About the Exhibition

When Sam Myers was sent to Paris by his law firm in the mid-1960s, he and his wife Myrna became so enamored with the city that they decided to make it their home. There, over the course of fifty years, they built an extraordinary art collection. Beginning by acquiring Greek and Roman antiquities, and eventually focusing on Asia, the Myers ended up assembling some five thousand works that, together, offer a very personal vision of the world of Asian art. This exhibition presents over four hundred objects selected from this remarkable collection, which until now has never been exhibited publicly in the United States, with works representing key periods in the history of the art of China, Japan, Tibet, and Korea.

The exhibition revolves around a passion for Asia and covers a broad historical range, from the Neolithic era to modern times. The objects are also highly varied in nature, from porcelain, ivory, and precious stones such as jade and rock crystal to Buddhist art and textiles and stunning costumes from Central Asia, Tibet, China, and Japan. Each treasure is exceptional in its shape, rarity, quality, function, or inherent message. The exhibition recounts fascinating historical events through themes such as the symbolism of Chinese jade, the trade in blue-and-white porcelain, Buddhism, Noh theater, the Japanese samurai, the tea ceremony, and the scholar’s studio. The astonishing array of outstanding works of art in the Myers collection is testimony to Asia’s rich cultural heritage and unique customs and offers a broad panorama of Asian history in all its beauty and diversity. 

Costumes and Customs
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Textiles have always played a prominent role in East Asian culture. Clothing from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries is an endless source of information about the customs of these diverse societies. To discover this richly woven world, we must consider the different types of people who wore this clothing: officials and scholars, courtesans and actors, dancers and cavaliers. Whether from China, Tibet, Japan, or Uzbekistan, these garments embody the social values of these cultures and reflect the status and personality of those who wore them


According to legend, silk was discovered in China in the third millennium BC by the empress Leizu, wife of the Yellow Emperor. Its earliest known use dates from well before even the Shang dynasty (c. 1500–1050 BC). Silk is made from the cocoon woven by the larvae of the mulberry silk moth. Over time, the Chinese learned how to unwind the cocoon’s strong filaments and make it into thread, creating a unique source of textile fiber. The technique for making silk remained a secret in the West until the Tang dynasty (AD 618–907), when the silk moth was smuggled into the Byzantine Empire.


An Ocean of Porcelain

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The Yuan dynasty (1279 1368) changed the course of history by introducing the new technique of applying underglaze cobalt blue to white porcelain. Ceramics, which had been the art of clay, became the art of the brush. Making porcelain became an industry which, in turn, evolved into international commerce. During Ming reign (1368 1644), blue-and-white porcelain continued to play a key role. Adopted by the court, it was coveted by scholars, gained widespread popularity, and was exported around the world.


During the Renaissance, Chinese porcelain intrigued the Europeans, who knew nothing, or nearly nothing, about how to produce it. While it had been widely traded in eastern Asia since the eleventh century, the Chinese invention had only found its way to Europe in the early sixteenth century, carried by intrepid Portuguese mariners. In the next century, the Dutch were in full command of a lucrative porcelain trade.Unlike silk, porcelain is heavy and could only be exported by ship. Underwater excavations have revealed treasures from junk and cargo wrecks. A remarkable testament to five hundred years of porcelain production, the pieces presented here are among the most precious finds. Despite centuries in the deep, they have lost none of their brilliance.

 

  A Thousand Years of Buddhism
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Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, and upon whose teachings Buddhism was founded, was born in Northern India in the sixth century BC. Both a religion and a philosophy, Buddhism is above all a quest to reach the enlightened state of nirvana, in which all desires are extinguished, and to be released from the endless cycles of rebirth. As it evolved, the religion adopted different doctrines, which led to the development of multiple sects of Buddhism.

From India, the Buddhist faith was steadily transmitted along the Silk Road by missionaries, merchants, and pilgrims to East Asia, where it served as a major cultural force. In its long history, it experienced both prosperity and suppression; its triumph can be variously attributed to imperial patronage, the universal appeal of salvation obtainable to all, and its ability to adapt to different cultures and assimilate native beliefs.

In the Buddhist art of China, Korea, Japan, and Tibet, Indian models provided the basis for style and iconography, but ultimately, each culture created a vocabulary imbued with its own artistic traditions, resulting in a corpus of Buddhist art exhibiting a rich variety of styles in a wide range of media.

 

The Magic of Jade
 
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In China, jade was revered as the most precious of stones. Rare, mysterious, and difficult to carve, it was used to organize daily life and, at the same time, symbolized the chaos of the invisible forces of the universe. Believed to possess special powers and magical properties, the Chinese manipulated jade to create an extraordinary array of ritual objects and tools, ceremonial weapons and royal insignia, ornaments and fittings, figural sculpture, and funerary attire.

For over five thousand years, this enigmatic stone has been an obsession for the Chinese. They see in its hardness, subtle colors, and translucency something that goes beyond mere material value and encompasses the spiritual realm. It is a source of ritual and magic, a symbol of immortality, an object of ornamentation, the physical expression of imperial power, and a metaphor for virtues. Confucius likened the purity of jade to the moral purity of the Confucian gentleman, junzi .
Jade remains unique, both for its exalted place in Chinese culture and for its position as a reflection of Chinese values and beliefs.

 

This exhibition is produced by Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal Archaeology and History Complex, Montréal, Canada, in partnership with Sam Myers. It is supported by a major grant from the Leo Potishman Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, Trustee, and by a grant from the Fort Worth Tourism Public Improvement District.