Qing dynasty 1644 - 1911 Jingdezhen ware Wine 'chicken' cup circa 1725—1750 porcelain with underglaze blue and overglaze enamels in the 'doucai' style 3.8 x 8.1 cm Art Gallery of New South Wales Gift of Mr J.H. Myrtle 1992 Photo: AGNSW

Situated on the edge of the CBD and overlooking part of Sydney Harbour, the Art Gallery of New South Wales celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2021.

The gallery has been extended a number of times throughout its history, including the construction of an Asian Wing in 2003, for which the architectural theme was a floating lantern. The most recent expansion is expected to open in 2022. The Sydney Modern Project, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects SANAA, will create a new art museum experience across two buildings connected by a public art garden.

The first Asian art to enter the gallery collection was a large group of ceramics and bronzes that were a gift from the Government of Japan following the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879. Since that time, the Asian collection has expanded through acquisitions and donations to include works from most of the countries in Asia.

Ceramics from China form the largest group, numbering 634 works; these extend in era from the Shang dynasty to the contemporary. There are significant numbers of tomb wares, including a large Han Dynasty model of a watchtower. Works from the Ming and Qing dynasties include ceramics for the scholar’s desk, the Altars to Heaven and Earth and a delicate doucai ‘chicken’ cup dated c.1725-1750.

The next largest group are Japanese ceramics. These 255 works range from the Jomon period to the contemporary. However, the strength of the Japanese ceramic collection is from the 19th century onwards. Shiga Shigeo (1928-2011), who also practised in Australia, is represented by 27 works and there are 10 works by Hamada Shoji (1894-1978), a member of the Mingei group. Both these ceramicists have been extremely influential on contemporary Australian practitioners. Notable also are the ceramics donated to the gallery by the Rev. Muneharu Kurozumi, a Shinto priest. A remarkable piece donated by him is by Suzuki Osamu (1926-2001) from the Sodeisha group, entitled Clay figure: Stepping out, 1973. A third main stream of modern Japanese ceramics is represented by a work by Yasuhara Kimei (1906-80), White slip flower vase, (circa 1950-1960), from the Nitten group. The gallery has a functioning tearoom and many ceramics related to the tea ceremony.

There is a small but representative group of Korean ceramics. The gallery has also recently acquired a remarkable series of recent photographs by Koo Bohnchang of Joseon white porcelain Moon jars that are located in various museums around the world.

Dragon ewer mid 15th century stoneware; moulded, with underglaze blue and white decoration 22.3 x 17 x 7.8 cm Art Gallery of New South Wales Purchased 2000 Photo: AGNSW

Shôwa period 1926 - 1988 SUZUKI Osamu Clay figure: stepping out 1973 stoneware 59.5 x 30.5 cm Art Gallery of New South Wales Gift of Rev. Muneharu Kurozumi 1981 © SUZUKI Osamu Estate Photo: AGNSW

Southeast Asian wares are well represented, especially those from Thailand and Vietnam. Sawankalok, Sukothai and wares from northern Thai kiln sites are represented, as well as later Bencharong wares. The gallery has many ceramics from Vietnam, especially those produced in the region around Hanoi. Pride of place amongst these goes to a Dragon Ewer from the Hoi An hoard cargo excavation. This is dated to the 1400s and was probably made in the Chu Dau kilns.

There are a few pieces from other Asian societies, as well as decorative pieces from Europe and, of course, ceramics by contemporary Australian ceramicists.

A niche collection is that of works from Papua New Guinea. Amongst these are sorcery pots, ceremonial sculptures, musical instruments, two figurative roof ridge ornaments as well as cooking and storage jars.

The art gallery website has a list of works from the Asian collection, many of which are digitized and annotated.

Note: Works that are currently on display are noted on the website, however, scholars may request to see special pieces.

Website: https://www.artgallery.new.gov.au/

Contributed by Ann Proctor, Director Vis Asia and SEACS Life Member