Fu Qiumeng Fine Art
65 East 80th Street, Ground Floor, New York, NY 10075
Fu Qiumeng is pleased to present the exhibition Authentic or Forgery: How does a Chinese Connoisseur work? Fangyu Wang’s Research on Bada Shanren. Fangyu Wang (1913 – 1997) was a Chinese calligrapher, connoisseur, collector, linguist, and a Professor of Chinese at Yale University and Seton Hall University. As a collector, Wang was one of the most prominent Bada Shanren (1626 – 1705) scholars. Together with his wife Sum Wai, Wang assembled the largest and most important private collection of Bada’s works in the world.
This is an archival exhibition that showcases Wang’s manuscripts, photographs, and writings that reveal the scholar’s methods of connoisseurship. In order to illustrate Wang’s comparative analysis of authentication, we will present Wang’s collection of the authentic Bada Shanren works as well as the forgeries made by painter Chang Dai-Chien (1899-1983) from Jan 25 to Jan 30.
Bada Shanren, or Zhu Da, was among the most important painters of the Qing Dynasty. Born a Ming-dynasty prince, Bada Shanren fled to a monastery and became a monk after the fall of the Ming. It is said that he feigned madness for a period of time after he left the Buddhist order in the 1680s. While Bada Shanren was widely known in the present, his status remained rather obscure in the early twentieth century. Few connoisseurs had, by then, done a systematic study of Bada Shanren’s works. This was largely due to Bada Shanren’s low-profile status as an artist, the eeriness of his personality, and the lack of relevant historical materials. Fangyu Wang started collecting and studying Bada Shanren’s works in the 1950s, which laid the groundwork for art historical research of the artist in China and the United States. In 1991, Wang, together with renowned art historian Richard M. Barnhart, organized the groundbreaking exhibition Master of the Lotus Garden: The Life and Art of Bada Shanren, which toured the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Yale University Art Gallery. After Wang passed away, Wang’s family gave a large number of paintings and works of calligraphy by Bada Shanren to the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art in 1998, making the Freer the most important site for research on Bada Shanren outside mainland China.
Wang’s collection of Bada Shanren’s works is not only constituted of originals, but also forgeries or reproductions of forgeries. Wang gathered these forgeries with the aim of furthering his research on Bada Shanren. Based on detailed comparisons between forgeries and originals, Wang wrote several articles about the problem of fake Bada Shanren paintings. Forgeries, as Wang’s research attests, are indispensable for authenticating Bada Shanren’s works.
Crucial to Wang’s connoisseurship is the deciphering of Bada Shanren’s methods of inscribing dates. This relies on Wang’s erudite knowledge of Chinese classics and traditional calligraphy, as well as his own practice of calligraphy. Inspired by Bada Shanren’s works and masterpieces of Chinese calligraphy, Wang incorporated the rhythm of dance in his calligraphy and formed an innovative way of writing called “Dancing Ink”. He put particular emphasis on “five principles of nature”, which are unity, change, balance, force, and motion. Wang’s deep and subtle understanding of brushwork and classical texts also made it possible for Wang to date Bada Shanren’s works and periodize the artist’s career.
Wang held the view that connoisseurship ought to evolve from subjective examination into a set of objective measures. He proposed that the methods of modern linguistics could be employed to study Chinese calligraphy. In addition, he suggested that computer programing could be used as a tool of “scientific authentication”. This entails telling the forgeries from the authentic ones and imitating Bada Shanren’s working process by analyzing the complex movement of the artist’s fingers, palms, hands, and wrists during his artistic creation. By and large, Fangyu Wang’s connoisseurship has both traditional and modern characters. Its emphasis on rational and empirical research made it possible for Western art historians to comprehend the authentication of Chinese painting and calligraphy.
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