Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats


Good afternoon. (applause) Thank you
for spending your afternoon with Chinese gardens
instead of Central Park, which is also beautiful
this time of year. I was walking across
the park… louder? Is that better? Now I’m booming. Good. So welcome, and we really
have a tremendous bouquet of exhibitions in the
Asian Art Department this fall. So I hope in addition
to “Gardens in Chinese Art” that you will explore the other
Asian Gallery exhibitions. Actually, next Sunday,
there will be a program introducing “Designing Nature:
the Art of Rinpa” from our Japanese Galleries. We have a new exhibition there. Actually it’s part two
of an exhibition that began this spring with fabulous works
by Ogata Korin and other Japanese masters
in his tradition. So it’s brilliantly
colorful material, and there’s a catalog
by John Carpenter, our Curator, that’s come out. He will be talking,
and there’ll be a demonstration about Japanese calligraphy,
and Yukio Lippit from Harvard will be speaking as well. We have two other
gems of exhibitions. One of them is gemstones. It is called
“Colors of the Universe” and it is 75 18th and 19th
century, mostly Qianlong era, sculptures, miniature
sculptures, done in coral, amber, lapis, malachite,
azurite, jade. It’s up on the third floor. It’s just above
the Chinese Painting Galleries. And it’s all in one little room,
and they are exquisite. And many of these things
came to the collection in 1902. So it’s a remarkable revival
of things that have been in our collection, but have
been overlooked in the past. But not anymore. They’re really fabulous things. And if they were in
the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, people would be
lined up around the block to see them. In New York, it’s, “Ho-hum,
just another exhibition.” We have a lot of treasures. The fourth exhibition is called
“Buddhism along the Silk Road”. It’s also on the third floor, above the Southeast Asian
Galleries. And it traces the influence
of Buddhism, along that part of the Silk Road that runs
from India and Gandhara through Pakistan,
the Hindu Kush, into Central Asia. So extraordinary opportunities
to explore various facets of Asian art this fall. The exhibition
that I’ve curated is called
“Gardens in Chinese Art”. And my lecture is called
“Human Landscapes”. And there’s a reason for that. The landscapes of China,
unlike those that Ansel Adams celebrates,
Western landscapes that are vast but empty of people, in China,
landscape is incomplete without the human presence. If you think about it,
China has been occupied by mankind for millennia. They have farmed the land,
they’ve tilled it, they’ve left their mark. And in China in particular,
one of the extraordinary ways people leave their mark
is to build a pavilion, inscribe a poem
directly onto a cliff face, and so there is this whole
poetic and architectural presence in the landscape. And this remarkable handscroll
in our collection demonstrates that beautifully. It is a vast mountain panorama with this great central peak
the dominant figure in the landscape. It’s a metaphor for the emperor. The painting was done
around 1030 AD. And it shows a well-ordered
universe that becomes the template for…
the natural hierarchy becomes the template for
the human world, and the emperor reigning above
all of the lesser officials and members of society. But as you explore
the landscape, what you discover is that there are small figures,
there are pathways, that enable us to imagine
ourselves within this world. So we’re invited to explore. From this little
vantage point here, we look up towards
the soaring peak. And just nested in its
sort of embrace is this wonderful Daoist
or Buddhist temple with this evocative cloud
rising up. The cloud takes the shape
of a mushroom, a magic fungus
that confers immortality. So there are suggestions
that getting close to nature is a way to extend one’s life. And always there is a pathway. There’s a way for us
to access that world. Throughout the landscape,
there are human figures, there are habitations,
there are temples. And in China, the temples
were always placed in the mountains
if they could be. If you think about Kyoto,
most of the Buddhist and Shinto shrines
are located on the perimeter of the town in the mountains. And it’s there that you can
share a conversation with a learned monk,
meet with friends, enjoy a vegetarian meal,
look out on the landscape, and purify yourself. Now, this kind of landscape
remained a model for landscape painters
throughout the generations to come. And at the very beginning
of the exhibition there is this 18-foot-wide,
12-panel screen done in 1691,
so 600 years after the summer mountains
down below. It still conveys
something of that same ideal of man merging himself
with nature, except now the landscape
becomes even more fantastical. The artist, Yuan Jiang,
probably never saw mountains that looked like this,
so his rocks and mountains look like the rockeries
