Visiting Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion?

You must join the virtual exhibition queue when you arrive. If capacity has been reached for the day, the queue will close early.

Learn more

Press release

Landmark Gifts of Art and Funding Dramatically Enhance Met Museum’s Asian Art Department as Yearlong Program of Exhibitions and Activities Begins, Celebrating Department’s Centennial

Masterworks of East and South Asian Art from Florence and Herbert Irving, Japanese and Korean Art from Mary Griggs Burke Transform Met’s Asian Holdings

$70 Million Capital Campaign Launches to Further Strengthen Museum’s Asian Galleries and Augment Its Scholarship and Scope; Leadership Gifts Totaling Nearly Half of Goal Already Received from Oscar L. Tang, Mary Griggs Burke, and Mary Wallach

(New York, March 16, 2015)—Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that the Museum has received four landmark gifts of art and funding from long-time donors and supporters, in celebration of the centennial of its Department of Asian Art. These transformative gifts include nearly 1,300 Asian works of art from Florence and Herbert Irving; more than 300 Japanese and Korean masterworks and a $12.5 million endowment to fund Japanese art initiatives from the collection of Mary Griggs Burke; $15 million from Oscar L. Tang for new curatorial and conservation staff appointments and programming; and $4 million from Mary Wallach to endow a conservatorship of Japanese painting.

Mr. Campbell also announced the launch of a $70 million fundraising initiative to enhance the department’s staff, programs, collections, and facilities. Nearly half of that goal has already been achieved through the gifts from Oscar L. Tang, Mary Griggs Burke, and Mary Wallach.

Throughout its centennial year, the Department of Asian Art will present 19 exhibitions and installations that chronicle the changing tastes, benefactions, and purchases that have contributed to the formation of the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of Asian art, one of the most comprehensive in the world.

“The story of the Met has always been punctuated with gifts from extraordinary collectors and supporters, committed to sharing the art they love with the public,” said Mr. Campbell in making the announcement. “As we mark the centennial of our Asian Art Department and celebrate its distinguished collection and the many donors who have contributed to its preeminence today, we honor four new gifts that will dramatically enhance its quality, breadth, presentation, preservation, and interpretation even further. We are immensely grateful for the leadership support provided by our steadfast donors Florence and Herbert Irving, Mary Griggs Burke, Oscar L. Tang, and Mary Wallach, who share our vision and our commitment. Their generous gifts are a testament to the exceptional work that has been done over the past 100 years to create an Asian art collection unrivaled in the West. They also point to an outstanding future that will continue to build on this legacy.”

Daniel Brodsky, Chairman of the Metropolitan Museum, added: “We are fortunate to receive these remarkable gifts from such long-time donors and friends of the Department of Asian Art, many of whom are also Trustees. While these generous individuals, along with Mike Hearn, our Douglas Dillon Chairman of Asian Art, and his talented curatorial team are setting the department’s course toward the future, we reflect on the generosity of past Trustees Douglas Dillon and Brooke Astor, who were passionate in their efforts to develop the department and its holdings to their extraordinary current level. Their vision and intelligence continue to inspire us today.”

Florence and Herbert Irving
The gift presented to the Metropolitan Museum this month by Florence and Herbert Irving, who have been avid collectors of Asian art for more than 50 years, is a group of 1,277 works of art from their collection. The Irvings’ gift encompasses all of the major cultures of East and South Asia and virtually every medium explored by Asian craftsmen over five millennia. Areas of particular strength are Chinese, Japanese, and Korean lacquers, South Asian sculpture, Chinese jades and hardstones, scholars’ objects of ivory, rhino horn, wood, metalwork, and bamboo, Japanese ceramics, and Chinese and Japanese painting. Taken together, this transformative gift fills gaps and adds to the Met’s existing strengths in ways that will further elevate the Museum’s stature as one of the world’s premier collections of Asian art.

