The Kimbell Art Museum presents Buddha, Shiva, Lotus, Dragon: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at Asia Society, on view June 27 through Sept. 5, 2021.
Co-organized by the American Federation of Arts and Asia Society Museum, this exhibition showcases the extraordinary range of sculptures, bronzes, ceramics and metalwork that John D. Rockefeller 3rd (1906–1978) and his wife, Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller (1909–1992), assembled between the 1940s and the 1970s.
“These are textbook examples of Asian art. These are pieces that you see when you’re taking Asian art 101 and they’re showing the slides on the screen. They’re images that I use in my presentations. So needless to say, this is the top of the top, and these are like old friends to me,” Jennifer Casler Price, curator of Asian, African and Ancient American art at the Kimbell Art Museum, said at a recent media tour of the exhibit.
In addition, she said, the exhibition is kind of a Buddhism 101, tracing the movement of Buddhism through movement of trade missionaries, ideas and technologies traversing long stretches of the Silk Road among India, China, Korea and Japan.
“This inaugural exhibition showcases some of the finest examples of Asian art in the United States,” said Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum.
“Much like the Kimbell’s own acquisition philosophy, the Rockefellers focused on collecting the works of exceptional quality, under the guidance of renowned connoisseur and historian of the Asian art and then-director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Sherman Lee – no relation – the Rockefellers’ collection grew, resulting in an impressive assemblage of some 300 artworks.”
Lee thanked the co-organizers of the exhibition, the American Federation of Arts and Asia Society, for organizing the collection’s first U.S. tour in more than 20 years.
“This is not just my first in person AFA event since the start of the pandemic, but it’s also my first time in Fort Worth and in Texas and I can’t think of a better place to be,” said Michèle Wije, curator of exhibitions at the American Federation of Arts.
“We look forward to successful future collaborations with your institution. But a huge thank you goes to Jennifer Casler Price, curator of the Asian, African and ancient American art at the Kimbell and her truly dedicated staff, some of them I’ve met for the first time this morning who realized this presentation,” Wije said.
Casler Price said the Rockefellers would go to temples and monuments, meet with collectors and museum directors and ensconce themselves in Asia and in Asian art and culture. And they wanted share it with a wider audience.
Their gift of the collection to the Asia Society Museum was announced in 1974 but Rockefeller didn’t live to see that transition. He died in an automobile accident in 1978.
The Rockefellers’ interest would play a role in international politics, specifically with the post-war relationship between the U.S. and Japan, she said. Following the war, it had proven impossible to negotiate a Japan-U.S. peace treaty with the involvement of the Soviet Union.
Rockefeller was invited in 1951 to work on Japanese relations by John Foster Dulles who was appointed by President Truman to create a peace treaty, ultimately signed in San Francisco.
“If you can understand the art and culture of a foreign country, you can really start to understand the people and understand the psyche and start to bridge those gaps,” Casler Price said. “We can’t all necessarily go travel. We can’t all necessarily go and live in a country or learn a foreign language. And that’s why the Rockefellers wanted to bring this art to America and to share it with a wider public audience and to use this as a teaching moment.”
Casler Price said Buddhism starts with a historical founder in the 5th century BC – Prince Shakyamuni born in the region which is now in Southern Nepal but at the time part of India as a Hindu as Hinduism is the older religion in India.
She said the prince who was kept quite sheltered in his life and until he was an adult had no idea that there was pain suffering in the world. His search for enlightenment led to meditation under the Bodhi tree where he eventually became the Buddha, the Enlightened One.
Until around the first century, the Buddha was not shown in human form but changes to the doctrine in Buddhism led to the development of a devotional image.
The exhibition traces the development of that image as Buddhism spread across the eastern world and the was different countries incorporated their own cultural and artistic interpretations into the images.
With highlights including spectacular Indian Chola bronzes, impressive Southeast Asian sculptures and exquisite East Asian ceramics, the exhibition reveals great achievements in Asian art spanning more than two millennia, the Kimbell said when it announced the exhibition. Including masterpieces drawn from the Asia Society’s permanent collection, the presentation illuminates social and artistic histories from across Asia and underscores the visual arts’ capacity to encourage cross-cultural dialogue.
In addition to investigating themes of Buddhist sculpture, Hindu sculpture and East Asian ceramics and metalwork, the show examines the Rockefellers’ connoisseurship as well as their collecting and exhibition practices in an age when political and economic circumstances shaped the reception and availability of Asian artworks in the United States.
Buddha, Shiva, Lotus, Dragon: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection at Asia Society is the fifth exhibition of Asian art at the Kimbell Art Museum in the last 20 years, following the recent exhibitions From the Lands of Asia: The Sam and Myrna Myers Collection (2018) and Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection (2014).
“Every piece in the exhibition is an absolute jewel,” said Casler Price.
“Within the range of themes, cultures, periods and styles that are represented, there is something of wonder and discovery for everyone – whether you’re familiar with Asian art or are seeing these fascinating and remarkable works for the first time,” she said.
The Rockefellers selected objects from across the continent – Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam – ranging from everyday food wares to imperial dining vessels and from ceremonial Buddhist statuary to private devotional Hindu sculptures.
The exhibition also traces the development of porcelain during the period as it became increasingly more sophisticated and artistic.
Included is a vase that is a visual pun.
It depicts eight fish.
“But the way that you pronounce eight fish is bahu. That’s two characters. There are two other characters that are also pronounced bahu, but it’s different characters, but they mean vast fortune.
“So anybody looking at this and say, oh, there’s eight fish, bahu. Oh, vast fortune,” Casler Price said.
This exhibition is co-organized by the American Federation of Arts and Asia Society Museum and supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Promotional support is provided by American Airlines, NBC 5 and PaperCity.
Buddha, Shiva, Lotus, Dragon: The Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd
Collection at Asia Society
June 27–Sep. 5, 2021
Admission is $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, $14 for ages 6–11, and free for children under 6. Admission is half-price all day on Tuesdays and after 5 p.m. on Fridays.
Tickets are $3 for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and all family members present with a valid SNAP Card. Additional discounts do not apply. Reduced admission tickets are available with valid ID exclusively at the museum box office.
Tickets are available at the museum box office and on the museum’s website, www.kimbellart.org