in gardens. And as we explore
this enormous space we see that we too are invited
to enter the landscape. There’s a whole cavalcade
with the emperor himself here moving into the landscape. And there are
these wonderful pavilions that we can visit. But unlike the 11th century
landscape, these things are now
extraordinarily ornate. You look at
some of these palaces, it looks as if they’ve moved
the Forbidden City into the mountains. So not at all practical,
not even possible. But the idea of landscape
as this fantastic realm, as a space to imagine yourself
lost in a kind of immortal’s dream realm,
is very much part of the inspiration behind
this screen, which was created for a lavish private home
where the individual could look at this and imagine
that his garden might someday evoke
the same kind of associations. But what did gardens in China
really look like? Well, they were not
English gardens with lawns and banks of flowers. They were very much part of a residential
architectural scheme. This is a detail of a painting
done in the 10th century. It is probably
the earliest painting of an architectural setting
with garden that exists. It happens to be
in our collection. And it is an extraordinary
document as well as a beautiful image. It tells a story,
but it also shares with us something of what
gardens looked like in the Tang Dynasty,
so from the 8th century. The story is about, in fact,
a Tang emperor, Emperor Ming Huang. And this is his seraglio. And as we explore the painting,
we move from the upper right. There are a couple of women
who are opening a door. The emperor is then
going to follow this pathway through an already…
door set ajar. Comes down to
where these girls are, and there’s some steps
where he can enter into the pavilions. There’s a banquet taking place. And at the very innermost
sanctum of this seraglio, there’s actually a lady
still in her bed and being awakened
by a maid who’s clapping. This is Yang Guifei,
the famous consort for whom the emperor really lost
his head and his empire. But notice the gardens
are very simple. It’s earthen,
tamped earth floors, some ornamental bananas. There’s a raphis palm here. Trees are symmetrically set
around the buildings. So it’s a very simple
use of plantings. And also,
already in the Tang Dynasty, we see this use… when you
visit the Chinese Garden Court, the Astor Court, you’ll see
these fabulous eroded rocks. There was a love affair
for these rocks early on. And the rocks were meant
to evoke naturalistic images, sometimes mountains. But in this case– we’re
in the seraglio, after all– I think this one
looks like a dog, maybe looking back
over his head, another Snoopy dog
with big ears. He’s looking right across
at the bridge here. So as you enter
the confines of this protected environment,
you are greeted both by flowers,
beautiful hibiscus, lotus pond here,
but these strange rocks that convey a sense
of wonderment and magic. So that tradition
of very simple landscaping with few ornamental trees,
rare use of flowering plants– most often they were
brought in in pots– and ornamental rocks becomes
the template for gardens. And you add a parapet
and an ornamental railing, it becomes, synecdochally, a reference
to the Imperial Palace. This is an image
done in the Ming Dynasty, so not the 10th century
but the 15th century, 500 years later, conveying
something of the same imperial setting. And what’s being illustrated
is actually a piece of propaganda. The story is of an elderly man
named Fu Sheng who memorized
one of the classics that were destroyed
by Qin Shihuangdi. The man who built
the Terracotta Army didn’t like other opinions. So he burned
all the books he could. He buried Confucian scholars
alive. This man took
one of the Confucian classics, immured it in his wall,
and after the Qin was defeated, the Han Dynasty was established, he brought it out
and offered his commentary. And so this is a scribe from
the Han emperor in the palace, who’s taking notes while
he comments on the classic. It’s kind of a convoluted story,
but what’s the point? The point is that the Ming
Dynasty valued scholars, and wanted to
preserve knowledge. So this was their modus
for expressing that ideal in painting, in art. But what is really striking
to me is how the elements of the garden become humanized,
become symbols for human virtues. So the craggy figure
of the scholar is juxtaposed
with the equally craggy garden rock that is both
ornamental but a symbol of survival,
of endurance. It’s been weathered,
it’s been eroded, but it stands firm. So this juxtaposition,
this importation of human values
into the natural world is a key component
of garden imagery. So gardens and images of gardens
become the locus for expressing certain
ideals of society. The painters who worked
at the court of the emperor often used the garden
as a setting in which to express auspicious sentiments
for the ruler. Nothing could be
more important to a ruler than having male progeny
who would carry on the line. And so there are
