Saturday, March 9, 2013

Journey through Mountains and Rivers

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art - probably the biggest treasure in Kansas City - has a wonderful, free China exhibit going on now until April 28th - Journey through Mountains and Rivers: Chinese Landscapes Ancient and Modern.

On display are some of the museum's most prized Song Dynasty (960 - 1279AD) paintings and scrolls that "because of their fragility, will not be displayed again for ten years." And then, as the centerpiece of their China exhibit, one tremendously large modern painting by Xu Longsen done on an epic scale.

I didn't try to take photos of the old Song paintings. I knew that they are sensitive to light and am pretty sure that they wouldn't come out well on this blog. Here is a video from the Nelson highlighting the pieces of this exhibit, though:

Several of the pieces on display are scrolls that span several feet when laid out. Moving from right to left, the scrolls tell a story. Mountains, rivers, pagodas: the paintings are the ideal that many think of when they envision centuries-old Chinese art. The detail and great condition of the pieces are mind-boggling. I could hardly believe what I was looking at. Having a dozen or so master works laid out in a small, quiet room (that Qian and I were the only people occupying for a few minutes) is simply awesome.

It was hard for me not to think when viewing these ancient works that it's a good thing that these pieces left China in the late-19th and early-20th century. It's much better, in my opinion, that these pieces be on display in Kansas City than burned up during one of Mao's chaotic, anti-intellectual campaigns.

The other highlight of the Nelson's China exhibit - Xu Longsen's contemporary piece - is similar in some ways to these ancient scroll paintings. Xu is strongly influenced by nature and the Daoism. His abstract work, which took years to complete, is quite a sight.

Below are photos I snapped of Xu's piece:

If you'll be in Kansas City or the midwest over the coming few weeks, you need to come check out this exhibit. I'd be happy to go with you! Entry to the Nelson is always free and this special exhibit is as well. Qian and I are going to go on a tour of the museum to see these pieces again tomorrow. I'm looking forward to spending a little bit more time learning about these pieces since my first trip, when I snapped these photos, was a little rushed.

Edit - The Kansas City Star has two pieces today about these China exhibits. Here is the one on the centuries-old master works. And here is the one on Xu Longsen's mammoth painting.


Ramesh said...

Very nice. But why Kansan City. What's its connection with China - other than two outstanding citizens - M & Q :)

Mark said...

These pieces are in Kansas City because the Nelson-Atkins Museum just has one of the best collections of Chinese art in the world.

Thankfully for Kansas Citians, the museum loaded up on Chinese masterworks over the past century. Several of the Song Dynasty scrolls on display now are considered some of the finest in the museum's collection.

Kansas City has always had strong support of the arts. These works, I suppose, are the fruits of wealthy benefactors interested in expanding the museum's collection.