By Barbara Basbanes Richter
Sometimes the best gifts come in tiny packages. Now through November 2018, the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida will be exhibiting over one hundred tiny treasures from the Harn’s Asian art collection in celebration of the five-year anniversary of the opening of its David A. Cofrin Asian Art Wing.
Curator Jason Steuber decided over four years ago that the show would investigate what he feels is the overlooked topic of miniatures across Asian art. “Small things are prevalent in our daily lives in many forms, and the exhibition serves as a reminder that art comes in all shapes and sizes,” he explained. Miniatures rarely show up in museum displays because of the unique challenges they pose regarding audience engagement and access. A small album of dainty paintings requires a deft curatorial hand to craft a pint-size diorama, and figuring how to best display these miniatures takes patience and creativity. Steuber and his team constructed small stands and new wall cases to show the miniatures at eye level. A gallery book filled with detailed photographs invites closer inspection.
Some of the highlights of the show include an album of landscapes and fore-edge paintings by Chinese eighteenth-century landscape painter Ming Zhong, a painting of a reclining nude rendered on 3 x 4 ⅞ in. envelope by Japanese artist Yoshida Yoshio (1870-1956), and Shibata Zeshin’s (1807-1891) miniature album of twelve lacquer paintings on paper. The largest miniatures clock in at nearly ten by six inches, while the tiniest of the items nestles comfortably in the palm of one’s hand.
With some of the miniatures dating to the Neolithic period (3,000 BCE), it’s clear that humans have had a longstanding fascination with shrunken treasures. “I often admire the beauty of my books, the craftsmanship of the artists and artisans who created them, and I’m awed by their history,” said notable miniature collector Pat Pistner regarding her Japanese Hyakumantō Dhārāni (770CE), one of the oldest examples of block printed text on miniature scrolls. Indeed, collectors prize miniatures for their exquisite beauty, scale, and exacting detail–in miniature, books and artwork permit the eye to focus on components otherwise overlooked, fully embracing the old adage of “less is more.”
Admission to the museum is free. For more information, call 352-392-9826 or visit www.harn.ufl.edu.