many, many paintings– there are several upstairs–
that show young male children frolicking in an
imperial garden. We know it’s a garden,
and it’s an imperial one, because look at this wonderful
garden rock with peonies. It’s set on a marble plinth. The elevated pavilion here is
equally lavish in its decor. And all the children
are beautifully turned out with elegant clothes. The imagery of gardens
and the imagery… and pictorial imagery in general
becomes the principal source of inspiration for all the
decorative arts by this time. So this is a wonderful
14th century lacquer platter. You see the same rock
on a marble plinth pavilion looking over a lotus pond. Here are the children
that are playing. They are all boys. And, of course, they even
enjoy the same hobbies with hobbyhorses. So this continuity
between the painted arts of the court
and the decorative arts is really one of the key
sources of inspiration. The pictorial arts
become a source for all the decorative arts. So I said that this
was a court painting, done around the year 1030,
let’s say. And so it is an idealized image
of the natural world. It’s not painted from nature. This artist didn’t go out
and draw this from an actual landscape. It’s a constructed landscape
that conveys this ideal of the natural hierarchy
as a model for the human landscape,
for the human world. Just a generation or so later, the evolution
of landscape painting also points to a new direction which becomes even more intimate
in its reference to human beings. This is summer. You have clouds rising
at evening. The ships have taken
their sails down. People are moving towards
these temples in the evening. This too is a late afternoon,
but the season is now clearly autumnal or winter. We see the trees are naked. As you unroll the scroll
from right to left, the first thing you encounter
are these two fishermen. Fishermen are an emblem
of living in retirement, living close to
the natural world. So we know
we’re in a landscape, that we’re moving into
a realm that is outside of the urban life
of the city. We see travelers
moving into the distance. And then there’s this
strong diagonal. The diagonal leads us
to this extraordinary grouping. There’s a pavilion. And in the pavilion
there’s a figure who’s arranging furniture. A couple of more servants
are carrying boxes of food ahead of these
elderly gentlemen. What’s going on here? So the pavilion,
it’s of a type that was built outside of major cities
all across China in the 11th century. When you were an official,
and you were posted to a new location,
it was customary for a friend or friends to escort you
the first five kilometers of your journey,
where they would have a last meal together. So they built these pavilions five kilometers
outside the city limits. So they’re called
five kilometer pavilions. But in this case,
the men who are about to bid each other farewell
are clearly ancient. Guo Xi, the artist
who painted this around the year 1080,
was himself… lived to be 90, so he must have been
in his 80s when he created this. And we know from the
attached colophons that were recorded
about this painting that it was done
for a friend who was also retiring after a long career
in the official government. So we see
these two elderly gentlemen being helped by their servants,
leaning on a staff, moving towards this pavilion. This is no ordinary farewell. It’s very likely they’ll never
see each other again. But this is a new use
of landscape to suggest an emotional moment here. How does the artist convey
these feelings most vividly? These two craggy old trees
become a metaphor for the two old men. They are bent over with age,
but they’re connected at the root. So there’s this sense
of an eternal bond that will outlive the men
themselves. So this is… this painting
becomes an image of friendship. And the trees, the rocks,
everything about this landscape, has now been humanized
and charged with emotion. And it’s that kind of emotional intensity that becomes
more and more focused during the ensuing centuries, during the Southern Song period,
12th and 13th century, where landscapes are often
simply painted on round fans, so very intimate objects that
you would hold in your hand. You’d admire them. They were often
gifts from the emperor. He might inscribe a poem
on the other side. So these became
tokens of friendship that the emperor would give
to his loyal officials. And so what is this image? It is clearly
a kind of a garden. There are these two
entwined pine trees, again, an emblem of friendship. The pine remains green
during the winter, so it’s also an emblem
of survival, longevity. There’s a full moon in the sky,
the sun is setting, and plum blossoms
are beginning to burst forth. So it’s early spring. So everything about the painting
is conveying a sense of the moment. It’s this lyrical poetic vision
of how do we capture this sense of emotion? And, of course,
the most important thing is that there is
this single gentleman, attended by a servant,
