Jade: Age makes a difference

Suppose, in one of your more uptempo fantasies, you have a big, beautiful, ancient jade piece. The (considerable) value of such comes from the quality of the stone itself, the beauty of the carving and the authenticity of its age.

Now imagine somebody real smart says that your 16th-century Ming vase was actually created in the 1920s. How would you feel? Probably upset enough to justify Asian Art Museum Director Emily Sano’s not entirely merry joke: “I am looking for body armor.”

The attention of jade owners, jade dealers and museums is focusing these days on a new, explosive book by three Asian Art Museum scholars, “Later Chinese Jades.” It’s being published simultaneously with the museum’s new exhibit of its most prized jades from the period between the 14th and 20th centuries. “Later Chinese Jades: Ming Dynasty to Early Twentieth Century” opens Nov. 10 and runs through August 2008.

The core of the exhibit comes from the Avery Brundage Collection, donated in the 1960s and '70s, and then believed to consist almost entirely of ancient pieces. Soon after the 1972 publication of a then-definitive catalog by the Asian Art Museum director of the time, René-Yvon Lefebvre d’Argencé, extensive archeological work in China began to challenge some of the old assumptions.

With the assistance of a top specialist from Beijing’s Palace Museum, San Francisco curators Terese Tse Bartholomew, Michael Knight and He Li have spent the past decade working on “Later Chinese Jades,” establishing more precise data for the provenance of some 400 objects.

Signage at the jade exhibit will incorporate information from the book, a limited edition of which will go on sale Nov. 10, available only directly from the museum.

Focus on Sugimoto

Opening last weekend at the Chong-Moon Lee Building in the Civic Center: two shows by Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto (whose photo retrospective at the de Young closed just last month). “Stylized Sculptures: Contemporary Japanese Fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute” represents Sugimoto’s better known side, with black-and-white photographs of fashion designs, alongside the actual garments by five leading contemporary designers.

The other, larger, show is “History of History,” a rich mix of Sugimoto’s eclectic, at times bizarre works and artifacts from his collection of fossils, artworks and religious objects, ranging from prehistoric times. The exhibition, Sugimoto says, addresses “recorded history, unrecorded history, and still another history — that which is yet to be depicted … like parts waiting to be assembled in a do-it-yourself kit.” It’s hard to say what that means, but there is no question about the intriguing nature of the show, and the great beauty of some of the objects.

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