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BOWERS MUSEUM

East West Bank Gallery

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This is an exhibition of twos: two mediums, two artists and a series of cycles endlessly alternating between binaries like death and rebirth. For thousands of years craftsmen have used gold and jade to create decorative and functional objects which often speak to these themes. In the modern day, Taiwanese artists continue to fashion artworks which explore new and evolving ways to use the pure and vivacious mediums. This exhibition showcases two outstanding Taiwanese artists: Wu Ching, a sculptor who shapes intricate carvings in wood which he translates to gold using a mold; and Huang Fu-shou, whose skill for jade carving allows him to create impossibly delicate sculptures.

Together the artists have practiced their crafts for a combined century, producing artworks which resonate with the symbolism of their respective mediums. The gold that Wu Ching works is a malleable, brilliantly yellow metal associated with enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. The jade that Huang Fu-shou carves is not one but two stones: jadeite and nephrite. The latter was one of the primary interests of Confucius who wrote of its eleven virtues such as its benevolence and musical qualities.

As you walk one of the two paths through this exhibition, keep an open mind for the interplay of gold and jade as competing and, in some cases, symbiotic mediums in the depiction of sensory, environmental, and mortal themes; and discover how both Wu Ching’s gold and Huang Fu-shou’s jade share in creating legacies for their creators.

Treasures in Gold & Jade: Masterworks from Taiwan is presented by the Bowers Museum in cooperation with the Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles, an arm of the Taiwan Ministry of Culture. Major Funding for this exhibition comes from East West Bank, Linda and Carl Moy, Anne and Danny Shih, Jennifer Chen and Alan Wong of Hsing Tai Color Printing Company, and Unipac Shipping. Additional funding is provided by Tony Zhang of Morgan Stanley, Nancy Xu, Zehra and George Sun, Diana and Fred Kong of the Kong Family Charitable Fund, and the Chinese Cultural Arts Council of the Bowers Museum.

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PROPERTIES OF GOLD

Gold has been prized by man for thousands of years because it is one of the few metals that can be found in its pure form in nature. It is also made valuable by its physical properties, including its rich yellow color, high degree of malleability which enables it to be easily bent and worked without fear of breaking, and ductility which allows one ounce of gold to be drawn into a wire a mile long. These properties render gold to be indestructible—it does not corrode or tarnish—and ensure the rare mineral’s classification as a noble metal.

PROPERTIES OF JADE

Jade is a general term for two very different materials: nephrite and jadeite. Nephrite has long been used in jewelry and carvings and is found in alluvial deposits throughout the world, including Big Sur, California. Jadeite was not discovered until the late 18th century in northern Burma. Even today, Burma is the only commercial source for this highly sought-after gemstone. Both Jadeite and
Nephrite are very tough and due to their interlocking crystalline structure resist being broken. However, they have a relatively low hardness, 6.5 on a scale of 10, which makes them easy to fashion into fine carvings.

GOLD

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Prosperous Descendants, Pure Gold 10000g, Bronze, 2016

Wu Ching recalls his childhood moments playing under the melon vines, and this memory inspired this piece’s prosperous scene. The melon vines grow along bamboo scaffolds made from bronze, with mantises, dragonflies, butterflies, ladybugs, ants, caterpillars and fruit flies on top. The piece exhibits the rich and diverse ecology of nature. Patiently grounded, stretched and assembled by hand, the bitter gourd’s long vines wrap around the branch. This piece consists of thousands of components in all sizes, which is made by using the “oxyhydrogen welding” technique at a high temperature before being assembled. The complex and exquisite craftsmanship makes the piece vibrant. The entire sculpture would have taken 10 years to complete if a person spends 8 hours a day on it, it is a rarely seen large-scale gold sculpture that requires complicated procedures and artistry to master.

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THE GOLD OF WU CHING

Growing up in the rural countryside of Taiwan, Wu Ching fell in love with the natural world at an early age. In fields and orchards, he discovered a language for complex human dramas in the microscopic interactions of insects. His first sculptural installation was a series of large carvings of ants, a motif which he would return to throughout his career. Concerned that his wood carvings would decay in time, Wu Ching transitioned to pure gold, a medium which never tarnishes. Though he still carves the original model in finely grained wood, it is only used to create a mold from which the final golden artwork is cast.

Wu Ching’s reveries on Buddhist teachings become didactics in his artworks. Freshly bloomed flowers and skeletal remains span the life cycle, the incorporation of plastic propones environmentalism, and in many cases his sculptures are only possible as the result of him introducing new technologies to gold working.

