Breathing New Life into Old Forms
The acquisition of contemporary paintings in East Berlin
Museum für Asiatische Kunst
In East Berlin in 1952, the foundation of a new museum dedicated to East Asian art posed quite a challenge: aside from some examples of craftwork, primarily porcelain, that had been transferred from the Kunstgewerbemuseum, the East Berlin museums had absolutely no artefacts from Eastern Asia. Acquiring contemporary art in the People's Republic of China was thus not just a clever political move, but made sense for practical reasons too - it was easily available and affordable, and the transaction could go ahead without using valuable foreign currency, such as the US dollar.
A significant number of ink and wash paintings were acquired over the following years before political relations between the GDR and China deteriorated and came to a halt at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
Paintings by numerous prominent artists such as Qi Baishi (1864-1957), Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and Li Keran (1908-1989), whose works achieve record prices at auctions today, were purchased between 1957 and 1965, with no apparent underlying political agenda. The majority of the artworks are hanging scrolls that demonstrate the continuation of classic Chinese painting in the modern age and mostly depict subjects from the traditional Chinese genre known as flower-and-bird painting, which combines floral motifs with various birds and insects, often conveying symbolic meanings. Less common but also represented are landscapes and figure paintings while the topic of socialist expansion is not dealt with at all and the portrayal of ethnic minorities is rare.
Some of the pictures from the current holdings have been on display to the public many times before; however, this is the first time that an entire exhibition has been dedicated to this section of the museum's history.
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