Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Orchid in Chinese Painting

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through July 17, 2011

This is a companion exhibit to the Natural History Museum's orchid show that I reviewed earlier. I took the same friend to see this show that I took to see the earlier one, and while this small display lacked some of the visual "pop" of the live orchids, it was lovely nonetheless.

The orchid has long been associated in Chinese culture with the man of high moral values who goes unrecognized by those in positions of authority. The flower's fragrant blossoms are hidden in the long tapering leaves, just as the value of the virtuous man is hidden by his reluctance to put himself forward in violation of his principles.

One of the first paintings we saw was by Luo Ping, who drew ink orchids with the tips and nails of his fingers - the result does have the look of fingerpainting. The act of simulating natural settings on a reduced scale was believed by the Chinese to have the same revitalizing effect as an actual journey. I was reminded of the habit of the scholar gentlemen in displaying winter scenes in summer (and vice versa) in order to cool (or warm) the viewer. I'm not sure that merely looking at paintings of natural beauty is the same as actually experiencing it, but I suppose it's better than nothing. Besides, I get great joy out of my trips to the museums, and isn't that much the same thing?

I was quite impressed with Orchid & Fungus of Immortality by a Torrent by Hu Jiusi - the colors are still vibrant and lovely after almost 200 years.

Verdict: The show closes today, so I hope you had a chance to see it while it was here. Easily managed in a lunch hour - one could combine this with another small show in the same visit.

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