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Magical Lotus, Pure Gold 996g, Clay, 2016

Lotus blooms in the lotus pond, while a tadpole swims leisurely and a frog jumps around… all things enjoy the serenity of nature. The lotus pond is vividly carved as if water is flowing, the atmosphere is calm and compassionate.

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Reminiscences of Rustic Pleasures, Pure Gold 468g, Silver, Bronze, 2016

This piece includes over 500 ants and various insects, such as mantises, swallowtail butterflies, dragonflies and cicadas in all sizes; it is the epitome of nature’s ecology. The ants’ “home” is constructed by bronze branches, silver soil and ten ant colonies. In addition to the spawning queen and worker ants protecting her, there are also ants responsible for foraging, transporting, parenting, building and guarding. All of them are busy performing their individual duties. Some ants are secreting saliva to repair their colonies, while others communicate with each other. The lively and detailed work took three years to complete.

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Rustle of Grass in the Wind, Pure Gold 225g, Stone, 1991

Spring is the season of rebirth and a beginning for the continuation of life. The locusts mingle on blades of grass and chirp happily.

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JADE

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Rest, Jadeite

This is the end of the world.
There is a rare moment of beauty.
See the pure water and the resting butterflies.
Feel the purity of life.
Before nature is destroyed by humans, time is paused.

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THE JADE OF HUANG FU-SHOU

Huang Fu-shou began carving jade over 50 years ago. Since then, he has continued to hone his craft not just by sculpting, but by becoming an acute observer of the natural world he captures in stone. Insects float upon blades of grass as near photorealistic likenesses of their living selves, drops of dew cling to plants, and the veins of decaying autumn leaves form organic architectures. Were the artworks of Huang Fu-shou the first pieces of jade one ever laid their eyes on, they would never guess that the stone is cold to the touch, an unwieldy medium for carving, or near-impossible to mold into the paper thin leaves and wing membranes the artist achieves through painstaking hours in a studio.

Huang’s works pay homage to the slow, examined life. They accentuate the beauty of simple pleasures and are subtle in their complexities, all the while pushing the boundaries of what is possible with jade.

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Homeward, Jadeite

At the end of the day,
I make steps forward.
I’ve got the smell of sweat clinging to my body.
The smell of cooking flows and lingers along the way.
As the sunlight falls on shoulders at sunset,
I can see my own elongated shadow.
Another laborious and fulfilling day has passed.

A TRIBUTE TO AUTUMN

Once upon a time, it was just a rough jade stone.
It is the silence that has condensed for millions of years

Carving is the beginning of the conversation.
The sound of carving is the screaming for resisting the loss of oneself.
The jade can hardly stick to itself.
Even with a tough personality
It can be ground away little by little
It also touches the heart of the jade carver
If the jade carver is a little careless, the jade will break and the heart will be broken.
When they go from resistance to harmony, the heart and jade are combined into one
A dead leaf falls into eternity.

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WU CHING’S GOLD |
HUANG FU-SHOU’S JADE

While jade and gold are very different, Wu Ching and Huang Fu-shou use their respective mediums to explore many of the same themes. More than just impressive displays which challenge what is possible with metal and stone, the nuanced selection of works speak to two lifetimes of grappling with complex philosophical topics.

Almost every sculpture in the exhibition delves into an individual’s relationship to nature, one another, and oneself. Animals drawn from both gold and jade illustrate the artists’ analogies for environmentalism, familial relationships, and the ephemerality of time. Environmentally focused works like My Life and I Need Soil use mixed media inclusions to juxtapose human waste with golden plants. In Huang Fu-shou’s Rescued from Desperation, a plant breaking through the surface of a rectilinear, man-made form illustrates both the damage that we are doing to nature and its resiliency to humanity’s concrete world. Other jade sculptures are tied to a fear of environmental collapse through their associated poems. As a corollary interest to nature, both artists depict the phases in never-ending cycles of endings and new beginnings. Between the budding energy of Signs of Spring, the fond summer memories evoked by Prosperous Descendants, the decay of leaves in A Tribute to Autumn and finally New Year Orchid; the two artists’ work depicts all four seasons.

Wu Ching’s works are deeply rooted in Buddhist doctrine and follow the sensory pleasures of his childhood all the way to the dawning of his spiritual enlightenment. Huang Fu-shou roots his work in poetry, almost every carving speaking to an unchanging or cyclical natural world and a metamorphosizing self. Both have found a legacy in their mediums that will long outlive them: Wu Ching with his never-tarnishing gold sculptures and Huang Fu-Shou with his nigh unbreakable jade carvings.

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