5.Palace Museum Photographing, Exhibition, Post-mortem Symposium

5. Palace Museum Photographing, Exhibition, Post-mortem Symposium

The piece written for the NPM Monthly (*CLP 117) will answer some of your questions, giving a full account of the photographing project. It wasn’t Ray Schwartz who went with me to do photographing for the Skira book in 1959, it was Henry Beville, photographer for the National Gallery and Skira’s choice whenever he could get him. We did photographing in Japan first, traveling with Akiyama, both for his book and mine—lots of stories there, adventures—and then in Taiwan.. Yes, that was the time we (C. C. Wang and I) tried to get the little boy to ride his water buffalo and be photographed, and were refused, even when we offered what was probably his family’s annual earning. C.C. was with me, by the way, both for this photographing and for the big 1963 photographing—the story of how he managed to come, against the wishes of his college president Ch’ien Mu, are related in the NPM Monthly piece. There are other stories about C.C. I could tell, but won’t. Those were great days.

The photos from the big project were deposited at U. Michigan, creating the Archive, because the Freer didn’t have the space or staff to handle the distribution that we planned.

As for the “mini-symposium: I organized after the Palace Museum exhibition, here are the basic facts on thar, from:

CLP 2: 1963. "Post-mortem Symposium on Palace Museum Exhibition." Not properly one of my writings, but abbreviated transcript of an event I organized, the first grand get-together of Chinese painting specialists, on October 4-5, 1963, to consider paintings that had been in the Chinese Art Treasures exhibition of 1961-62. (Most of the participants were in New York for the opening of the Crawford Collection exhibition at the Morgan Library.) Attached to it is a "Combined List" of opinions ("grades") on paintings in the CAT exhibition by specialists in the field to whom I had written asking for these. On the basis of this I chose controversial paintings to be discussed in the Symposium.

Howard: to continue. It was held at the auditorium at Asia House Gallery for two days. I remember that I asked the ACLS for $750 for expenses, and turned some of it back. I didn’t know at that time how symposia are funded—for instance, I got the dealers in town to pay for a big banquet. And, as the above states, most people were there already for the big Crawford opening. Young people like John Hay and Roderick Whitfield, still students, were slide-runners and tape-machine-operators. Yes, Wen did call the Kuo His a Ming work by Chu Tuan; fortunately, I was sitting up front (with Aschwin Lippe and Larry Sickman) with a box of slides arranged for the occasion, and was able to pull out the Kansas City (Nelson Gallery) Chu Tuan—anticipating this—and put it on the screen beside "Early Spring,} making Wen look rather foolish, I’m afraid.

I wrote about that event in an article on authenticity, maybe to be published (Liz Knight for some reasons decided not to, after asking me some time ago to write such an article for Orientations—I think I know why, and am not blaming her.) Here are the paragraphs:

“A two-day "Post-mortem Symposium" to reconsider some of the paintings that had appeared in the Chinese Art Treasures exhibition from the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, organized by myself and held in the auditorium of Asia House Gallery in New York on October 4th-5th, 1962, was attended by virtually all the major scholars in the field, along with many who were then graduate students--it was the first in a succession of grand gatherings enjoyed by our highly specialized community. Later I sent out to all who had participated a summarized transcript of the discussions (checked and corrected by the speakers), a little-known but crucial document in the history of our field. Landscape paintings occupied most of our attention, but near the end we turned to the hanging scroll "A Literary Gathering" attributed to Emperor Huizong (no. 31 in the Chinese Art Treasures catalog.)
"The first to offer opinions on it were Sherman Lee and Laurence Sickman, both of whom began by calling it an academy work, probably of Huizong's time. Lee compared it (with a slide) to a copy in handscroll form by Qiu Ying of the Ming, and observed that in the version ascribed to Huizong, "the folds of the garments have weight" and that the details show "observation of actual objects, e.g. in the table setting," whereas those in the Qiu Ying picture are "symbols rather than actually real." Sickman commented on "the clean structure of the table in the hanging scroll [Literary Gathering] which is confused in the handscroll {Qiu Ying.]" John Pope, a specialist in Chinese ceramics, then rose to claim that one of figures in the hanging scroll is holding "what can only be an early Ming blue-and-whiite dish," and the discussion turned to the identification of ceramics depicted in the painting--a telling criterion of age, obviously, since the painting cannot be older than the youngest identifiable and datable object in it. Later Alexander Soper, commenting on a different painting (attributed to Zhao Yan, "Eight Riders in Spring," catalog no. 11) and arguing for a post-Song date for it, said this: "The "Riders" balustrade can be fitted into an evolutionary sequence of architectural details as rendered by painters. Its dryness, flatness, and lack of reasonable articulation are typical late transformations of qualities that in Sung were still understood and appreciated."

From letter to Jason:

I'm lending you the report, a kind of abbreviated transcript, of the two-day "symposium" that I organized (in the Asia House Gallery auditorium in October, 1962, a kind of post-mortem symposium after the Chinese Art Treasures exhib. I organized this (you won't believe) after asking for, and receiving, the sum of $750 from the ACLS committee I was serving on [Commttee on Studies of Chinese Civilization]--and I returned some of it. Also included: summarized opinions on the ptgs by leading people in the field, in response to a questionnaire I sent out. This was the first great gathering of people (outside China) in the Chinese ptg field, and a kind of landmark event. Some of the positions that became more or less fixed were first presented then, e.g. long talks by Wen Fong. (Much later, Sherman Lee remarked that no matter what the subject of the symposium, it was always the same people saying the same things. I suggested that next time we put our name tags in a hat and drew one, and perform as that person--we knew each other's positions well enough by then.)

Mentioning the ACLS committee: it was the Committee on Studies of Chinese Civilization, one of the sub-committees of the American Council of Learned Societies that funneled grant money into projects in various fields. Headed by John Fairbank; Arthur Wright, Dennis Twitchett, Fritz Mote etc. also there. I represented Chinese art studies on it for some years. Folder in my Archive at the Freer. I later remarked (another large pattern in my career) that during my earlier years I represented art history on all the Chinese studies committees, and later represented China (or sometimes the non-West) on all the art history committees. That exaggerates slightly. I was, for instance, on the Board of Directors of CAA in the 1970s-80s (from memory), later the Executive Board, and would have been president of CAA if I hadn't declined and dropped out--at that time I was too much occupied in China, among other things with getting through all the problems of marrying Hsing. And, as I've said, I never wanted to direct or be president of anything, since I'm not good at it and hate it, and have been pretty successful in that.

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...