecturers Professor Roderick Whitfield; Sara Kuehn; Hans König; Sandra Whitman; Jacqueline Simcox and Dr Helmut Neumann. Lectures were also given by Michael Franses and Dr Elena G. Tsareva

Following another tour of the exhibition I joined many of the guests to the lecture hall for the one and a half day conference on textiles given by leading experts from London, St. Petersburg, Gstaad, Cologne, San Francisco, Brussels and Basel (14). Out of the seven informative lectures I particularly enjoyed the one by Sara Kuehn on “Iconographic expression of Khitan with special focus on the phoenix and the dragon”. Her lecture was delivered in German so I could not understand all she had to say, but I was delighted to see for the first time wonderful examples of gold jewellery from Mongolia.

Dr Adele Schlombs was ecstatic with Michael Franses’ contribution and the wonderful display of the exhibition. This opinion was also shared by many visitors who were experiencing for the first time such a comprehensive exhibition with sixty rare carpets drawn from European and American museums, as well as from private collectors.

In the afternoon of 16th October Mrs Klefisch drove myself, Robin and Dr Elena Tsareva, a lecturer at the conference, to visit the Langen Foundation, which is located one hour from the centre of Cologne. When we arrived we were met by the Director, Mrs Sabine Langen-Crasemann, who told us about the origin and purpose of her family museum and its exhibitions. The Langen Foundation is especially notable for the design of its contemporary building by Tadao Ando, in which the exhibits are spaciously displayed.
Standing in front of an Inoue Yu-Ichi painting are Trudel Klefisch; Sabine Langen-Crasemann, Director of the Langen Foundation; Tuyet Nguyet; and Dr Elena G. Tsareva from Peter The Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St. Petersburg

The building was commissioned by the Director’s late father and mother, Viktor and Marianne Langen, and was developed in the following ten years to house their art collection in 2004. Our group photograph is taken in front of a “recollection” painting by the late Japanese artist Inoue Yu- Ichi (1916–1985), entitled Oh, Primary School of Yokohama..., ink on paper, 147 × 220 cm (15).

The following day we had to fly back to Hong Kong in time to attend the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society 2005 convention. A highlight was the opening of the “Heavenly Creations” exhibition at the University Museum and Art Gallery, the University of Hong Kong, which runs until February 2006. It is accompanied by a 223-page hardbound catalogue featuring 377 bottles from five leading Hong Kong collections, including my own. The exhibition was opened by Professor C.F. Lee, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, who to my surprise also asked me to say a few words (16, 17).

At the "Heavenly Creations" exhibition opening: Anthony Cheung; Humphrey Hui; Christopher Sin; Tuyet Nguyet; Professor C.F. Lee, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, The University of HK; Po-ming Kwong; and Yeung Chun-tong, Director, University Museum and Art Gallery

Hurriedly to meet this issue Feng-chun Ma, Chinese & Japanese Art Consultancy, has sent me her new address at Weerdestein 182, 1083 GM Amsterdam, located in the southern part of the city. She looks forward, she says, to seeing and meeting her clients in that location and has sent me a photograph of herself in the delightful new apartment (18).


Unfortunately, I have enough space to only briefly mention two American exhibitions in this editorial. Sandra Whitman is hosting two drinks parties in her gallery (361 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA 94102). The first is by invitation on Wednesday February 1st, 2006; and the second is an open house on Friday February 10th. Her exhibition “Heavenly Dragons” (19) will include a variety of Chinese textiles from the Yuan period to the Qing, and Ningxia carpets from the Kangxi and other Qing periods.

From December 17th, 2005 to March 19th, 2006 the Crocker Art Museum in downtown Sacramento, California, has been holding an exhibition of ink landscapes by Arnold Chang, now a full-time artist (see the article in this issue on pages 152 to 157 by Laura Whitman). More information is available from the museum's website www.crockerartmuseum.org.

Once again I thank all our contributors to this outstanding issue on the Freer + Sackler. When this January–February 2006 special edition is seen by most of our readers it will be New Year 2006, the year of the dog in the Chinese calendar. I wish all our supporters and friends success, good health and happiness throughout the coming months.

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