The Asian collection at the Metropolitan Museum is the largest and most comprehensive in the West. Each of the many civilizations of Asia is represented by outstanding works that provide – in both quality and breadth – an unrivaled experience of the artistic traditions of nearly half the world. The collection, which ranges in date from the second millennium B.C. to the early 20th century, includes paintings, woodblock prints, sculptures, metalwork, ceramics, lacquers, decorative arts, and textiles from China, Korea, and Japan, as well as the countries of South and Southeast Asia. Since the Museum's centennial in 1970, the department has been engaged in expanding its staff, collections, and display space. This process culminated in 1998 with the completion of an entire wing, occupying 64,500 square feet, devoted to Asian art – a "museum within a museum."
The Museum's extensive collection of Chinese ceramics, including pieces acquired as early as 1879, is exhibited around the Great Hall Balcony. A chronological presentation of examples dating from the sixth century B.C. to the 18th century (many of them gifts from Stanley Herzman) is displayed with the Altman Collection of Qing dynasty (1644-1912) porcelain and two special installations, one of which explores the impact of Chinese and Japanese ceramics on European traditions, and the other the relationship between Chinese blue-and-white wares and those made in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
A unique feature of the Asian galleries is the Astor Court, modeled on a Ming dynasty (1368-1644) scholar's courtyard in the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets in Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai famous for its garden architecture. A gift of the Vincent Astor Foundation, the garden court, which opened to the public in 1981, includes an adjoining hall for the Museum's collection of Chinese hardwood furniture.
Traditional details, such as an altar platform (based on a 12th-century example) for the display of Buddhist sculptures, and a small shoin-style reception room typical of the late 16th and early 17th centuries are at the heart of the Arts of Japan galleries in The Sackler Wing that opened in 1987 with the support of the business community in both Japan and New York. The full range of Japanese art – from Neolithic (ca. 1500-300 B.C.) ceramics to 18th- and 19th-century textiles and woodblock prints – is presented chronologically in the 11 rooms. Thirteenth- and 14th-century narrative paintings known as emaki, an important collection of folding screens dating from the 15th through the 18th century, and Edo-period (1615-1868) porcelains for domestic use and export are among the highlights of the collection.
Displaying the department's holdings of archaic bronzes and jades, ceramics, and metalwork from the Neolithic period (ca. 4500-2000 B.C.) to the Tang dynasty (618-907), the Charlotte C. Weber Galleries for the Arts of Ancient China first opened in 1988 and were renovated in 1997. Galleries exhibiting the Museum's notable collection of monumental Chinese stone sculptures from the fifth through the eighth century, and its rare holdings of wooden Buddhist images from the Tang to the Ming dynasties, complement the presentation of early art and culture in these galleries.
Comprising 15 rooms, The Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for the Arts of South and Southeast Asia opened in 1994. These galleries present an encyclopedic display of the visual traditions of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia, from the earliest civilizations to the 16th century. Indian court paintings (16th-19th century) and religious imagery from Nepal and Tibet (eighth-19th century) are exhibited in changing displays in three additional galleries on the third floor. Areas of particular strength include Buddhist stone and bronze sculptures from the Kushan dynasty (ca. first-third century A.D.), Kashmiri (sixth-eighth century), and Pala period (eighth-13th century) sculptures, Chola period (ninth-13th century) Hindu bronzes, an unparalleled collection of early Southeast Asian metalwork, and monumental sculptures from the Khmer empire (about ninth-about 14th century) in Cambodia and Thailand.
The Museum's renowned collection of Chinese paintings and calligraphy, which includes works in both the scholarly and courtly traditions from the eighth through the 18th century, is presented in the Douglas Dillon Galleries, the C. C. Wang Gallery, and the Frances Young Tang Gallery. First opened in 1981, the Chinese galleries were renovated and expanded in 1997. The expansion has enabled the department also to exhibit 19th- and 20th-century paintings that were part of a 1986 gift from Robert H. Ellsworth. Thematic exhibitions, using both the permanent collection and loans, are changed every six months.
The creation of the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for Decorative Arts was part of the 1997 expansion of the department. A genius for adapting a wide range of materials to functional and luxury objects is found in the jades, lacquers, metalwork, textiles, and other objects from the 12th through the 19th century on view in these four galleries located on the third floor.
Support from The Korea Foundation and The Kun-Hee Lee Fund for Korean Art made possible the opening of the Arts of Korea Gallery in June 1998. The gallery is a sophisticated blend of Western minimalist design and such traditional features as granite thresholds and a wood plank floor. Displays of objects from the Museum's permanent collection, especially Buddhist paintings and ceramics of the Koryo (918-1392) and Choson (1392-1910) dynasties, and thematic exhibitions featuring selected loans from collections in the United States and abroad provide a comprehensive overview of the Korean artistic and cultural heritage.
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