Sunday, April 28, 2013

One Man's Search for Ancient China: The Paul Singer Collection

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through July 7, 2013

This is an interesting small show, tucked away in the back of the Sackler, close to the gift shop on the first Lower Level.  I suspect it's lost in the excitement over the Cyrus Cylinder and the new show on illustrated books that take up so much space on that level, but this little exhibit is worth seeking out.

Paul Singer was a psychologist who became interested in Asian art.  In the 1950s, he met Arthur Sackler, who was a psychiatrist also interested in Asian art.  The two became friends, and eventually, Sackler gave Singer an annual stipend to spend on collecting pieces, with the understanding that the collection would eventually be given to a Sackler museum.  Fast forward to 1987, the Sackler Gallery opens in Washington, and in 1997, upon Singer's death, the collection is donated there.

Singer's collection was extensive, over 5,000 objects that he displayed in his two-bedroom New Jersey apartment.  I can only imagine things got a bit crowded!

Singer had a tremendous ability to pick things that experts had dismissed as fakes, but which later proved to be genuine.  He chose small things, that alone might not be so interesting, but taken together provide lots of information to scholars.  He particularly collected ancient ceramics, metalwork and jade.

Verdict: If you like the Sackler and are interested in its history, this is a great exhibit to see.  If not, you can skip it without missing something terribly important.

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