Asia week gets a timely extension by appointment only at the Throckmorton Fine Art Gallery at 145 East 57th Street, New York, NY, 10022 917-562-0188 where the Transcendence From Northern Wei to Tang: Buddhist Sculpture from the Fifth-Ninth Centuries will be on view through May. This show serves to provide insight into the amazing art of this period but also of the passion of gallerist Spenser Throckmorton.
Kathleen Cullen: How did the show originate?
Spenser Throckmorton: The answer to that question is really a story. 20 years ago, while on a visit to Hong Kong, I learned that many Buddhist sculptures had been unearthed and were being offered for sale. Ironically the sculptures were not favored at the time by Chinese collectors. This was probably due largely to the fact that the contemporary Chinese regime had an indifference towards religion. I found them extraordinary and purchased a large number of sculptures, many more than my colleagues thought prudent. I just couldn't help myself. I found them irresistible. My admiration has endured while the appreciation for the work has grown. Today Buddhist Sculptures from these periods are in many collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
KC: You said that your admiration has endured. Can you explain what that means?
ST: This show is my fifth exhibit of Chinese Buddhist sculpture. I have held exhibits in 2007, 2009, 2014 and 2016. Accompanying each exhibit I produced a lavishly illustrated catalog that offered essays by leading scholars of Chinese Buddhist art. For this exhibit the catalog includes an essay by Dr. Chang Qing.
KC: The show is clearly a passion project for you as reflected by the stunning installation. The opening of the Catalogue starts off with an essay by Dr. Qing that really is a terrific summation of the history of this art and the periods during which they were created.
"After the spread of Buddhism to China during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE), the Chinese began producing Buddhist imagery based on Indian prototypes but adapted to Chinese sensibilities. Over its long history in China, devotees established the foundations for Buddhism and its artistic expression during the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589). Buddhism and its art reached its apogee during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). From the fifth to the ninth century, Buddhist art was a primary influence on many artists, resulting in a more individualistic artistic expression after the tenth century. Most of the extant works of Chinese Buddhist art have been discovered in northern China. During the five hundred years from the fifth to the ninth century, Pingcheng, Chang'an and Luoyang held pivotal positions in the areas of Chinese politics, culture and religion. The three cities had served as either the capital of a unified empire or of a regional kingdom for a long time. Therefore, Buddhist iconography from these three areas played key roles in the development of Chinese and Buddhist art in other parts of China. In addition, many important Chinese artists produced new artistic styles, based on those transmitted from India and Central Asia. Their work, in turn, served as models influencing other regional artists to think beyond the art they produced in the three-capital region. Still, Pingcheng, Chang'an and Luoyang were central in the development of Chinese Buddhist iconography during the fifth to the ninth century."
KC: Additionally the essay reveals the impact and legacy the sculptures had in China both during and after that period. Has the interest i this type of work changed in China?
ST: Ironically the Chinese government, after having long been indifferent to Buddhist imagery, prohibited in 2009 the export of early Chinese Buddha sculpture. All of the pieces in the show left China well before the ban. We owe a debt of gratitude to the unknown Buddhist monks who had the devotion, foresight and courage to bury the works to prevent their mindless destruction.
KC: That is yet another fascinating aspect of the show. Accompanying the sculptures is a special exhibition of photographic images from photographer and Fulbright Scholar Don Farber. Farber works to document Buddhist life internationally. Like the monks, Farber is working to ensure these Buddha images endure time. - Kathleen Cullen & Michelangelo De Risi