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Ink and Wood: Modern Chinese Paintings in the Scholar’s Studio

An exhibition dedicated to presenting fine art alongside decorative art

Ink & Wood sticker ( R ).jpg

Liang Yi Museum is delighted to announce its forthcoming exhibition Ink and Wood: Modern Chinese Paintings in the Scholar’s Studio (Ink and Wood), opening on the 4th September 2018 and running until the 26th February 2019. For the first time, the museum will simultaneously present two distinct Chinese art disciplines - modern ink painting and classical furniture making - within a recreated wenfang(1). Bringing together 24 exquisite modern Chinese paintings from a private collection as well as a total of 240 objects from Liang Yi Museum’s classical Ming and Qing dynasties antique collection, Ink and Wood is the first and largest exhibition to put the spotlight on antique Chinese wooden scholar objects, as well as allowing visitors to experience the true aesthetic environment of the scholar’s studio.

Liang Yi Museum is the largest private museum in Hong Kong renowned for its collections of antique Chinese furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties, European vanities and European silver. The museum’s previous exhibitions have focused exclusively on the decorative arts – classical Chinese furniture, European vanity cases and silverware of important historical significance, to name a few. While decorative art and fine art have long been studied, categorised and exhibited under separate academic disciplines, Ink and Wood considers how these two spheres of Chinese art have actually existed in tandem throughout history, both practically and philosophically. With Liang Yi Museum’s unique curatorial ethos, visitors are invited to sit and touch the exhibited artefacts, enlivening the senses and allowing for meaningful contemplation into the concept of the wenfang. While complementing wooden artefacts from the museum’s collection, including 200 rare scholar objects comprising brush washers, book chests, brush pots, incense boxes, scroll pots, table screens, display stands and table-top storage/dressing chests, visitors will also be able to view invaluable modern Chinese paintings by Yun Shouping (1633–90), Wang Yuanqi (1642–1715), Qi Baishi (1864–1957), Zhang Daqian (1899–1983), Lin Fengmian (1900-91), Li Keran (1907–89) and Wu Guanzhong (1919–2010), generously on loan from a local collector. The juxtaposition of ink paintings and wooden artefacts allows for the fusion of various dichotomies, not only between fine art and decorative art, but also between traditional and classical craftsmanship versus the more contemporary medium of modern Chinese painting.

With origins tracing back to the Northern and Southern dynasties (420-489), an elite minority of influential Chinese literati used the wenfang to engage in creative pursuits which were instrumental in fulfilling their scholarly lifestyle and aspirations, such as painting, composing poetry, playing music, burning incense and holding literati gatherings. Furniture pieces such as painting tables, daybeds, incense or flower stands and chairs were placed in the studio for these activities, whereas small objects such as brush pots, table screens, display stands and carrying cases were used for academic-oriented exercises. These artefacts are a physical manifestation of the literati’s affinity with objects that represent the spirit and core values of humanity as well as an appreciation for arts. The wenfang environment allows scholars the freedom to engage in formal artistic practice, while heightening their sensibilities towards nature, history, and life. Under the Ming dynasty, the emphasis on the scholarly pursuit of an ideal life is reflected in uniquely personalised studio designs; while under the Qing dynasty, when the evolution of the wenfang culminated, studios were inspired by Manchurian and Western cultures, resulting in a more elaborate and opulent aesthetic.

Functional yet inspiring, the scholarly objects and larger pieces of furniture presented in this exhibition serve as vehicles to reflect on the traditions and values of the literati, the tastemakers and influencers of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The culture of incense burning has long been a central part of a scholar’s life. On display is a zitan seal paste box with two layers: the upper layer containing two small interior compartments with lids decorated with ivory and mother-of-pearl inlay depicting a dragon and phoenix. When assembled together, the lids fit perfectly into a taiji(2)-shaped display, a physical demonstration of the philosophy of yin and yang in Taoism. Another quintessential item in a wenfang is a brush pot, which served to hold brushes in an inverted position to protect the tips and was regarded as an artwork in its own right by scholars. A highlight object in the exhibition is a brush pot inlaid with semi-precious stone, mother-of pearl and coral, a style which first appeared in the mid-16th century and flourished throughout the late-Ming to Qing dynasty. Made with zitan(3), this brush pot is decorated with the motif of traditional literary ornaments, or qinggong(4) on a lacquered ground with inlaid semi-precious stones. It is the embodiment of inlay craftsmanship and the aesthetic appreciation of lacquer wares during the Qing dynasty.

