Ming — so much more than vases

The “Ming” banners and posters around The City herald the arrival of a huge, important and well-timed exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, opening Friday and running through Sept. 21. Known officially as “Power & Glory: Court Arts of China’s Ming Dynasty,” the $1.3 million show is a first in several ways.

It is the result of unprecedented collaboration between San Francisco, Beijing’s National Palace Museum, the Shanghai Museum and the Nanjing Municipal Museum.

Most of the show’s 240 artworks — porcelain, paintings, textiles, lacquer, jade, jewelry and more — have never been seen outside of China (and, in some cases, not even there). They arrive in San Francisco for the first viewing opportunity in the United States before going on to Indianapolis and St. Louis next year.

There also is a timely connection between the show and the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The exhibit is being held in the museum born of the Avery Brundage Collection. Brundage, the former president of the U.S. and International Olympic committees (for almost a half a century, until 1972), was an athlete and an avid Asian-art collector.

Also, for the first time, the exclusively American-supported museum is receiving a significant contribution from Asia to make the Ming show possible. A majorgrant from the Hong Kong-based Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation is greeted by a museum official as of “monumental importance.”

This showing of the art of the Han dynasty, in power from 1368 through 1644, serves as the opening round in the tenure of the Asian’s new director, Jay Xu, although preparations began years ago, under his predecessor, Emily Sano, and were headed by He Li, the museum’s curator of Chinese Art. (Sano, by the way, will be decorated by the Japanese government in a ceremony July 1 at the consul general of Japan’s office in San Francisco; she’ll receive the prestigious Order of the Rising Sun.)

“The word ‘Ming’ means ‘bright’ in Chinese, and the great artworks included in this exhibition certainly reflect that,” Xu says.

“‘Power & Glory’ is the kind of exhibition that the Asian Art Museum is world-renowned for — beautiful art, combined with a fascinating story well told,” Xu adds. “Visitors will walk away with a better understanding of this important period of Chinese history.”

Among the exhibit’s most intriguing pieces: “Lotus Leaf Pulled by a Swimming Fisherman,” the largest amber sculpture found in Ming tombs; “Two Dragons,” a stunning amber-ruby-gold crown ornament; jade-on-gold “Fourteen Dragon” belt ornaments; and numerous Hetian nephrite and rhinoceros-horn objects of exquisite beauty.

On Saturdays and Sundays through July, music of the Chinese guqin (pronounced goo chin), a revered ancient Chinese instrument, will be featured from noon to 4 p.m. in a program presented by scholar and musician Wang Fei.

IF YOU GO

Power & Glory: Court Arts of China’s Ming Dynasty

Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; except until 9 p.m. Thursdays; closed Mondays; show runs Friday through Sept. 21

Tickets: $7 to $12; $5 Thursdays after 5 p.m.; free first Sunday of the month

Contact: (415) 581-3500 or www.asianart.org

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