In one verse of the Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi, he describes the two distant friends, Yuan and Bai, writing poems to tell how much they miss each other. Even after over 1000 years, we could still see the six-fold screen filled by the poems of Yuan Zhen.
In Chinese traditional context, painted screen has special internal meanings and outside appearances. It penetrates through history and art—it accompanies people’s lives; watches era change and emperors come and go; witnesses poets drinking and composing, scholars dancing and feasting; sees lives and deaths, happiness and tears, meetings and partings… It is placed in various locations, ranging from the emperor’s court to ordinary residences, even accompanies its owner in another world. It does not talk, but we can see the thousand years of loneliness and tire through its soundless language.
It is the multi-dimensional characteristic of screen that inspires contemporary researches toward Chinese traditional screen. Based on the unearthed or inherited real screens, the images of screens in paintings, and historical records, researchers study this mystical item from different perspectives. The purpose of this exhibition is to throw away fixed viewpoints and go beyond disciplines, and try to study and appreciate painted screen in a more broad way.
Although screen is playing an increasingly less important role in our daily life, it is transforming to adapt itself to the “present”. We would like to look for a way to connect screen with contemporary and future art creation, which means we need to stay in the presence as well as analyze the past and look into the future.
For this exhibition, we received support from the Palace Museum, Shanghai Museum, Nanjing Museum, Hebei Museum, Shanxi Museum, Hunan Museum, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Sichuan Museum, Chongqing China Three Gorges Museum, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Museum, Chengde Summer Resort Museum, Hebei Provincial Research Institute of Cultural Relics, Luxian Museum of Southern Song Dynasty Stone Inscription, Shenzhen Goldstone Museum of Art, Duo-Yun-Xuan’s Branch, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. We would like to extend sincere gratitude for their help.
As is the preface.
Director of Suzhou Museum
The painted screen constitutes a unique trinity in Chinese art history: it is at once an important painting medium, an artefact made of different possible materials that can be appreciated up close, and an architectonic component that helps construct inner and outer spaces. This intriguing characteristic enables the screen to combine image, space, and object—the three basic elements of visual art. This is not only a unique case in Chinese art, but also rare in world art history. For this reason, although the screen is no longer an important part of modern daily life, its spirit still lives on in Chinese art and continues to influence it. The screen’s vitality is not superficial, but is deeply engrained in Chinese culture and in the minds of Chinese artists even today.
The current exhibition is the first large museum introduction to the painted screen, bringing a group of representative works and artists to the public. For the study and appreciation of premodern art, we hope that this exhibition will reveal the important role that the screen played in Chinese traditional culture as well as in the development of visual art. Investigating its integration of painting and calligraphy, architecture and objecthood helps expand the method and perspective of art historical research. For the introduction and understanding of contemporary art, by showing how the continuation of an old artistic tradition becomes a generative source in contemporary Chinese art, this exhibition opens up a new way to connect past and present.
Wu Hung （Curator）