The Irvings have been major supporters of the Met’s Department of Asian Art for more than 25 years. In addition to having already donated 19 major works, they have been major funders of galleries. In April 1994, the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art opened to the public, due to their support. This suite of 20 galleries covering 13,500 square feet presents more than 800 works of art, including a number of Irving gifts. In a further mark of their support in this area, in 2011 they endowed the position of Florence and Herbert Irving Curator of the Arts of South and Southeast Asia, which is currently held by John Guy. And in 1997, the Irvings supported the creation of the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for Chinese Decorative Arts, which feature four discrete spaces for the display of Chinese textiles, jades, metalwork, and lacquer.

In recognition of their ongoing generosity to the department, the entire Fifth Avenue Asian wing on the second floor of the Museum was named the Florence and Herbert Irving Asian Wing in 2004.

Among the highlights of the Irvings’ gift is an exceptional array of 224 Chinese, Japanese, and Korean lacquer ranging in date from the 12th to the 18th century. The 141 Chinese lacquers in the Irving collection offer a truly comprehensive picture of the medium across two millennia, from the Han empire through the end of the Qing dynasty. The small but choice selection of 11 Irving Korean lacquers represents the finest assemblage in the West, with two Joseon-period mother-of-pearl inlaid boxes (one from the 15th-16th century and the other from the 18th century), a 19th-century box with dragon decoration inlaid in tortoise shell and ray skin in addition to mother-of-pearl, and an 18th-century red lacquer box with painted ox horn embellishment. The 72 lacquers from Japan include more than a dozen fine examples of Negoro ware, noted for their evocative patina of an underlayer of black lacquer, showing through the red lacquer surface coating, as well as more than 40 superlative examples of late medieval and Edo-period pieces embellished with pictorial motifs rendered using gold and silver powder. There are also a few rare examples of so-called Nanban (“Southern Barbarian”) lacquer, referring to the earliest group of lacquerwares produced for export to the West, and a select array of lacquer works produced in Okinawa (also known as the Ryukyu Islands).

Another important area strengthened by the Irving gift is South and Southeast Asian sculpture. Notable are early Hindu images from 8th-9th century Kashmir, important medieval stone sculptures including the iconic 12th-century Dancing Celestial, several early Tibetan polychrome stone images, and an extremely rare form of Shiva from 10th- century Angkorian Cambodia.

By far the largest portion of the Irving gift is made up of a diverse array of Chinese works including stone sculpture, tomb figurines, paintings, and some 500 jades and hardstones.

In addition to their long-term commitment to the Department of Asian Art, the Irvings have been generous benefactors of the Metropolitan in other ways. Mrs. Irving served as a Museum Trustee beginning in 1990 and is currently a Trustee Emerita. And in 2004, in acknowledgment of their important support for the Museum’s Thomas J. Watson Library—through the creation of a book purchase fund and an endowment to support the library’s ongoing maintenance—the library’s reading room was named the Florence and Herbert Irving Reading Room.

Mary Griggs Burke
The Metropolitan Museum and Minneapolis Institute of Arts announced jointly today that they are both recipients of transformative bequests of masterworks of Japanese art from the Mary Griggs Burke Collection. With objects spanning more than five millennia, the collection is widely regarded as the finest and most encompassing private collection of Japanese art outside Japan.

Mrs. Burke (1916-2012), who assembled her formidable collection of East Asian art over five decades, announced in 2006 that she would bequeath her Japanese and a smaller collection of Korean works to the two institutions. Overall the Mary Griggs Burke Collection comprises around 1,000 works in various media—more than 850 Japanese works, some 90 Korean pieces, and about 65 Chinese works of art. The core of the collection is Japanese painting, consisting of 450 works in screen, hanging scroll, handscroll, and album formats, and around 40 works of Japanese calligraphy, as well as a small number of ukiyo-e prints and woodblock printed illustrated books. Mrs. Burke’s discerning collecting interests also extended to Buddhist and Shinto statuary, ceramics, and lacquerware.

In addition, each institution will receive a generous cash endowment of $12.5 million, to be used primarily for the purchase of Japanese art and also for the funding of exhibitions, programming, and fellowships.

