If you want to see Suzhou embroidery being crafted and the statues and murals from the Mogao Caves (莫高窟) and the lesser known caves along the Silk Road in Gansu this week, you could make the 30 hour journey from New York to Suzhou and then fire up the tunes for the 34 hour road trip to Dunhuang.
Or, for far less hassle than getting to your friend’s show in that part of the city on a weekend subway schedule, you can see these treasures and more from China’s cultural heritage that typically are not seen in museums and galleries at Artexpo New York at Pier 94 along the Hudson River. Huayuan Art, an offshoot of an organization founded 23 years ago in Gansu, China and devoted to the cultural development of Northwest China brings to the fair elaborate replicas of the Silk Road Buddhist murals and a live demonstration of Suzhou’s silk craft. Additionally, Huayuan will display other created through specialized craftmanship: lacquer paintings, Nepali Thangkas, multi-layered paper cuttings and traditional Chinese paintings.
Huayuan will display 29 cave painting replicas based on murals from the famous Mogao Caves and the under-the-tourist-radar but equally exquisite Yulin Caves (榆林窟), and Maijishan Grottoes (麦积山石窟) that were hand-painted by Chinese artists Gao Shan, Shen Yongping, Liu Junqi, and Shi Dunyu. These caves, with their exquisite wall paintings and sculptures, bear witness to the intense religious, artistic, and cultural exchange that took place along the Silk Road—history’s most famous trade route linking East and West. The replicas are painted with traditional cave painting techniques, and authentically represent the current state of the caves, without hiding damage and conservation efforts.
The replicas also show the lacquer painting techniques which are typically associated with Chinese and Japanese lacquerware. In one highlight, Acolyte Bodhisattva on the North Side of the Buddha (Mogao Cave 45, Tang Dynasty), artist Ma Ke uses natural lacquer, along with gold, silver, and other mineral pigments, to portray a standing Bodhisattva statue from the Mogao Caves with an elegant composition and lustrous finish. With a slight smile playing upon his delicate face, this bodhisattva is one of the most distinctive and oft copied images from the caves.
In addition to these frescos, other sacred art on view includes Huayuan’s collection of thangkas, Tibetan Buddhist paintings on fabric that depict deities, and mandalas and visually describe a deity’s realm. Traditionally, thangkas are hung in monasteries or upon family altars, and are carried by lamas in ceremonial processions. Originally designed to be portable mediums of spiritual communication and guides for visualization of deities, thangkas still hold great spiritual significance with Buddhist practitioners. The name thangka is derived from thang, the Tibetan word for ‘unfolding’, which indicates the ability to be rolled up as a scroll when not in use, or for transport. Every piece is hand-painted by Nepali lamas, with natural mineral pigments on fabric, each taking several months of meticulous work to complete.
Finally, Suzhou embroidery, the most celebrated style of Chinese silk art will be showcased through the works and a live demonstration by nationally recognized master artist Wang Lihua. This art form is one of four main regional styles of Chinese silk art and is renowned for its use of the finest threads, elegant colors, dense stitching, and smooth finishes to create incredible detail and subtle lighting effects om stunningly realistic images reminiscent of oil paintings by the Dutch masters.
While over 40 stitching techniquesand 1,000 different types of threads are used by the artisans, Wang has created her own stitching technique and visited thread factories to find suitable material for her works. One of the highlights is Wang’s A Bride in Tashkurgan—a masterpiece that illustrates folk customs of the Tashkurgan region in western Xinjiang. This piece epitomizes the delicate design, meticulous stitching, and artistic creativity distinctive of every Suzhou embroidery work. It is joined by her smaller embroidery works of photos of jade and bronzeware — a subject that Wang is especially famous for.
Wang will demonstrate this 2,000 year old craft and her techniques in three live demonstrations at:
Friday, April 15, 1 – 2 PM
Saturday, April 16, 2 -3 PM
Sunday, April 17, 2 – 3 PM
After seeing the works at Huayuan’s booths, we’ll probably want head out to China next weekend. See you at the airport.
Huayuan has graciously offered two complimentary four day passes to Artexpo which allows access any day as well as the VIP preview night on Thursday. If you’re interested in seeing Huayuan’s collection, send us an email at email@example.com with your name by Wednesday 11:59 PM to enter our drawing, and we’ll pick a winner and notify him or her as soon as possible. [Details of the complimentary ticket offer have been edited]
Artexpo New York runs from April 14 – 17 at Pier 94. Tickets are $20 for adults, and $15 for students and seniors
Lead image: Yongping Shen (沈永平) -Mogao Cave No. 249, Asura, The Western Wei Dynasty 《莫高窟第249窟 阿修罗 西魏》 80 x 60 cm
Images courtesy of Huayuan Art