This exhibition will present sixty-seven masterpieces collected by John D. Rockefeller 3rd and his wife Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, illuminating the cultures and history of Asia. This important collection underscores art’s capacity to encourage cross-cultural dialogue and influence economic and public policy.
Buddha and Shiva, Lotus and Dragon will present sixty-seven masterpieces collected by John D. Rockefeller 3rd (1906–1978) and his wife Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller (1909–1992), illuminating the cultures and history of Asia. This important collection underscores art’s capacity to encourage cross-cultural dialogue and influence economic and public policy. The selection of sculptures, bronzes, and ceramics ranges from the late sixth century BCE to the early nineteenth century CE, and originates from Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, and Vietnam. Highlights include a spectacular Gupta-period Buddha and a Chola-period bronze Parvati from India; an extraordinary bronze gui (food vessel) from China’s Zhou dynasty; a rare seventeenth-century jar by the great Japanese potter Nonomura Ninsei; and an eighth-century bronze Maitreya Buddha from Thailand.
The Rockefellers believed that by building a collection of the highest quality and sharing it with the public, they could educate Americans about the importance and diversity of Asian art, as a means to elevate their understanding of Asian cultures and create bridges to future economic and sociopolitical dialogue and engagement. Sherman E. Lee (1918–2008), an important art museum director and scholar of Asian art, worked with the Rockefellers as an advisor to their collection, and his influence will be addressed throughout this exhibition. The collection was bequeathed to Asia Society in New York City following Mr. Rockefeller’s death in 1978.
Rockefeller played an instrumental role in fostering cultural understanding and cooperation between Asia and America after the Second World War. Early on he was influenced by the collection of Chinese and Japanese art amassed by his parents, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and his interest in Asian art was tied directly to his increasing involvement in international politics, particularly relations between Asia and the West. In 1951 he joined the peace mission to Japan led by John Foster Dulles, and two years later he established the Council on Economic and Cultural Affairs, which necessitated frequent travels throughout the region.
A selection of Japanese works reflects the Rockefellers’ working relationship with their art advisor Sherman Lee set against the backdrop of postwar Japan, when political and economic circumstances led to the sale of many privately owned works and provided an unprecedented opportunity for American collectors. Similarly, the superb ceramics and sculptures in the exhibition bring to light the impact of Chinese civil strife and economic distress on the international art market during the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, as well as the rise of interest in South Asian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan art.
Number of Works: 67
Space Required: 5,000 – 7,000 square feet
Venue Presentation Period: 12 weeks
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An accompanying fully illustrated catalogue will include an essay by Adriana Proser on the history of the Rockefeller’s collecting of Asian art, as well as a plates section with brief explanatory texts on individual works in the exhibition.
Adriana Proser is John H. Foster Senior Curator of Traditional Asian Art at Asia Society Museum, New York. A specialist in Chinese art, over the last 15 years she has organized and co-organized more than 40 exhibitions for Asia Society, New York, as well as Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Asia Society Texas Center, Caramoor, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. These include her recent exhibitions Secrets of the Sea: A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in China (2017) and Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms (2016).
This exhibition is co-organized by the American Federation of Arts and Asia Society Museum.