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Chinese Gardens: Pavilions, Studios, Retreats

Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York City
August 18, 2012–January 6, 2013

Is Petrarch really the father of perspective drawing? One may wonder after viewing these 80 works on Chinese gardens. Extraordinary landscapes that recede into space in atmospheric haze, discrete details painted with masterful command of foreshortening, and theatrical compositions of color characterize many of the works painted over a 1,000-year period. The exhibition starts out strong with Yuan Jiang’s Palace of Nine Perfections —­ an extra-ordinary landscape painted on 12 hanging silk scrolls showing saturated colorful pavilions, courts, and terraces set in a sublime and powerful but generally monochrome Chinese landscape.

The show does not document gardens in a traditional sense and is not organized chronologically. Instead, the works suggest a poetic reading: Landscape and discrete elements created by natural and human means form a pathway to enlightenment. Fragments such as a rock, twisted branch, or plum blossom are equally carefully considered, each resonating with a larger metaphysical meaning.