who’s looking out on the scene
in a garden pavilion. So the garden architecture
becomes this vantage point that looks into the distance,
but it’s also a focal point. It also becomes that moment… it becomes an emblem
of the human presence in the landscape. That use of imagery
becomes utterly transformed just 50 years
after this painting was done. In 1275, Hangzhou, the capital
of the Southern Song Dynasty, falls to the Mongols. And so the entire empire,
all of the scholarly class that had used… had turned
to government service as their livelihood, were thrown out of work. They were no longer employed
by the Mongols, who didn’t trust
the Chinese official class. And you get a radical shift
in painting as a result of that. This is by Qian Xuan. It’s a short handscroll. Look at the difference
between what is separated by less than 50 years. You have to ignore that
this inscription and these seals were all added by the 18th
century Quianlong Emperor in a burst of enthusiasm
for this painting. Originally, all of these
collector’s seals and this inscription
would not be there. So what you’re seeing is this very strange idealized
landscape, unlike this very stylized but
evocative, naturalistic world where we have a sense
of the time of day. This is a timeless landscape. There’s no sense of
what season or time it is, particularly. And the blue-green
landscape palette comes from the most…
from high antiquity, when blue-green
was the idealized color for a kind of golden age. Even the details of the
landscape have been stylized. They are references to an
archaic, primitivistic style. So the artist, Qian Xuan,
is evoking a kind of early golden age,
before all of this complexity and nuance of poetic detail. Even the architecture
is wonderfully simple, almost childlike. And something else happened. This inscription was
original to the painting. It is by the artist himself. And it narrates
something of the content. It talks about the figure
in the pavilion. No longer an anonymous scholar
that is meant to represent ourselves,
we can project ourselves into the painting. This is Wang Xizhi, the great 4th century
calligraphic sage. He was the man who wrote out
cursive calligraphy in such a beautiful manner
that it became the paradigm for writers ever since. He was inspired
by the undulating movements of geese, the necks of geese. And so Wang Xizhi
is this culture hero. Think about it. At the time, the Mongols
were controlling China. But to evoke the fact
that in the 4th century there was a man who survived
also when China was partially occupied
by barbarians in the north who created this wonderful
cultural ideal that had sustained Chinese
society for a millennium by this time. It was a way of saying
that even in the face of Mongol domination,
Chinese culture would survive. Now, just a generation
after Qian Xuan painted this idealized,
primitive image of a culture hero, landscape again reasserts a kind
of personal identity. This is a painting
by Wang Meng. It was given to a friend
who was forced to flee. At the end
of the Yuan Dynasty, there were marauding bandits,
there were contesting armies that were crisscrossing
the landscape. And this is a painting
done for a man who had to flee his home. And again, he uses the image of the pavilion. He uses the traditional
Sung fan shape. So he’s evoking a time
before the Mongols. But the world of difference
between these two paintings, it really shows
what has transformed art during the intervening century,
1230-1330. Sorry, about 1360. This is about 1240, ’50, maybe. There’s not a single
inscription on this. Not even an artist’s signature. It is up to us to project
meaning into the painting. In this painting,
everything has changed. Everything now is personalized,
with the hand of the artist uppermost. Instead of the intricately drawn
architecture, beautiful, evocative drawing,
everything now, we see the hand of the artist is
much more boldly present. Kind of a simple… this is
no architect who drew this. He’s emphasizing the fact
that he is an amateur. He wouldn’t deign
to do something as professionally slick
as a court artist. What is really important,
however, is he has framed the painting
with his signature, which appears twice,
and a poem. So the poem now becomes
an integrated part of the composition. The man who has no servant
anymore, he’s isolated, almost seems to be
looking out, reading the poem. And the poem elaborates
on the significance of this image. So it begins here. (speaking Chinese) So, “In the empty grove”–
this man’s all alone– “the wind blowing
through the leaves causes them to dance.” Then it continues here
in the thatched pavilion, this lonely thatched pavilion,
the sun rises close to the meridian. It’s close to noon. “The green waves
throughout the day “are blown by
the southern wind. “I wear a gauze cap
to avoid some oppression of the summer heat.” Then this last couplet
is really when we start to move from this image of a summer day when you’re all alone
in the heat to the poignancy