Ancient Chinese scholars collected paintings for appreciation and as a means of self-expression. Charting the evolving styles and subjects of Chinese painting across three centuries, the exhibition includes works from the Qing dynasty to the early Nationalist period. The challenges faced by artists from the Qing dynasty onwards included changes in the fundamental structure of society, drastic shifts in aesthetic tastes, deterioration of the political situation as well as the influx of Western cultures. In order to preserve the long tradition of literati paintings, modern painters incorporated different techniques and skills they acquired from the West. Early Qing dynasty artist, Yun Shouping, excelled in emulating the mogu5 painting style by depicting landscapes and flowers in light and soft forms with washed colours, as shown in Autumn Flowers. Zhang Daqian, who endured the upheaval of the Qing dynasty to the Nationalist era, incorporated ink-splashing techniques as an experimental take on traditional landscape painting in the early stages of his art career, as documented in his painting, Landscape. The depiction of the autumn landscape in Lin Fengmian’s painting, Flying Duck in Landscape, uses a rich yellow and orange palette, which exemplifies the mature phase of Lin’s practice of synthesising Chinese and Western techniques in the 1960s. Spanning across an extensive time period, the collection of paintings collectively showcases how modern painters drew inspiration from ancient masters and adapted to the revolutionary techniques to save the orthodox Chinese painting tradition.

The exhibited artefacts in Ink and Wood: Modern Chinese Paintings in the Scholar’s Studio are rendered as both mutually exclusive and as interconnected components spanning Chinese art history. This inter-disciplinary exhibition not only juxtaposes classical Chinese furniture alongside modern Chinese paintings with references to history, it also provides viewers a chance to explore the different aspects of a scholar's daily life, providing a dual perspective on two of the most enduring Chinese artistic traditions: furniture making and ink painting.

“As a further testament to our ambitious programming, we are delighted to bring decorative art and fine art together for the first time with our new exhibition ‘Ink and Wood’. We hope that when viewed together, these scholarly objects and modern ink paintings will open a window to the continuity of the Chinese aesthetic, and provide a bridge between the seemingly disparate worlds of fine and decorative art. By organising loans from international institutions, galleries and private collectors, Liang Yi Museum continues to endeavour to show dedicated research across a variety of disciplines, from furniture to fine art, and Persian art to British silverware, to name.”

– Lynn Fung (Director, Liang Yi Museum)

(1) Literally in Chinese meaning the studio of a scholar
(2) An ancient Chinese philosophical symbol used to depict the opposite, yet complementary forces of Yin & Yang, often translated as the state of ‘Supreme Ultimate’ with absolute and infinite potential
(3) A calibre of wood with an extreme density, which sinks in water, making it ideal for carving. Precious hardwood sourced in India. Colour ranges from dark orange to reddish purple. Highly favoured by Qing emperors
(4) A style of painting of the Qing dynasty featuring objects such as vessels, plants and stationery. Originated from the illustration of flowers and fruits placed in front of a Buddha statue. It was equally popular as the "Four Gentlemen" and "Three Friends of Winter"

Liang Yi Museum
By appointment only
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Closed on Sundays, Mondays and Public Holidays
*Wednesdays are open free of charge to full-time students with prior arrangement (a maximum of 5 people per group)
Tel: +852 2806 8280
Location: 181-199 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
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About Liang Yi Museum
Opened in March 2014, Liang Yi Museum is Hong Kong’s largest private museum, located on Hollywood Road, in the heart of the historic district. Housing a world-class collection of Chinese antique furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the world’s most extensive collection of European vanities, Liang Yi Museum is a significant addition to the arts, heritage and cultural landscape of the city.

Earlier Event: June 30
Manifesto of Neo-Modern Ink Art