Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Art Museum: Summer of China, Part One

On Sunday, June 26th, we went to the Milwaukee Art Museum, in particular to see the travelling exhibit, "The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City."

This exibition includes ninety objects from the Qianlong Garden and the Forbidden City—murals, paintings, furniture, architectural and garden components, jades, and cloisonné. The Qianlong Garden is named for the Qianlong Emperor, who reigned from 1736 to 1796, making him the longest reigning Emperor of China, and one of the most influential. A devout Buddhist, the Qianlong Emperor decided that, if he reigned for sixty years, he would then retire and spend the rest of his life in contemplation. Accordingly, he had the Garden complex built as a "retirement home". Regrettably, although he did reach the sixtieth year of his reign, the Emperor died before going into his planned for retirement. The Garden was closed off and remained unused to the present day.  The Palace Museum and World Monuments Fund are in the process of restoring the site, which makes these items temporarily available to travel.

The Emperor supervised the entire project, and it reflects his deep learning in Buddhist and Confucian doctrine, his exquisite taste, and his pleasure in innovation, including newly introduced Western concepts such as glass-glazed windows, perspective painting, and tromp l'oeil decorations. No effort was spared in the preparation of the Emperor's sanctuary, and it is evident that the finest crafters were employed. However, there is almost nothing that is gaudy or overblown.

I must say that seldom have we seen a more beautiful collection of objects, and certainly never anything like as many from one source. In particular, the botanical themes which are used to unify the garden exteriors and interiors, are particularly gorgeous. These inlcude three-dimensional window frames carved to represent tree branches, 'rootwood' settees and tables, thrones with flowers picked out in pearl and precious stone, and a wonderful series of screen decorations that were only rediscovered in preparation for the exhibition to travel.

In addition to the "Emperor's Paradise" exhibition, the MAM's "Summer of China," includes five other exhibits. We also looked at "Warriors, Beasts, and Spirits: Early Chinese Art from the James Conley Collection" which occupies the adjacent galleries, and features more than forty ancient Chinese tomb artifacts, including carvings, ceramic sculptures, and architectural fragments.  "On Site: Zhan Wang" is an installation of one of the artist's stainless steel "scholar's rocks," which was very impressive.

"Way of the Dragon: The Chinoiserie Style, 1710–1830" was not set to open until June 30, so we will be going back to see that and "Emerald Mountains: Modern Chinese Ink Paintings from the Chu-tsing Li Collection".

"The Emperor's Private Paradise" continues through September 11, 2011.
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Tags: art, china, museum
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