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SAAM Exhibits Exceptional 20th-Century Chinese Works, Many Gifted by Scholar’s Friends
Of Nature and Friendship: Modern Chinese Paintings from the Khoan and Michael Sullivan Collection
February 15July 15, 2007
SEATTLE, January 26, 2007 – One of the most important collections of 20th-century Chinese paintings and prints will be on view at the Seattle Asian Art Museum Feb. 15 – July 29, 2007. Of Nature and Friendship: Modern Chinese Paintings from the Khoan and Michael Sullivan Collection presents 69 Chinese artworks collected by the eminent art historian and critic Michael Sullivan and his wife, Khoan, primarily from friends in China.
After graduating from Cambridge University in 1939 with a degree in architecture, Sullivan headed to China to work for the International Red Cross during wartime. There, he met Khoan, a budding scientist, who later became his wife.
Sullivan's background in architecture and his competency in drawing led him to befriend many artists who had either returned from studying abroad or who would later go abroad, including Zhang Daqian, Lin Fengmian, Pang Xunqin and Wu Zuoren. Khoan played an equally important role in widening their circle of friends. These artists painted Khoan, as well as painted for her.
Difficult times fostered lifelong friendships, and many artists gave their work to the Sullivans as tokens of friendship.
“Khoan and I never set out to be collectors,” Sullivan writes in the exhibition catalog Modern Chinese Art: The Khoan and Michael Sullivan Collection (2001). “We never planned our acquisitions. Over the years, paintings and prints, drawings, a few albums, and fewer pieces of sculpture came to us, chiefly as gifts from the artists…The Chinese tend to look on works of art not only as precious in themselves, but as symbols of friendship. In this respect, Khoan and I have been extraordinarily fortunate.”
In the mid-1940s he worked at the West China University Museum in Sichuan province, where he began to study traditional Chinese art in depth. In 1954, with a Phd in Chinese art history from Harvard University, he became a lecturer at the University of Malaysia, where he and Khoan founded the University Art Museum. He returned to England in 1960 to teach at the School of Oriental and African Studies. From 1966-1984, he chaired the Oriental Art Department at Stanford before moving permanently to Oxford, where he was named a Fellow of St. Catherine’s College in 1979 and where he continues to live in retirement. Today, Sullivan is the world authority on 20th-century Chinese painting. His book Chinese Art in the Twentieth Century (1959) was the first critical study on the subject, and the more recent Art and Artists of Twentieth Century China (1996) provides a complete survey as well as artist biographies.
A major aspect of the exhibition is 20th-century Chinese landscape painting. The genre was denigrated in the early decades when critics remarked that landscape painting did not address social needs. Nevertheless, many artists continued to paint landscapes, explored new possibilities and freed themselves from traditional constraints and formulas. As many of these works were produced under the most difficult of circumstances, they represent the deep passion and dedication of the artists. These exceptional works helped shape Sullivan’s understanding of modern Chinese art and his writings on the subject, to which scholars and students are profoundly indebted.
The exhibition is organized for the Seattle Art Museum by Josh Yiu, Foster Foundation Assistant Curator of Chinese Art.
This exhibition was organized by the Seattle Art Museum and made possible with generous support from the Washington State Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, George F. Russell, Jr. in honor of Michael Sullivan’s 90th birthday, and The Shau-Wai and Marie and Lam Family Foundation. Endowment support provided by Katherine Agen Baillargeon Endowment. Additional support provided by contributors to the annual fund.