of this man’s life. It says, (speaking Chinese) So this rustic man’s home
is close to the Yellow Crane Mountain. Yellow Crane Mountain is where
the artist himself lives, so this man has found refuge
near Wang Meng’s home. “As the sun sets,
he enters a desolate grotto and listens
to the mountain rain.” So here’s an image of a man
in a grotto. Grottos are often a portal
to another world. But there’s no escaping
the present world. And he listens to the rain. The rain here is the storm
that’s passing over China. It’s waiting for the storm
to pass. Then there’s a dedication here
to his friend. So the painting evokes
man’s sense of isolation, his sense of being cut off
from his world. He’s looking out
at an empty space. We don’t see
any distant horizon, any distant vision at all. We’re in the moment. And that moment is clouded
with thunderstorms. This is a large-scale painting
by the same artist, Wang Meng, done for another friend. It’s called “Su’an Tu.” There’s a title here,
and a brief dedication for “The Simple Retreat.” So this is, again, an image
of world… an escape. A way of escaping this turmoil that has turned the landscape
upside down, the mountain is like this wonderful cumulonimbus
cloud now. It’s just… you have a sense
of the energies that are crisscrossing the country. There’s almost no sky left. He’s filled up what little
there is with an inscription. At the foot of the mountain,
where this water course comes down, we see
this rustic retreat. It is the one place of sanctuary
within this troubled world. A crane, symbol of longevity, the vehicle
for the Daoist Immortals, has flown down
into the courtyard. So we know it’s a peaceful,
serene environment. There are deer
that are approaching the master of the house. He’s holding one of those
magic fungus scepters. So it’s an image of escape
and peace and serenity. But again, look at how naive
the drawing is. It’s a fantasy. This is not reality. There’s no description
of a real world here. This is a wished-for dream. What is fascinating to me
is that there’s also a development of imagery here
that becomes part of the legacy of garden
design as well as painting. Because in this
wonderful landscape, you see these powerful trees
that are sheltering the dwelling, completely
out of scale. The artist has no interest
in trying to persuade us that this is reality. And down here, there’s
a little figure walking through the wilderness. And right here,
there’s a bridge. The bridge is the point
of crossing over from the external world
into the world of the garden. And that legacy goes back
to the tenth century. Remember the door
that was being opened for the emperor? Well, this is a water channel. There’s a bridge. Down where the rock
is guarding the way, another canal crossed
by a bridge. So the bridge
becomes this access point. And look at how the stream
has actually embraced and protected this. It’s like a moat. And in fact, when you open
a handscroll, the border silks on either end of the scroll
are called gouqú, which means “moat.” So even the act
of looking at a painting is inviting you
to leave your world behind and enter the world
of the artist. This is a work by Wen Zhengming
done in the 1540s. And we see the same bridge. Outside, the world is harsh. The leaves have fallen
off this tree. You cross the bridge,
you open the door, it’s already ajar,
waiting for us to come in, and suddenly we’re in
this verdant grove of evergreens, cypress trees,
and pine trees. Again, an emblem of survival,
longevity, and greenery. It’s a vision of hope. And above that
is the second story of a two-story pavilion where we
see two gentlemen conversing. This was a painting done
by Wen Zhengming for a man named Liu Lin
who had just retired. And he had come back to Suzhou,
and he had not yet built his retirement home. So Wen Zhengming said,
“I’m going to show you what it’s going to look like.” Obviously this is not
an architectural plan. It is an ideal for what
a garden should be about. It should be a place
of sanctuary, protected by a wall,
by a stream, by beautiful trees. And from the second story
pavilion, he says, you can see as far as Japan
or Manchuria. So it’s this place
where you can look out on the world, and yet
be detached from it. Wen did another painting
for a man who was his host for several years. This is a depiction
of one of the halls in the Zhuozheng Yuan
in Suzhou. Those of you who’ve been
to Suzhou, you’ve absolutely been
to this garden. The English name
is variously translated. I like “The Garden of
the Inept Politician.” So it was a name
the man gave… a mark of modesty. He obviously was
very successful. It’s the biggest garden
in Suzhou. But the Garden of the
Unsuccessful or Inept Politician is the name he chose. And that mark of modesty
reflects the attitude of the artist as well. He doesn’t choose
to paint the garden the way it actually looked. This is the garden today–
the same hall. You can see
it’s a massive building with a heavy tiled roof,
