Ancient art treasures on display for anniversary

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 October, 2010, 12:00am

The Min Chiu Society is a group of Hongkongers who possess exceptional collections of Chinese art. This year, the group marks its 50th anniversary by collaborating with the Hong Kong Museum of Art to showcase 340 of its finest treasures in an event called 'The Grandeur of Chinese Art Treasures: Min Chiu Society Golden Jubilee Exhibition'.

In the preface to the show's catalogue, Tang Hoi-chiu, the museum's chief curator, explains why groups such as the Min Chiu Society are so important.

'The role of the collector has contributed tremendously to the preservation of cultural artefacts in China through the act of acquisition, preservation, collation, appraisal and study,' he writes in the exhibition catalogue.

'The efforts of past collectors have enabled the people of today to see ancient artefacts in their true form. In so doing, we are enlightened by each encounter and gain a better understanding of our civilisation by travelling back a few hundred, or even a few thousand, years in time. It is this very knowledge of the past that enables us to shape the continuum of our legacy and heritage for generations to come.'

Min Chiu Society members have not only actively played an important role in the cultural scene in Hong Kong, but also the world.

In 1960, like-minded collectors got together and founded the society. Chairman Leo K.K. Wong recalls in the catalogue foreword that in the early days, the works collected were mostly Chinese ceramics, calligraphy and painting. 'I am delighted to see a diversification in taste in recent years, with lauded connoisseurship and high quality in acquisitions. Many of them have been on display in public exhibitions, each accompanied by catalogues to mark the occasion.'

The society also holds regular meetings where, as Tang explains, acquisitions are viewed and insights shared. They also organise academic exchanges and talks for their members. 'They are meticulous about authenticity so as to build collections of the highest quality,' Tang says.

This has resulted in them casting 'a tremendous influence on the collecting and curatorial standards in China and other parts of the world', he adds. Many Min Chiu Society members have had their collections exhibited locally and overseas.

For the 50th anniversary, the exhibition will feature items representative of Chinese art and antiquities from the Neolithic period to the 20th century. There will be Chinese ceramics, jade, bamboo and wood carvings, lacquerware, glassware, snuff bottles, paintings, calligraphy and furniture, among other items.

Well-known artists such as Ni Zan (1306-1374), Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)and Shitao (1642-1707) will be showcased here, plus works by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) and Lin Fengmian (1900-1991).

A work by Qi Bashi (1864-1957), Wisteria, will be part of the exhibition. It was completed when he was in his 70s. Wisteria was one of Qi's favourite subjects as he enjoyed growing the climbing vine. He would project his personal feelings into it, as he does in this painting. Two lines in particular may be interpreted as Qi's reflection on his own life: 'How welcoming this airy breeze, which paints the old vine with the colours of spring.'

The painting and poem reveal the artist's joy and gratification in attaining a higher level in art, despite his age. An excellent example of Tang dynasty ceramics is the pottery horse in sancai glaze. Depicted in a well-proportioned form with strong muscles, it stands upright to attention, looking well-groomed and ready for a long journey. While sancai literally means 'three colours', it was a type of low-fired pottery process where different metal oxides in the glaze produced different colours during firing.

The palette included ochre, amber, green, blue and purple. Sancai items were mostly used as burial objects, including vessels and figurines.

For lacquerware, a fine specimen is the nine-barbed dish with an inlaid mother-of-pearl design of women in a garden, dated from the Yuan to early Ming dynasties. The women are enjoying themselves under a willow tree, with a maid holding a platter of fruit waiting to serve them.

Inlaid mother of pearl is an intricate process whereby the pieces are cut into tiny shapes and then attached to the surface before black lacquer is added. Careful burnishing would reveal the delicate design.

The lacquerware with mother-of-pearl inlay on show at the museum are from the Yuan to the Ming dynasties.

The Grandeur of Chinese Art Treasures: Min Chiu Society Golden Jubilee Exhibition

Date September 25, 2010 to January 2, 2011

Hong Kong Museum of Art

Opening hours Sunday to Wednesday and Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 10am-8pm. Thursday closed (except public holidays)

Admission Standard HK$10, concession HK$5

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