Monday, May 30, 2016
A Bit of the Freer
When: through July 24, 2016
If, like me, you've been missing the Freer and its beautiful things beautifully displayed, visit the Sackler's exhibit of paintings, poetry and calligraphy from the Wu School. Many Freer objects are on display, including some of the temporarily closed museum's display cases (I'm pretty sure).
To really see everything and read all of the explanatory notes would take far longer than a lunch hour, but you can immerse yourself in the life of a Chinese gentleman scholar in a shorter time. The music playing helps to remove you from the present day; it makes it easier to imagine that you are sitting in a pavilion, waiting for your poet friends to arrive. In fact, the piece was chosen by NASA to represent Chinese music when they gathered 50 musical pieces to be put on a disc aboard Voyager I on its way to deep space. I'm going to set aside my cynicism about this project (Why would we think that life on other planets intelligent enough to appreciate music would have 1970s era technology available to them to listen to it?), and say that a desire to share the best that humans have created is a worthy thing.
One of the poems that struck me was one entitled "At Leisure in my Studio at Year's End" by Wen Zhengming. This line, "...all my affairs have slipped into arrears..." Who among us hasn't felt that at some time or other? The melancholy notion that we could have done more with the past year is a universal one, I think. Or is that just what I'm hoping? That I'm not the only one feeling like time is slipping away all too quickly?
The thing I most liked about the art on display is the scale of people to nature. The human figures are often tiny; you have to really search for them amidst the mountains or the rivers or the trees. When life gets you down (see above), just think of the magnificence of nature and gain a better perspective.
If I'm being honest, the calligraphy didn't do that much for me. It's the sort of thing I know I'm supposed to appreciate, but I couldn't help but think that it seemed a bit like looking at great penmanship. If the words were written in English, would I think the letters were beautiful?
Verdict: Worth seeing, both for the poetry and the painting.