USC Pacific Asia Museum

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46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
Open Wednesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm
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USC Pacific Asia Museum

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Jade, Silk and Porcelain:
The Materials of Asian Art

March 9 - May 27, 2007

Letter Box (Bunko Bako)
Letter Box (Bunko Bako), Japan, Meiji period (1868-1912), lacquered wood
with gold, Gift of Mrs. Mahlom Arnett, in honor of Mr. Mahlom Edward Arnett,

The beauty and intrinsic value of Asian artworks are derived from exquisite natural materials that have been transformed by the hands of master artists. Nine of the most important substances used to produce Asian art are featured in Jade, Silk and Porcelain: the Materials of Asian Art, an exhibition opening at USC Pacific Asia Museum on March 9, 2007. This exhibition provides a unique opportunity for the visitor to focus on silk, porcelain, lacquer, ivory, jade and other stones, bamboo, paper, gold, and wood—the primary materials used in Asia for centuries to create rare treasures for domestic, royal, and ritual use. Drawn from Pacific Asia Museum’s permanent collection and select loans, this exhibition will explore the characteristics of these materials, the symbolism and special properties attributed to them, and the techniques implemented by artists to bring out their inherent beauty.

Dragon Robe
Dragon Robe, China, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), Guangxu
period (1875-1908), silk, Museum Purchase with funds provided by
the Collectors’ Circle, 2000.38.6
Woman's Shoulder Cloth
Woman’s Shoulder Cloth,
Indonesia, Sumatra, Aceh, 1900-1925, silk, Gift of the ARCO Corporation Art Collection, 1995.54.17AB

Many of these materials, most notably, silk, porcelain, lacquer, bamboo, and paper, were discovered or first worked in Asia. For centuries, certain materials seemed mysterious and exotic to Westerners. In Italy, it was once believed that porcelain, made of a fine clay, was produced by grinding up white sea-shells that they called porcellana. As the Chinese jealously guarded the secret of silk production, foreigners proposed that silk was made from flower petals found in the Chinese desert. Lacquer, a substance used to produce luxury materials and their decoration, was originally implemented as a protective coating on food vessels as it is heat, water, acid, and insect resistant.

In some Asian cultures, these substances are considered to contain magical or spiritual properties and convey important symbolic references. Jade is such a hard and durable stone that for millennium in China it has been associated with immortality. In east Asia, bamboo, a plant that gently sways in the wind without breaking, symbolizes flexibility and integrity, and is often used as a material to create brushes, brush pots, and other objects found on the gentleman-scholar’s desk.

Jade, Silk, and Porcelain will present the materials in their natural state along with exemplary works of Asian art produced from these same substances that represent regional artistic forms and styles. Augmenting the installation, photographs and video presentations will illustrate the primary t
echniques used to transform the substances.

This exhibition is guest-curated by Meher McArthur, and based on her recent book, The Arts of Asia: Materials, Techniques, Styles (Thames & Hudson, 2005).

Special Events for Jade, Silk and Porcelain: The Materials of Asian Art

  • Friday, March 9, 6-10 pm Free
    Explore Jade, Silk and Porcelain: The Materials of Asian Art and enjoy selections performed live in the museum’s auditorium by musicians from the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra.
  • Saturday, March 17, 2 pm free w/admission
    Guest Curator's Tour
    Jade, Silk and Porcelain: The Materials of Asian Art. Call (626) 449-2742, ext. 31 to RSVP.
  • Saturday, March 31, 2 pm free w/admission
    “Jade: Stone of Heaven” by gemologist Richard Hughes. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Jade, Silk and Porcelain: The Materials of Asian Art, call ext. 31 to RSVP.
  • Sunday, April 22, 1-4pm
    FREE Family Festival
    Hands-on crafts workshops including origami, calligraphy, sumi-e, collages, mandalas, for all ages in the museum's courtyard and auditorium.
Dish with Map of Japan
Dish with Map of Japan, Japan, Arita, Edo
period (1600-1868),19th century, porcelain
with underglaze cobalt blue, Gift of Mrs.
Wilhelmina Lockhart, 1984.55.43