From The Kansas City Star:
The most enchanting show of the summer is tucked away in the Chinese paintings gallery at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
“Faces From China’s Past” is a walk-in album of charming portraits from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
Their subjects — imposing matrons and fetching young women, stately ancestors and learned men — seem remote from us in customs and dress, yet seeing them enjoy their pets and favorite pastimes in lovely gardens and elegant interiors, one immediately feels a sense of kinship.
And there’s just enough of a “boy meets girl” theme to keep things interesting.
That notion gets quite an airing in a series of exquisite illustrations for an erotic novel, “The Plum in the Golden Vase,” chronicling the amorous adventures of a rich merchant, Master Ximen. He’s a randy and at times cruel character, not above climbing a garden wall to have a tryst with his brother’s wife or punishing a wayward concubine with a whip.
Nearby, “Listening to the Qin by Candlelight,” a 17th-century piece showing a man playing the ancient stringed instrument for a female companion, presents a much more civilized approach to romance.
Drawn from the collections of the Nelson and the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, the artworks in this show were made for enjoyment and commemoration by mostly unknown artists. And many of the works have languished in storage for years.
“Scholars weren’t interested in this type of painting; it’s not what Chinese consider mainstream,” said Colin Mackenzie, the Nelson’s senior curator of Chinese painting. The mainstream is landscape painting, he said, “created by the educated elite to express a philosophical view of art.”
summary of the Nelson-Atkins' permanent Chinese collection:
Since it opened in 1933, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has actively collected, preserved, studied and exhibited works of Chinese art. Even before the Museum was built, its benefactors planned to include in it the first major gallery in America devoted solely to Chinese art. As early as 1930, the focus was to build a collection that would represent China’s highest achievements in every medium and from every historical period. As a result, the Chinese collection is one of the finest in the world.
With more than 7,500 works of high quality, the Chinese collection comprises masterpieces from every historical stage and in every medium of China’s artistic activity – from Neolithic times to the 20th century.
The collection of Chinese paintings is one of the best outside Asia particularly in the rarest and desirable period of early Chinese landscapes, the 10th through 13th centuries C.E. The richness of nature’s nuances can be seen in Xu Daoning’s Fisherman’s Evening Song, arguably the greatest surviving Northern Song landscape handscroll. Later period works include exceptional Ming and Qing paintings, such as Shitao’s A Landscape Album for Liu Shitou (K'u-kua miao-t'i).
As a pioneer in collecting Ming furniture, the Museum’s collection is virtually unrivaled outside of China. The comprehensive ceramics collection spans 5,000 years and includes both sculptures and wares that chronicle the great epochs of Chinese ceramic innovations.
Buddhist sculpture and wall paintings range from the Northern Dynasties to the Qing period and offer some of the best examples of Buddhist art in the west. A jewel of the Museum is the Chinese Temple Gallery (Gallery 230). Among Buddhist statues exhibited here is an 11th/12th-century C.E. polychrome wooden Avalokiteshvara, Seated Guanyin Bodhisattva, internationally heralded as the finest sculpture of its kind outside China.Qian and I have been to the Nelson, which has free admission, several times in the three years we've been in Kansas City. The whole museum, on top of the Chinese collection, is just an awesome display.
The Nelson-Atkins Museum
The Chinese works of art are far superior to anything I ever saw in China. I haven't spent a lifetime checking out other cities' museums' Chinese collections, but I have to believe that the Nelson's is up there with any collection in the world.
If you ever find yourself in Kansas City, be sure to check out the Nelson-Atkins Museum's Chinese collection. Send me an email and I'll go with you. We can catch some BBQ after we see the museum too. Kansas City's BBQ, my favorites being Oklahoma Joe's and Jack Stack, is as good as it gets.