China's Outstanding Antiquities

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China's Outstanding Antiquities

Avid collectors of Korean antiques have complained about the number of Chinese antiques flooding into Korea. Although the beauty and the value of ancient Chinese works is widely accepted and acknowledged internationally, in Korea these works are considered inferior to authentic Korean antiques - and are sometimes passed off as substitutes.

Chinese and Korean arts share a long, rich history, with similarities in design and religious inspiration. But, according to connoisseurs and appraisal experts, Korean antiques have been generally regarded as minimalist and aesthetic in design - rare and expensive if unique and authentic - and thus worthy of collection. This may explain the sensitivity about an antique's origin, where expert appraisal becomes critical.

In the past, prejudice against ancient Chinese art among Korean collectors came from the belief that a Chinese antiques were not as valuable as a Korean antiques of similar design. Now, the international recognition of ancient Chinese art through publicized auctions and exhibitions is generating aesthetic awareness of Chinese art. However, the prevailing positive climate has caused another problem. People complain that most of the Chinese antiques in Korean sold in Korea worthless reproductions.

Koreans now have a chance to appreciate the real thing at an exhibition of ancient Chinese art works in central Seoul. The Hahn Cultural Foundation Chinese Art Collection at the Hwajeong Museum offers an extremely rare first-hand glimpse of authentic Chinese antiques. For the first time in Korea, The Hahn Cultural Foundation has made the Chinese art works available for public viewing until Dec. 20. The exhibition offers a comprehensive overview of 4,000 years of Chinese works from the Neolithic period to the end of the Qing Dynasty in the early 20th century. The works include paintings, pottery and porcelain works, and figurines.

In ancient Chinese art, one can see the similarities and striking contrasts between Korean art and Chinese art. Works from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) ruled by the Hans, show more subtle aesthetic touches, and have more in common with Korean art.

The simple ash-and-green glazed ceramics are much like the ones from Korea's Koryo Dynasty (935-1392). In contrast, three-color glazed figurines, famille-rose enamel vessels and brown-glazed jars are purely Chinese in style.

Blue-and-white kraak porcelain works from the Ming Dynasty have had a strong influence on the West. The word kraak is believed to have been derived from the early export of porcelain works to Europe. Sixteenth century Portuguese ships were called "caraaks." These vessels carried the goods from China to the Netherlands. The Kraak design features a segmented border, with flowers, birds or deer in the center. This design was very popular with Europeans.

Enamelware and metal crafts inlaid in bronze, gold and silver, present a trickier problem is distinguishing between Chinese and Korean - except that we know the works on display are Chinese. The Buddhist statue (pictured below) is distinctively Chinese. The elaborate decoration, posture and sharp features are unmistakably Chinese in style.

Also on show is lacquerware and intricate carvings in ivory, bamboo and rhinoceros-horn. These are typically Chinese in origin. Many carvings show not only birds and flowers but also demi-gods meditating in the mountains.

A broad selection of paintings is also on display. They include a hanging scroll by Zhang Daqian whose abstract depictions of landscapes were praised by Pablo Picasso. The exhibition also includes calligraphy, royal costumes and accessories, embroidery and sculptures.

This exhibition is an ideal opportunity to improve your knowledge of ancient Chinese arts.



by Inae Cho

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