BERKELEY, CA.-The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) presents Parting the Curtain: Asian Art Revealed, an exhibition of treasures from the museum's diverse collection of historical Asian art, as well as exceptional works on generous long-term loan from the collections of Louise Gund and Warren King. The more than fifty works in the exhibition represent a wide geographical range -- India, Tibet, China, and Japan -- and span 10,000 B.C. through the 20th century. These works include a collection of rare Tibetan religious statues and meditative paintings, or thangkas, on public display for the first time ever in the Bay Area. The ongoing exhibition is now open.
Because the exhibition covers such broad geographical and chronological territory, Parting the Curtain is subdivided into thematic sections.
Buddhist Imagery of India and Tibet presents exquisite bronze statuary and other objects that trace the formation of Buddhist religious art from 3rd-century India through much later manifestations in the Himalayas. Buddhism's supreme values of wisdom and compassion are evident in the works, including Bhaishajyaguru or Medicine Buddha, a mesmerizing 15th-century gilt bronze Buddha from Tibet, and Portrait of the Fifth Dalai Lama (Tibet-China, 17th century), a rare thangka with an embroidered image made of silk and gold thread. All of the paintings, embroidery, and sculpture in the section are shown together for the first time, and are on long-term loan from museum patron Louise Gund.
Tibetan and Buddhist Ritual Arts: The Bernard-Murray Tibetan Collection continues the exploration of Tibet, with two more typical thangkas made of pigments painted on cloth, rare 1930s film footage of Tibetan ritual dance, and a beautiful horse saddle from the Gund collection covered in gold, silver, and silk brocade. The other works are part of the Bernard-Murray Tibetan Collection, a major collection of Tibetan art and artifacts given to the university in 2004, and now housed at BAM/PFA and other locations on the UC Berkeley campus. In 1939, American scholar and explorer Theos Bernard (1908 - 1947) journeyed to Tibet, where he participated in religious activities and studied Tantric Buddhism. The art and artifacts Bernard collected on his travels, now awaiting conservation, provide a unique record of the art and culture of traditional Tibet prior to Chinese incursion.
BAM/PFA holds one of the top collections of historical Chinese painting in the country. The Literati Tradition: Scholarly Pursuits in China and Japan presents several landscape works from the collection by Chinese literati, along with related works by Japanese Nanga painters. The Chinese literati painting tradition blossomed thanks to a hierarchal Confucian society that emphasized a highly educated elite class, and placed higher value on individual expression over exactitude or realism. The Zhiping Temple (1516) by Ming dynasty painter Wen Zhengming (1470 - 1559), one of the leading innovators of Chinese painting, is a superb example of work from the tradition. Japanese Nanga painters later adopted the styles and practices of the Chinese literati in their paintings, as exemplified by paintings in the exhibition by Chikutö Nakabayashi (1776 - 1853) and Baiitsu Yamamoto (1783 - 1856).
Ideals of Beauty in India presents a selection of sculptures demonstrating Indian ideals of feminine beauty: large breasts, ample hips, and thin waists. These voluptuous ideals appear repeatedly in Indian poetry, paintings, and sculpture, such as River Goddess (India, Uttar Pradesh, 8th - 9th century), a curvaceous stone figure that once flanked a temple sanctum, blessing and purifying visitors.
The exhibition is capped by Art for the Afterlife: Chinese Tomb Culture, a collection of glazed earthenware storage jars from Chinese tombs of the Neolithic period (10,000 - 2,100 B.C.), and additional glazed ceramic figurative pieces from the Han (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) and Tang (618 - 907) dynasties. Although made for the grave and not intended to be seen except in the realm of the afterlife, the objects describe important aspects of the material culture of their day.
Parting the Curtain: Asian Art Revealed is curated by Julia M. White, senior curator of Asian art. BAM/PFA is a vital center of contemporary and historical Asian art in the Bay Area, and in the United States. The museum's Asian collections contain a wealth of fine works reflecting the broad scope of Asian art, culture, and civilizations.