Mr. Campbell commented on the works of art bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum: “The vision and generosity of Mary Griggs Burke shine throughout this landmark gift of over 300 masterworks of Japanese and Korean art to the Met. She was a consummate collector, Trustee, and friend, who selected these superb works with great care to complement and augment our existing holdings. It is inconceivable that a collection comparable to hers could be assembled today. Given their rarity, aesthetic quality, and art historical importance, her gifts raise the level of the Met’s Japanese collection to one of the finest and most comprehensive outside Japan.”

The Met’s collection of early medieval Buddhist art will be greatly enhanced by powerful sculptures of the Buddhist protective deity Fudō Myōō and the bodhisattva Jizō by the master sculptor Kaikei (active 1185–1223). Ink paintings of the Muromachi period (1391–1573)—an area of particular strength within the Burke Collection—is represented by Sesson Shūkei’s (1504–89?) deftly brushed Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.

The Burke Collection is also noted for works in every medium illustrating scenes from traditional Japanese narratives. The sumptuous 17th-century set of screens Willows and Bridge is thought to represent the bridge over the Uji River, in southeast Kyoto, a site celebrated in Japanese literature. A painting of a courtier traveling through a mountain pass based on an episode from the Tales of Ise, a 10th-century court classic, is by the celebrated 17th-century Kyoto painter Tawaraya Sōtatsu.

Moving to the Edo period (1615–1868), works by great individualist masters of the 18th century are represented in the collection by superlative works such as White Plum Blossoms and Moon by Itō Jakuchū (1716–1800) and Lions at the Stone Bridge of Tendaisan by Soga Shōhaku (1730–81). Literati art, inspired by Sinophilic ideals, is encapsulated by Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion, a masterpiece of screen painting by Ike Taiga (1723–76) that depicts a legendary poetry party held in ancient China.

Coinciding with the official acceptance of the bequest, on March 10, the Met’s Board of Trustees named John T. Carpenter the Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese art.

A major exhibition of works of art from the bequest to the Metropolitan Museum, Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection, will be on view at the Met from October 20, 2015, through July 31, 2016. Organized by John Carpenter and Monika Bincsik, Assistant Curator in the Department of Asian Art, the exhibition will showcase more than 150 masterpieces—including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, calligraphy, lacquerware, and ukiyo-e prints—that reveal the remarkable range and quality of Mrs. Burke’s activities as a collector over the course of nearly 50 years.

The Museum will also commemorate the gift of the collection by hosting an annual Mary Griggs Burke Lecture.

Oscar L. Tang
Met Trustee Emeritus and Benefactor Oscar L. Tang—who has been a dedicated major supporter of the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Asian Art since 1984—has given $15 million to establish an endowment fund in support of new curatorial and conservation staff appointments and programming, as well as the continued growth of the department, on the occasion of its centenary.

He is a steadfast art collector who chairs the Museum’s Asian Art Visiting Committee and has generously provided gifts and promised gifts of works of art and support for acquisitions, special exhibitions, general operating needs, and galleries. Among his distinguished gifts of works of art to the Museum in recent years are the 10th-11th century hanging scroll Palace Banquet, the 1702 painting Two Eagles by Bada Shanren, and the 14th-century hanging scroll Simple Retreat by Wang Meng. He also provided support to endow the Frances Young Tang Gallery in the Galleries for Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, and to renovate a major storeroom of the Department of Asian Art.

Mary Wallach
A Met volunteer specializing in Japanese art since 1987, Mary Wallach donated $4 million in late 2014 to endow the new position of Mary and James Wallach Family Conservator of Japanese Art.

She has been a dedicated supporter of the Department of Asian Art, particularly for acquisitions of Japanese works of art, including support for the purchase of the Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow Collection of Japanese Illustrated Books, a group of over 250 illustrated books from the 17th to the 19th century, in 2013; and last year, Amusements at Higashiyama in Kyoto, a rare set of early 17th-century Kano screens. She has also supported education programs and events at the Metropolitan Museum.

Mrs. Wallach’s late parents-in-law, Ira and Miriam Wallach, were Museum Benefactors and supporters of the Department of Asian Art. They established an endowment for special exhibitions, publications, and education programs related to Asian art in 1997.

# # #

March 16, 2015

Press resources