Houston is getting a rare treat: a chance to see the art collections of nine of the richest and most powerful Chinese spanning more than 800 years.
Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art From the National Palace Museum, Taipei, will open on Sunday and run until the end of January at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH). More than 160 works of art from the renowned collections of the National Palace Museum in Taipei will be on display.
James Watt (left), curator emeritus and former chairman of Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, talks about the uniqueness of Gourd Vase With Design of Scrolling Lotus made of mold-grown gourd from the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) at the exhibit preview of Emperors' Treasures on Wednesday in Houston. MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY
The exhibition feature a selection of paintings, calligraphy, bronzes and decorative arts collected by eight emperors and one empress who ruled between the early 12th century Song Dynasty and the early 20th century Qing Dynasty.
Gary Tinterow, director of the MFAH, recalled his visit to Taiwan three years ago with the goal of securing a promise to exhibit the palace art in Houston.
"We are grateful to the National Palace Museum, Taipei. It has some 600,000 objects, all coming from imperial collections once housed in the imperial palace in the Forbidden City in Beijing. They are unmatched in rarity and scope. It's a tremendous gift for us to enjoy some of the pieces for the next three months," Tinterow said.
Last time the artwork from the National Palace Museum visited the United States was in 1996, when an exhibit was held in New York and Washington. This year's exhibit was first held in San Francisco, and will visit Houston for the first time.
Jasper Lin, director of National Palace Museum, said that the objects give audiences an idea of the artistic tastes of the nine imperial figures.
Emperors' Treasures: Chinese Art From the National Palace Museum, Taipei, which opens this Sunday, features 160-plus art pieces for Houston audiences to enjoy until the end of January at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY
"They represent the history of Chinese art development. Different historical backgrounds and political and religious ideas are reflected in those art objects," commented Lin.
Lin said that the Houston exhibit was extended for about a month until Chinese New Year. "It costs a lot of money for the art to travel to Houston. We hope to give people more time to enjoy them," Lin said.
James Watt, curator emeritus and former chairman of Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, is an organizing curator of this exhibition. "The artworks and objects displayed in Emperors' Treasures celebrate the cultural contributions of these significant imperial rulers, illustrating their roles as distinguished patrons of art, and often, as gifted artists."
Watt said that the first exhibit of the imperial collections in the West was London in 1935. China's imminent war with Japan led to the cancellation of a US exhibit.
"The London exhibition had a huge impact and inspired quite a few to become scholars studying Chinese art. One of them was William Willets. He was originally an engineer. He was so inspired by that exhibit that he went on to become a well-known Chinese art scholar. That exhibition produced a generation of Chinese art scholars," Watt said.
In 1963, in appreciation of the US helping raise funds to build the National Palace Museum, some of the best pieces were exhibited in the US, said Watt.
"It had a big impact in the US and inspired some of the best professors of Chinese art history, such as James Cahill. I hope this exhibit will bring similar inspiration to and have some impact on people in Houston."
The Chinese community, led by Nancy Li and Anne Chao, has raised a significant amount of funds for this exhibition.
"Since June, 19 business and community leaders in the steering committee worked tirelessly to exceed our original goal of fundraising. As a result, this special exhibition will be available to the audience without an extra fee. Visitors will only need pay the general admission fee to see it," said Li.
Related events are planned by the museum, including the films A Touch of Zen; Dragon Inn; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and The Last Emperor; art lectures by Watt and Amy Poster; gallery concerts, tours and family activities throughout the exhibition period.
Tiffany Wang in Houston contributed to this story.