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Arts of Asia

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Arts of Asia

Lohan, China, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), carved wood, gesso traces.

Lohan, China, Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), carved wood, gesso traces.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. Humphreys-Davies collection 1943, M1036.

For more than 100 years, the Museum's extensive collection of Asian items has provided New Zealand artists and the general public with rich learning opportunities and a great deal of pleasure.

What touches one human heart in one country touches all.

Lin Yutang, The Importance Of Living China, 1937

Auckland Museum holds the pre-eminent collection of Asian items in New Zealand, some 7,000 objects offering a staggering breadth of material culture from the Neolithic period to the present day.

This collection has been developed for nearly a century through a number of generous donations, loans and the Museum's own collecting initiatives.

The collection allows visitors to consider the rich diversity found within existing traditions, the import and export of objects and ideas, and the development of symbols, motifs and language in the object arts. Many of the works are functional wares, informed by an aesthetic that emanates from the natural world and seeks to achieve a balance between humankind, nature and the cosmos. Through displays from the collection we try to illustrate the material creativity of Asian decorative arts and design centred on beautiful objects made for social, domestic, ritual or contemplative use.

Early 1900s

There had been an interest in the collection and display of Asian arts at the Museum since the early 20th century. Aucklander Harry S. Dadley deposited his collection of Japanese export ceramics as well as bronzes, tsuba, kogai and netsuke in 1911. It included a number of wonderful snuff bottles and an internationally significant collection of clocks. He later gave his whole collection to the Museum.

In 1916, the colonial governor and Premier Sir George Grey gave his collection of 'foreign ethnological articles' - including the magnificent yu-shek (jade bull) - to the people of Auckland. James Mackelvie's collection includes a Tang dynasty vase with a restrained form.

The Museum's collection soon developed a strong group of works from China. One of the major gifts was the 260 pieces presented by Captain George A. Humphreys-Davies. By 1939, the Museum had established Humphreys-Davies as the Honorary Curator of Oriental Collections. He was made an Honorary Life Member of the Museum in 1944. One of the most outstanding pieces and one of the last he presented was a Lohan.

Modern ceramics

A new generation of visitors was increasingly attracted to Japanese and Chinese works that emerged through interest in the modern studio ceramic movement after World War II. The rise of the craft guilds and associations in New Zealand made it possible to communicate and exchange these ideas. The Society of Potters organised visits to New Zealand by outstanding artists of the neo-Oriental studio ceramics movement. They included its English advocate Bernard Leach in 1962, followed by the Japanese potters Takeichi Kawai in 1964 and Shoji Hamada in 1965 – all of whom gave workshops and demonstrations throughout the country. Their presence influenced a generation of New Zealand studio potters.

Accompanying the annual exhibition of the Auckland Studio Potters Society (ASP) was a display of contemporary Chinese ceramics and a demonstration by visiting Japanese potter Takeichi Kawai. Subsequently the ASP deposited their collection of national and international studio ceramics as well as contemporary Japanese mingei (or folk movement) pieces.

Oriental ceramics

In June 1967, Aucklander Charles Edgar Disney established a trust for the Museum to purchase European and Oriental objects. It also provided the incentive to develop our first Hall of Oriental Ceramics. Soon after Sir Tom Clark, director of the Auckland commercial pottery Crown Lynn, purchased the outstanding Han dynasty 'Hill Jar' for the display.

Konebachi (bread kneading bowl), Japan, 2000, Hanjiro Mizuno, stoneware, Seto prefecture clay, sancai (three-colour) lead glaze, gift of Shigenori and Kazuko Itoh, 2007.

Konebachi (bread kneading bowl), Japan, 2000, Hanjiro Mizuno, stoneware, Seto prefecture clay, sancai (three-colour) lead glaze, gift of Shigenori and Kazuko Itoh, 2007.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Wellingtonian Peter Rule's collection of Korean ceramics provided many of our studio potters with primary access to these works and research opportunities,which added vastly to our understanding. Potters were able to use this collection as first-hand teaching material. Ownership of Rule's remarkable collection transferred to the National Museum of Korea in 1995 but the works remain on display at the museum. The wonderful maebyong from the Joeson dynasty (1392-1910) shows the spontaneity and innate simplicity of the Korean potters' art.

The donated collection of Shigenori and Kazuko Itoh of Green Gallery, Japan represents exemplary pieces of contemporary Japanese potters' art. Japanese potters not only maintain traditions but also modernise and explore their craft, showing how beauty and skill draw on the strengths of the past.

This internationally recognised collection has continued the links of potters and their works with New Zealand, demonstrating the characteristic qualities that Japanese bring to their making. Beautiful works like Hanjiro Mizuno's konebachi (bread kneading bowl) are masterpieces.

Textiles and garments

In addition to ceramics, the Museum's Asian art collection includes textiles and garments, such as a fine Japanese temple hanging, an elegant Chinese longpao (dragon robe) as well as contemporary fashion designs, such as Japanese born Rei Kawakubo's outfit for Comme des Garçons.

Cite this article

Le Vaillant, Louis. Arts of Asia. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 5 June 2015. Updated: 18 June 2015.

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