Foreword by Janet Yellen
PURE AMUSEMENTS: WEALTH, LEISURE, AND CULTURE IN LATE IMPERIAL CHINA
A new installation, Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Late Imperial China features Chinese works ranging from prints to sculpture and furnishings to ceramics drawn from SAM's collection and focused on objects created for, and enjoyed during, the intentional practice of leisure. (December 24, 2016 - Ongoing)
From the late Ming dynasty (1368–1644) onward, leisure had many rules. Gentlemanly pastimes, like drinking tea, viewing paintings, and planting bamboo in the garden, were pursuits of an elegant lifestyle. Such “pure amusements” (qingwan) were not frivolous—they helped establish one’s standing in society. Aspiring men thus collected objects like chessboards, books, paintings, calligraphy, ancient bronze vessels, and ink rubbings of antiquities. With greater social mobility, and broader literacy in the late-16th to early-17th century, knowledge and culture were accessible not only to scholars and aristocrats but also to the newly affluent.
Ideal surroundings engaged the senses: fragrant tea brewing in teapots made in the Yixing region. Incense wafting from burners. Delicate wild orchids in celadon pots. Refined notes from the qinzither. The scholar’s studio especially warranted the best furnishings and accessories. This space for engaging in artistic pursuits honored the Confucian literati’s traditional inclination towards simplicity—or even austerity—as an aesthetic expression, but was often accented with decorative items of exquisite craftsmanship. However, luxury could not be acquired carelessly. Connoisseur handbooks defined principles of consumption to avoid the vulgarity of mere extravagance. Pleasure—believed to improve one’s health—was derived through a sense of play, and not taking one’s possessions too seriously.
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