Asian Journeys: Collecting Art in Post-War America examines the intersection of history, international relations, personal relationships and art collecting through a rich display of more than eighty exceptional objects from Asia Society’s jewel-like permanent collection, as well as several objects on loan from the Cleveland Museum of Art.
From 1963 to 1978, John D. Rockefeller 3rd and his wife Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller worked with legendary art historian Sherman E. Lee (1918–2008) to assemble one of the most spectacular private collections of Asian art in the United States. The founder of Asia Society and son of collectors John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, JDR 3rd (1906–1978) played a leading role in fostering cultural understanding and cooperation between Asia and America during his lifetime. Lee was a dynamic former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and was advisor to significant public and private American collections. Like JDR 3rd, Lee had extraordinary knowledge of the art and politics of Asia, and their partnership led to a very particular vision of collection building.
“Sherman E. Lee was instrumental in building the spectacular collection of Asian art formed by Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd,” said Asia Society President Vishakha N. Desai. “While his scholarly contributions to the field are well known, it is less known that he was equally committed to educating broader audiences about the beauty and meaning of Asian art. I was privileged to have worked with him as a young professional in my first museum job.”
“Asian Journeys honors the memory and contributions of Sherman E. Lee, who was a major force in the world of Asian art in the United States,” says Melissa Chiu, Director of the Museum and Vice President of Global Visual Art Programs at Asia Society. “His considerable influence is apparent in collections at the Seattle Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Asia Society, all of which have served as significant resources for scholars, students and the general public alike.”
The exhibition opens with a section devoted to Lee’s influence as an advisor to the Rockefellers and juxtaposes works from the Rockefeller Collection with works from the Cleveland Museum of Art. The second section focuses on both JDR 3rd’s and Lee’s experiences in post-war Japan. The impact of Chinese civil strife on the international art market as well as the rise of South Asian, Southeast Asian and Himalayan art are examined in the third and fourth sections. A fifth section considers the legacy of the Rockefeller gift through an in-depth focus on Asia Society’s celebrated eighth-century Indian stone sculpture of Ganesha from Uttar Pradesh. The exhibition is curated by Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Curator for Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society, with Asia Society Museum Getty Fellows Jacqueline Ganem and Daisy Yiyou Wang.
In this SundayArts choice, Museum Director for the Asia Society Melissa Chui gives a tour of the highlights from this collection.