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Safety in Numbers – Spring 2023

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The exhibition Safety in Numbers was inspired by two recent acquisitions whose raison d’etre was linked inextricably to a specific number. The first was a Heian-period wooden image of Shō Kannon from a staggering group, the Sentai-Kannon, “One-Thousand Kannon,” created for and enshrined in the Kōfukuji in Nara until recent times. The second was a most engaging and dynamic Ming-dynasty fahua porcelain jar featuring eight immortals aloft in a deep blue firmament. Numbers in Asian culture, in everyday life and in artistic expression on every level, are profoundly meaningful, are considered consequential, decisive, inevitably impactful. Rather than plumbing the philosophical depths of this critical phenomenon, we have used it as an invitation to bring together works of art in which numbers or multiples are of some essence, resulting in an exhibition that touches many bases in time and place

While a Tang period white amphora, such as the one in the present exhibition, might stand secure in its own regal beauty, it is not alone in the world of Chinese ceramics, where its family is extensive. Two stalwart soldiers from the Six Dynasties period proudly represent their platoon. A kosometsuke dish of the early 17th century with incised qilin décor seems to stand alone, almost unique. Still, it exists within an enormous fold of Jingdezhen porcelains destined for markets abroad. Japanese paintings open a world of safety in numbers, whether at a horse or fish market or in an intimate group of masters of haiku poetry, brought together in a work by Yosa Buson (1716-1784). A 16th-century Chinese painting of the jovial Budai shows him celebrated by a band of numerous happy children while the Qing-dynasty painter Zhang You captures a troop of monkeys at play in a remote mountain environment. Many of the works of art in the exhibition testify to the efficacy of numbers in making visual and aesthetic statements while others serve more practical requirements.

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