a wonderful granite balustrade. It’s probably been rebuilt
several times, but I doubt very much
that it was different in the 16th century
from the way it looks today. But not the way
Wen Zhengming chose to paint it. He chose a particularly simple,
naive, monochromatic, amateurish style
to represent the garden, to evoke the ideal
of simplicity, of withdrawal, of retreat, that, “I’m nothing
more than a humble hermit now.” So as one leaves this behind,
and here we see inside the hall there are some antiques
and a bookshelf. There’s this wonderful bridge. Again, the bridge
that allows you to cross the waterway
into the sanctuary. It’s called
the Little Rainbow Bridge. It exists today. Looks very different. So once again, was it
ever this humble? I doubt it. But was the ideal of humility
and simplicity there? Absolutely. Again, another view
of the garden. He painted this as a series
of album leaves. On facing pages were poems
by the artist. So poetry, painting,
calligraphy, all unified into the three perfections. So every image comes
with a poetic vision as well. Again, we have this door
where we are led gradually, not in a straight line,
not like Versailles, where you have that wonderful
panorama for seven miles, but you slowly enter the garden. If you turn the corner,
you have this wonderful view of a bamboo grove. There’s our friend the crane,
has flown down again. And always a companion
to share this wonderful scene. Reminds me of the multiturn
bridge. Why go in a straight line
when the whole idea is to slow down
and look at the scenery? Every time you turn,
you’re given a new vista. And then there are
these wonderful courtyards, multiple courtyards. Here’s a wonderful vision
of a study. We see a coral rock
with a banana leaf, raphis palm, a gentleman
sitting there composing a poem, and surrounded by the wall. So there is this sense
of intimacy in the painting. And clearly that was the
objective of the garden as well. And this kind of imagery
becomes ubiquitous throughout the decorative arts. So this is a brush pot,
brush holder. You put your writing implements,
painting implements, inside this bamboo
that’s been carved to look like a garden. So we see the consistency
of the imagery. There’s the same banana. There’s a paulownia tree. A servant is bringing
something to drink. And here we have a lady scholar
who’s holding a brush. She’s about to compose a poem,
being attended by a servant. Almost identical
kind of imagery, this one from the 17th century,
this from the 16th century. But we get a sense
of the ideal of the garden as a place for self-cultivation. And in fact, that ideal
was something that began at the very height
of society, and was consistent right down to the lowest orders. This is a painting
that documents a gathering that took place
on April 6, 1437. Attendees were the most
powerful men in government. They were controlling the empire
for a youthful emperor for whom they were regents. How did they want
to be portrayed? Not in shining armor,
not planting a flag on a beachhead or behind
a big desk. They wanted to be shown
in a garden, enjoying the leisurely pursuits
of gentlemen at their leisure. So we have a man poised
to write something. Here’s a wonderful
hanging scroll being viewed by several of the gentlemen,
another one being readied here. Celebrating
the springtime weather. It’s the blossoming apricots. It’s the apricot garden. So even though these men
were enormously powerful, what was valued was
the ideal of self-cultivation. In fact, it was these men
who brought to an end the Age of Exploration
in China. The Age of Exploration
hadn’t even dawned yet in 1437, right? That’s two generations away from
Columbus discovering America, or Magellan circumnavigating
the globe. By that time, the Chinese
had already sent an armada of 30,000 sailors, 300 ships, as far as the east coast of
Africa under Admiral Zheng He. These men said,
“What’s the point? “There’s nobody out there
as civilized as we are. “There’s deserts to the north,
there’s vast ocean expanses “to the south. “Everybody else doesn’t have
our kind of literary heritage or culture.” So they brought an end
to exploration. China was a walled garden. The idea was to look inward
and cultivate oneself, not go exploring
beyond the shores. So these men had a profound
effect on China’s history. They also became the models
for the entire society. So this is a painting
by Zhang Lu, roughly contemporary
to this one. What’s the difference? Well, these are all
country bumpkins. This woman is seated
at her loom. He’s about to go fishing. These are probably farmers. There’s a wine pot there,
and they’re unfurling a painting–
actually it’s a painting by Zhang Lu himself–
and they’re all holding forth, commenting on this as if they
were learned scholars. But you look
at their patched clothes, their bare feet,
these are very humble people. But the painting
is a kind of satire on the fact that
I’m this painter, and I have to paint for these
bourgeois gentilhommes who don’t know that they’ve been
