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Musings of Calm with Past + Present Chinese Art

Musings of Calm is a dynamic exploration of a timeless philosophy — that art and objects can be catalysts for creating tranquility, especially in times of disruption and turbulence. Featuring thoughtful pairings of contemporary Chinese works from Chambers Fine Art and historical pieces from PAGODA RED, Musings of Calm immerses viewers in a meditation on calmness from an aesthetic perspective.

On Saturday April 9th, Dan Chen (Director of Chambers Fine Art), Orianna Cacchione (Curator of Global Contemporary Art, Smart Museum of Art), and Betsy Nathan (founder of PAGODA RED) lead a tour and discussion of Musings of Calm, a unique opportunity to view these one-of-a-kind pieces while learning from renowned experts. In their conversation, Dan, Orianna, and Betsy drew connections between these works and the teachings of Ming scholar Wen Zhenheng, who wrote beautifully of the relationship between material objects, fine art, and mindfulness.

For many of us, the relationship between our physical spaces and our states-of-mind has been especially apparent over the past few years. For Chinese artist Wei Jia, quarantine was an opportunity to examine his own thoughts and memories, as he created bright and linear collages using fragments of his previous works. Orianna notes that Jia’s work is “…such reflection of the meditative moment and the way our lives have been turned inward during the pandemic. The idea of reusing or recycling what we already have. That sense of return is really potent to these moments. I think it’s freeing to allow oneself to return to work you’ve done in the past but also to destroy it as a form of release and moving on. A cycle of rebirth and regeneration.”

An artistic cycle of renewal also led to a Qing-dynasty well head being reimagined as a modern sculpture. Betsy points out that “The well head was a functional object and is now elevated into true sculpture. We can look at it through a different lens and understand that the everyday can be miraculous and beautiful.” It’s paired here with Taca Sui’s photographs from his Steles/Huang Yi Project, in which he used photography as a medium to explore China’s changing landscape and connections to the past. For Orianna, “Taca Sui’s work and the sort of translation or transmediation of landscape into photography and the sense of placeless-ness that he’s able to accomplish unearths a sense of curiosity that draws you into the moment.”

China’s landscape is also central to Lu Hui’s meticulous paintings. Hui uses traditional ink and wash techniques to reimagine the vines covering the famous Ming City Wall in Nanjing. He says, “I have always liked to depict the edges and corners of a landscape, especially the grass and vines that are easily overlooked. I hope that through the depiction of their subtle details, I can convey a kind of awe and reverence for the existence of life.” This reverence for the natural world is apparent throughout Musings of Calm, from a mountainous scholar’s rock to an earth-toned storage vessel.  Hui’s work is especially stunning paired with this Qing-dynasty display cabinet. The cedar cabinet was likely commissioned by a scholar for his studio, and is a marvel of craftsmanship featuring intricate carvings of vines and chrysanthemums covered in glossy lacquer.

While we often connect calm spaces to simple lines and monotones; opulence and bright hues can also create dramatic but calming rooms. Here, surreal paintings by Mongolian painter GAMA, otherworldly orbs, and a bed carved with mythical immortals create an utterly unique, luxuriously calming composition. Betsy says of GAMA, “His aunt was a healer and had a huge influence on his life. It brings you to these dreamlike visions. We paired it with an 18th-century bed. A canopy bed in traditional China was a room within a room, whether it was to play games or drink tea, it was to encapsulate you in a different space, like a dream. We’re installing the GAMA works within a bed. It makes you want to enter his fantastical world and truly be in it—to enter his space.”

Paintings by Lao Tongli paired with Meditation Stones & Petrified Wood

Orianna notes that art and objects “help you focus on the present and the ways in which they draw you into close-looking and questioning and curiosity can immediately focus your attention on the here and now. I think that one essential aspect of calm is to be in the moment.”

Betsy agrees, “when you let yourself become involved in an object and release yourself to the spirit of that work, you release yourself from the busy-ness of the everyday and allow yourself to go somewhere else, which we all need these days.”

Please join us to see these and other works at Musings of Calm, on view now through May 21, 2022, both online and at PAGODA RED.


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