Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chinese Art During America's Roaring 1920s

 xWhat do you think about when you picture life in the 1920s of America? Many people tend to recall old pictures of extravagant parties with people in outdated, funny clothes. Some times people living today think about the infamous crash of 1929 which followed financial indulgence for much of the decade. It is true that most people living today simply cannot remember the 1920s at all. Very few of us were actually alive during this time period. One little known additional fact about the "Roaring 20s" was that it was the decade where Chinese artwork became a permanent part of the national American life.

The sale and display of Chinese art rose quickly during this time period. It held future implications for the importation of Eastern culture in to North America. The vast majority of people living then never foresaw the larger, cultural reality unfolding in their day. Sadly, Charles L. Freer passed away in 1919. However, the man whose name authenticated the Freer Gallery of Art lived on in spirit. Four years later this leading American institution in the collecting, study, and display of Chinese artwork was open to the public. At the time the gallery was directed by John F. Lodge (1878-1942). It was through this man C.T. Loo, the famous Chinese art dealer and businessman, returned to the shores of America. In fact, Loo became the gallery's top supplier between the years 1921 to 1951. Loo was followed only by two other firms. In the next three decades, the gallery spent $860,340 on 124 pieces which Loo supplied. These purchases would constitute the core of the gallery's ancient Chinese bronze, jade, and stone sculpture holdings.

During the decade of the 1920s the new Freer Gallery expanded in profound ways through its research, exhibition, acquisition, and archeological work. This activity was also an indisputable reflection of the rising interest in the field of "Chinese art." By 1929, the Freer Gallery and other museums had developed large Chinese art collections. Two important survey books on Chinese art were published. In China, art and archeology gained fresh momentum. The Chinese antiques business was growing very quickly. This was evidenced through the establishment of the first indoor antiques market in the famous city of Shanghai back in 1921. Then, in 1923 along came the Shanghai City Antiques Business Association.

C.T. Loo's business with the Freer Gallery of Art thrived in the decade of the 1920s. In 1921 the gallery officially made its first three purchases from Mr. Loo. The purchases included two 6th century Buddhist stone relief panels from a southern Xiangtangshan site. There was also a Song dynasty (960-1279 CE) stone sculpture. The price for these pieces came to $40,000. Other objects Loo introduced to the gallery in the booming years of the 1920s included a late Shang dynasty (1300-1200 BCE) bronze wine warmer and a Tang period (618-908 CE) stone lunette. It is incredible to note that the total value of the gallery's purchased pieces in the twenties was $84,000!

It almost goes without saying that in the Roaring 1920s C.T. Loo held a number of exhibitions in America which displayed fine pieces of classic Chinese art. Loo even published several important catalogues of his painting, bronze, and jade collections for the interested public to investigate. What these historical facts could mean for us today is no simple question. It is safe to conclude that Chinese art has been a part of the American experience for a very long time. The appreciation and study of fine art is a vital aspect of the ongoing human drama. With the current rise of interest in contemporary Easter decor throughout North America, the influence of Chinese art and culture cannot be overlooked. After all, China has had a prolific and deeply spiritual influence upon much of "Asia" over its five thousand years of history. The story of Chinese art continues its powerful play across the stage of the civilized world. This is especially true today in the 21st century!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, very helpful post. Would it be okay for me to provide a guest post on your site? Thanks!