speaking prose their entire life. So this is a sendup
of the wealthy nouveau riche who were patrons
of this artist, who were trying to emulate
the gentleman scholars here, but are clearly…
don’t have the same level of sophistication. Nonetheless, this illustrates
in my mind perfectly how ubiquitous
this set of standards, these ideals, were
throughout society and throughout the arts. So here’s another brush holder. It’s, again, a tube carved
from a piece of bamboo. So bamboo itself,
not a precious object. But this is an unbelievably
precious piece of sculpture, because what the artist has done
is he’s created a painting by carving away
the skin of the bamboo, except where the yellow remains. So this is the outer skin,
and by removing the area around that, he’s created
this image of what? A pavilion and a garden
with a literary gathering. So over and over again,
we see the return of the celebration of man
in a natural world. This is not what
the garden looked like. But in our imagination,
the pavilion would be in this wilderness setting. And then, of course, you have
the inhabitants of the garden. From early times on,
Chinese didn’t… unlike Audubon, they didn’t
try to paint fowl and fish and wildlife in the wilderness. They preferred to bring
these animals into the garden and have these specimen
animals and plants all together, where they
would be painted. This is a work by
none other than Emperor Huizong himself
from around the year 1100. So it’s an extraordinary example
of how the emperor on down valued this acute observation
of the natural world. So he sketched the landscape
in a quite perfunctory way, but he focused a tremendous
amount of attention on this intimate relationship
between these two finches. Now, the decorative arts
followed suit. So this elegant set
of silver dinnerware, wine set, is following
the emperor’s design. So here’s a detail
of the emperor’s painting. Here are the two birds,
the bamboo. Now we’ve got a butterfly
and a plum blossom as well. But painting becomes
the source of inspiration for all the decorative arts. And the themes of the garden,
the natural world, are the dominant sources
of inspiration throughout. And it’s because
of the human associations between the natural world
and the human world that makes these images
so universal and so compelling. Pine, bamboo, plum–
the three friends of wintry weather. Bamboo and pine remain green
through the winter. And the first tree to blossom
in the spring is the plum blossom. If you walk over
to the Engineer’s Gate in April, you’ll see these wonderful
Japanese cherry trees. It’s a variety of plum. They put forth
their little blossoms from the massive, hulking
trunks of the trees. It’s a sense of renewal
from this craggy tree that’s endured,
and it renews itself. The pine tree
is the king of the forest, the natural noble
of the plant world. And its boughs spread out
to protect the lesser trees of the forest. So it is, in this image,
a dragon rising up from the ground,
and right at the peak of the dragon is an inscription
by none other than the pope of the Daoist church,
who was himself a dragon incarnate. Bamboo, Confucius
talked about the cleansing sound of the wind
passing through the bamboo. It bends in the winds
of adversity, returns to the upright. So all of these plants have been
given human attributes. They’ve become exemplary
moral standards, metaphors, for the human being
at his or her best. Of course, the garden rock
is always present as well. So everything in the garden
carries a message. It’s been chosen for a reason. Lotus, another element
of the garden that is, of course, one of the
favorite elements in any pool, pond, lake
you visit in China. And of course, it has its roots
quite literally in India. The lotus blossom was an import
from India, and it was an emblem used
by the Buddhist church. The Buddha is always seated
on an opening lotus blossom, as this kind of a throne. And in the Chinese
interpretation, it not only represents this sense of rebirth
from the muddy waters of the pond, blossomed
forth in pure, clean glory, but there’s also a sense
of passage of time. So the garden is filled
with markers that show us the different seasons,
the transience of life. So we have
the full-blown blossoms here, just opening
to their full glory. And then already
in this companion painting, the petals are beginning
to fall, the lotus pods are filling out. There’s a sense
of the change of time. And of course, the birds
are all migratory birds, so that they too come and go
with the seasons. So the sense of the metaphorical
and symbolic meaning of the natural world
is really paramount in Chinese painting,
and I’ve included several photographs
by an American photographer, Lois Conner,
along with these paintings to show how some of these
same ideals and images have influenced contemporary
artists in the West. Lois has spent a number of years
traveling back and forth to China, and so she’s
photographed these extraordinary fields
