Collectors and enthusiasts of Asian antiques, and Chinese art in particular, might have heard of Sam and Myrna Myers, an American couple who have been collecting Asian antiques for over fifty years. They are well known for having assembled one of the largest, privately owned collections of Chinese jade and Asian objects during these years.
And now there is the possibility to glimpse the finest examples of their collection in a new exhibition in the Pointe-à-Callière museum in Montreal, Canada. The exhibition ‘From the Lands of Asia: the Sam and Myrna Myers collection’ showcases the selected pieces of the Myers’ collection: jade objects, Buddhist art, porcelain, textiles and other Asian antique objects.
The exhibition started immediately with the spectacular Chinese jade collection. Jade has held special significance in China for thousands of years; the stone was ascribed magical powers and the Chinese believed jade objects could bestow longevity and even immortality on the bearer. One of the reasons why jade is even now more popular in China than gold or diamonds. Drinking from a jade cup combatted fatigue and a jade burial suit was believed to preserve the body and keep the soul intact. Therefore jade was the material for many ancient Chinese funerary objects.
The collection features jade objects from a 6000-year period; from Neolithic funerary gifts, mystical objects like bi-discs and congs, blades and axes, chest ornaments, delicately carved belt hooks, cups for immortality and small decorations. There are pieces of a jade burial suit and a great amount of carved dragons. Amongst the most impressive objects are intricately carved jade tigers and many ancient bi-discs. We are more used to seeing the almost perfectly round bi-discs made nowadays, but these bi-discs have slight imperfections and changes in thickness or roundness, which gives them a distinctive and beautiful appearance. It looks like the whole of Chinese history with jade is represented here! You definitely need some time to appreciate the detailed carvings and the delicate, dreamy effect of milky coloured jade on display.
The textile collection introduces us to very nice examples of antique silk scholar’s robes and colourful Japanese kimonos, but also authentic robes of Japanese Noh performers and antique samurai clothing as well. Historic textile lovers can also admire some very fine Tibetan and Uzbek pieces here. Highlights were the unique blue Qing armour, decorated with the four-clawed dragon of the imperial family, and the samurai armour which sports an impressive and intimidating moustache.
The porcelain collection features many blue and white pieces; but unless antique porcelain is your passion, this part of the exhibit might be a bit uninteresting. There are examples of every kind of porcelain over the last centuries, from kraak porcelain bowls to famille verte pots. Unfortunately, the setup was a bit messy as well, which made it visually overwhelming.
A most disappointing feature of the exhibition was the area dedicated to Buddhism artwork. If you are familiar with ancient Buddhist statues and the peacefulness they can radiate, than this part will let you down. The spotlights were not optimal and the glass reflected too much light that hampered the visitor’s viewing experience. There are some amazing pieces, like the iron head of a Wei dynasty statue, that completely loses its impact. Another letdown were the Japanese Buddha statues which faces and countenances are visually uninspiring and not interesting to look at. Not the best pieces to showcase here. The Buddhism part of the exhibit would have been better of with less pieces to showcase and with much improved lighting.
Aside from the themed parts, there is an assortiment of curiosa objects; from Japanese tea caddies to Mary Magdalene statues from Goa. All objects are definitely worth looking at if you have enough time left after the jades and textiles!
Overall was the jade collection the best feature and completely worth it to see if you are around Montreal. Anyone interested in Chinese jade has two more weeks to be able to enjoy the exhibition. Others can look up catalogues of the Myers’ collection and the contemporary bi-discs at the SERES Collection!
- March 10, 2017
- Margret Ressang