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9/27/2010 Houston-- The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery will open to the public on Sunday,
October 17, providing a permanent space of three adjoining rooms to showcase the museum’s growing collection of Chinese artwork. Stunning examples of ancient and contemporary art will be displayed side by side in an innovative juxtaposition. Objects in the gallery will range from Zhou and Shang bronze ware, ceramics, and painting and calligraphy to video and installation pieces.

This gallery will also feature the first of four permanent, site-specific works for the Asian galleries by major contemporary artists. A monumental landscape by Cai Guo-Qiang, created in Houston just prior to the gallery’s opening, will line the walls of the largest of the three rooms. The design and materials in the gallery were chosen to reflect a distinctively Chinese aesthetic. To direct people to the new gallery during opening week, a banner will hang in Cullinan Hall featuring a calligraphic depiction of the character guan, meaning “to view,” created by calligrapher and professor of Chinese art at Boston University, Bai Qianshen.

“Because of the generous support from Houston’s Asian communities, the museum’s initiative to expand its presentation of Asian art is gradually being realized,” said MFAH director Peter Marzio. “This gallery, showcasing the rich heritage of China, features the museum’s first-rate collection of bronze vessels, statues, calligraphy and painting, all of which will be given a fresh and immediate context by the unique installation created by Cai Guo-Qiang, one of the foremost artists of our time.”

“Cai’s project combines the mythic and modern aspects of China, creating a delicate balance between past, present and future,” added Christine Starkman, MFAH curator of Asian art. “It will be an imaginative and beautiful setting for artworks in the gallery, which also layer ancient tradition with contemporary China to achieve a timeless quality.”

Artwork on View
At the entrance to the gallery a 20th-century painting by Wu Changshi (1844-1927), Flowering Vine (undated), will be paired with four hanging scrolls by the 16th century artist Wen Zhengming (1470-1559). Wu was trained as a calligrapher but after age 50 turned to painting, after he met a painter who admired his calligraphic stroke and encouraged him to paint. Flowering Vine is an important work that shows the artist’s talent at the height of his painting career. Wen Zhengming was regarded as one of the Suzhou area’s leading painters, and was also a great calligrapher, poet, and painter. He and his teacher Shen Zhou (1427–1509) founded the Wu school of literati painting. Flowering Vine and the set of four calligraphy scrolls are on long-term loan to the museum from the Richard Fabian Collection. A full-scale exhibition of the Fabian collection will be mounted at a later date. A large bronze Ritual Vessel (Ding) (Eastern Zhou Dynasty, early 5th century B.C.), used to heat and serve meat during ritual feasts and royal banquets, will be placed at the end of the hall before one enters the main room.
This entry room opens into the largest of the three Arts of China gallery spaces, where Cai Guo-Qiang’s commission, his first permanent, site-specific installation in a U.S. museum, will line the walls. Spanning 42 panels totaling 10 by 162 feet, the work will be created the week before the gallery’s opening in a Houston warehouse, first sketched, then layered with gunpowder and finally, ignited. The finished piece, Odyssey, will depict a mountain in the northwest corner and mist-enshrouded flora and fauna wrapping around the rest of the room, culminating in a Chinese garden in the southeast corner. According to Cai, Odyssey is intended to embody the tranquility of a literati painting, so as to best showcase the objects displayed on pedestals within the space.

Placed in the gallery, surrounded by Odyssey, will be a carved limestone Avalokitesvara (Northern Zhou dynasty (557-581) to Sui dynasty (581-618)), standing just over two feet tall and portraying a bodhisattva or enlightened being. The figure wears stylized draped garments associated with the Northern Wei period, but his heavy-lidded eyes and high nose are typically associated with Indian and Central Asian depictions, thus synthesizing foreign and Chinese styles and representing cultural exchange. A painted earthenware Figure of a Courtesan (Tang dynasty, 618-906), standing just under two feet high, depicts a woman of the emperor’s court who represents the ideal feminine beauty of her day. Two beautiful bronzes will stand with the two sculptures: a beaker from the 12th century used to offer wine to the spirits, and a 13th century B.C. tripod.

In addition to Odyssey, two more contemporary works will be on view at any given time (as the contemporary works will be displayed on a rotating basis). At the gallery’s opening, four books from Xu Bing’s (b. 1955) Books from the Sky (1987-1991) series will be prominently displayed with the sculptures and bronzes. A contemporary artist who was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Award, Xu focuses on language and meaning. Trained as a printmaker during the revolution, Xu saw the Chinese writing system change throughout his life (from a time when traditional characters were the standard to the rise of simplified Chinese). To create Book from the Sky the artist spent three years carving thousands of characters– but each with strokes missing and thus rendered illegible and meaningless.