of lotus blossoms over and over again. And what her photography points
out– she uses a special lens that creates this horizontal
or vertical format– is by focusing
on the lotus leaves in the foreground,
tilting her camera and looking down on it,
she’s achieving the same effect that you get
in the Chinese paintings. There’s no background. Everything focuses our
attention… the imagery is brought very close
to the picture surface. So it’s clearly meant
to convey kind of iconic sense of meaning. And we can also enjoy the wonderful calligraphic
nature, the rhythmic
scalloping of the leaves in both the photograph
and the painting. It gives us a sense
of the natural rhythms of the universe that we can
attune ourselves to. And that’s where
our garden comes in. When you enter the Astor Court,
you are also entering into a work of art. You are, from the moment
you see the Moon Gate… You know, where else
do you see circular doors? It’s a very extravagant thing
to create a circle for a door. But it has
a cosmic significance. The cosmos in Chinese cosmology
is round. The earth is square, with
the four cardinal directions. So a square door
framed by a circular door becomes a diagram
for entering a new world. And, in fact, the characters,
“Tan you”, we selected these
to evoke a sense of quietude. It means, “In search
of quietude.” The Chinese had originally
suggested a four-character phrase, “Lìng yi shìjiè,”
“Another world.” And that’s exactly what
this image is meant to convey. Like a painting,
you are really intended to imagine yourself
moving into the world of the work of art. So we identify with the figure,
we imagine ourselves in the pavilion,
we look up at the moon, we watch the sunset. Everything about
this intimate scaled painting is about projecting ourselves
into that world. The same process takes place
when we step through this door. When we do so,
we are guided by a corridor. The corridor doesn’t
take us directly to our objective. It shifts direction,
just as it does in Chinese painting. There’s no straight lines
in Chinese art. There’s no straight lines
in nature. It’s all about the process
of getting there. So as we walk
along the corridor, every step we take,
we have a different view of the landscape. Of course, at the end
of our objective, we have this frontal hall
with its moon viewing terrace. So it has a similar
kind of formality. But it’s along the way,
it’s the journey we take as we look out. And always the architecture
is… let me see if I can… so we go back,
we’re walking here. Its opposite wall is here. So it’s a landscape. Now, even in a landscape, you can’t do without
the human presence. So you have to have a pavilion. Well, it’s a small courtyard,
so you only make the pavilion half as wide as it should be,
so that it becomes a part of the composition. And you can see we have
raphis palms and bananas, just like Wen Zhengming’s
painting, and this wonderful sense
of the rock. These things are built up. There’s a number of stones
that are put together, but it’s meant to create
this sense of an organic whole, as if it loomed up
out of the earth. The cosmic energies
of the landscape are embodied in these wonderfully
eroded rocks. So the entire garden
is about condensing the experience of moving
into the natural world within a space
that is also a dwelling space. In nice weather you could
move your furniture out here, become another room. That’s where your literary
gathering would take place. As you walk along here,
however, you notice there are three points
where you leave behind the architecture,
the manmade world. And by stepping on this rock…
unfortunately, we have lawyers who tell us that
we will get sued if somebody trips, so we
have to put ropes there. But were you to step
on that natural rock, your foot would tell you
right away you’re leaving the smooth surface
of the human world and entering the wilderness. And suddenly the tile floor
becomes like an expansive ocean. And this is a peninsula,
these are mountains that are rising up. Our minds change into
the scale of a vast panorama. So within this intimate scaled
courtyard, we have the experience of wandering
in the natural world. It is very much
like the experience of unrolling a painting. This painting is 40…
it’s one meter long, about 40 inches. Only 18 inches tall. And yet you can wander in it,
you can live in it. You can lose yourself in this. And you will be sure to find
friends, fellow recluses, fellow travelers,
in this landscape. Because the landscapes
of China are filled with human beings. Thank you. (applause)

7 thoughts on “Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats

  1. The year 1902 mentioning about the earliest part of the collection, made me recall of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion looting in Beijing by western powers. I am open minded but is there a connection? What is the proof that this?
    We are well blessed by these pieces but were they done on good faith? I hope so.

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