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Rockefeller Asian treasures at McMullen Museum, Boston College

Perhaps it's the presence of so many Buddhas, or the effect of the warm tangerine and yellow gallery walls. But visiting Asian Journeys: Collecting Art in Post-war America, on show at Boston College's McMullen Museum of Art through June 6, is a deeply contemplative, restorative experience. 

Originally conceived by the Asia Society Museum in New York, and installed here by McMullen exhibition organizer Diana Larsen, the show features highlights from one of the most spectacular private collections of Asian art in the US. From 1963 to 1978, John D. Rockefeller 3rd and his wife Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller, guided by one-time director of the Cleveland Museum of Art Sherman E. Lee, assembled masterpieces of Asian art as part of their diplomatic/political project to foster cultural understanding between Asia and the United States.

The first three objects on display by themselves make the trip to Chestnut Hill worthwhile. There's a striking large porcelain lidded jar, dating from some time between 1522-1566, painted with lively swimming fish and aquatic plants in the style of five-color decoration known as wucai. From a radically different world comes an elegant Nepalese cross-legged, crowned thirteenth-century figure of a Bodhisattva, (an enlightened being, who out of compassion forgoes nirvana, in order to save others, according to Buddhist beliefs), inlaid with semiprecious stones and wreathed in jewelry.

Directly confronting the visitor through the arch opposite the entrance is one of the treasures of the collection; a four-foot high, four-armed standing figure of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, or Buddha of the Future, from 8th century Thailand. With its glittering inlaid black glass eyes and delicately rendered hands - all four of them - the statue has an aura that vindicates Larsen's decision to give it a wall to itself.

On the gallery's lower level are ceramics from China, Korea and Japan, including a drum-shaped porcelain pillow, from late 18th century Japan, apparently used by fashionable women to preserve their elaborately coiffed hair. The last room is filled with photographs by John D. Rockefeller 3rd's niece, Mary Louise Pierson, showing objects from the Asian collection in situ at two family estates, Kykuit, overlooking the Hudson River, and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's garden at Seal Harbor, on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

 

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