New Exhibition to Examine How Gardening Inspired Ethical Connections in Historical China

Posted on Thu., March 7, 2024

“奪天工 Growing and Knowing in the Gardens of China” is part of Getty’s PST ART: Art & Science Collide initiative.

Sept. 14, 2024–Jan. 6, 2025
Studio for Lodging the Mind

Chinese writing on the left; yellow and white flowers on the right.

Hu Zhengyan 胡正言, et al., Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting 十竹齋書畫譜, vol. 3, Ming dynasty, 1633, multicolor woodblock print on paper, 9 3/4 in. x 11 1/4 in. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Drawing of red-maroon flowers blooming from a rich green branch.

The Botanical Magazine, or, Flower-Garden Displayed, vol. 10, pl. 357, 1796, hand-colored copper engraving, approx. 9 in. x 5 1/2 in. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Drawing of white and pink flowers with blue-hued birds playing nearby.

Formerly attributed to Xu Xi, Butterflies at Play during an Eternal Spring (detail), Qing dynasty, 18th–19th century, handscroll, ink and color on silk, 15 3/4 × 124 3/8 in. | Saint Louis Art Museum.

Drawing of orchids, bamboo, fungus, and rocks.

Ma Shouzhen 馬守真, Orchids, Bamboo, Fungus, and Rocks (detail), Ming dynasty, 1604, handscroll, ink and color on gold-flecked paper, image: 10 3/4 × 90 5/16 in. | Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields.

Painting of people gardening.

Qiu Ying 仇英, Garden for Solitary Pleasure (detail), Ming dynasty, 16th century, handscroll, ink and light color on silk, painting, 11 × 204 1/8 in. | The Cleveland Museum of Art.

A stream runs alongside a garden with blooming Spring trees.

Yu Zhiding 禹之鼎, Cleansing Medicinal Herbs in the Stream on a Spring Day (detail), Qing dynasty, 1703, handscroll, ink and color on silk, painting, 14 1/4 × 52 3/16 in. | The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Drawing of a person sitting on a patch of carpet among plants.

Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英, Pursuits of a Scholar, Qing dynasty, 18th century, album of eight leaves, ink on silk, 9 1/16 × 10 1/16 in. | The San Diego Museum of Art.

Drawing of various plants separated into 4-by-4 squares on each page.

Revised Compendium of Materia Medica, Japanese, Edo period, ca. 1672. Revised edition of Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1640 edition, itself revised from a Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1596. Original compiler: Li Shizhen 李時. Woodblock printed book, ink on paper, 8 7/8 × 5 1/4 in. | The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Chinese writing on the left; A person working a field next to a home on the right.

“Garden of Flower Medicines,” Complete Collection of Medical Traditions Past and Present, Ming dynasty, ca. 1567–72, compiler: Xu Chunfu 徐春甫, woodblock printed book, ink on paper, 10 1/2 × 6 1/2 in. (per page). | Harvard-Yenching Library.

Photo of a person posing for the camera.

Zheng Bo. | Photo: The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

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SAN MARINO, Calif.—A new exhibition at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens will explore the potential of gardens as spaces that not only delight the senses and nourish the body but also inspire the mind—both intellectually and spiritually. The literati during China’s Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties believed gardens resulted in more ethical connections to all living things. On view in the Chinese Garden’s Studio for Lodging the Mind from Sept. 14, 2024, to Jan. 6, 2025, “奪天工 Growing and Knowing in the Gardens of China” will exhibit 24 objects, including hanging scrolls, hand scrolls, albums, and books from The Huntington’s collections and those throughout the United States. The exhibition will also feature a participatory artwork by contemporary Chinese artist Zheng Bo that was commissioned by The Huntington.

“Growing and Knowing” and the Huntington exhibition “Storm Cloud: Picturing the Origins of Our Climate Crisis” will run concurrently as part of PST ART: Art & Science Collide, a regional event presented by Getty featuring more than 60 exhibitions and programs that explore the intersections of art and science, both past and present.

“Growing and Knowing” will present three key themes: “Growing,” “Knowing,” and “Being.”

Growing
The introductory section to the exhibition, “Growing,” will focus on historical horticultural practices in China, many of which are still practiced today. Chinese scholars and gardeners experimented with domestication, grafting, and hybridization to create unusual cultivars (new varieties of plants developed through human intervention). Throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, these techniques were well documented in horticultural manuals. Some of these books—such as The Secretly Transmitted Mirror of Flowers, completed by Chen Hao 陳淏 (1615–1703) in 1688—remained popular instructional guides in China into the 20th century. The well-known chrysanthemum flower exists as a result of hybridization experiments conducted by scholars and gardeners. Visitors will have the opportunity to view chrysanthemums in full bloom just outside of the exhibition walls in The Huntington’s Chinese Garden.

Reproductions of gardening tools from the period will also be displayed.

Knowing
The second section, “Knowing,” will present a diverse selection of books and paintings from the Ming and Qing dynasties, showcasing the multiple ways that scholars thought about the plants they cultivated. “The works selected for ‘Knowing’ specifically highlight scholars’ understanding of plants as food, sources of emergency sustenance and pharmaceuticals, and keys to classical literature,” said exhibition curator Phillip E. Bloom, The Huntington’s June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies. A subtheme of the section will touch on the era’s hierarchies of knowledge—specifically how scholars’ intellectual knowledge of plants was valued over gardeners’ direct, physical knowledge. Gardeners’ bodily insights were largely ignored in historical texts, but they were revealed in visual sources. For example, the Ming dynasty painting Garden for Solitary Pleasure (17th century) shows a scholar lying deep in thought among bamboo and other trees, as nearby laborers bend over plants and carry tools to cultivate the scholar’s garden.

Being
Chinese scholars did not grow and learn about plants just for knowledge’s sake. Growing and knowing were means for them to better understand their place in the world and learn to interact more ethically with other creatures. The last section of the exhibition, “Being,” will explore these practices of self-cultivation. “In order to truly understand how nature works, scholars not only contemplated plants but also engaged with and learned from them,” Bloom said. “Caring for plants, observing their habits, taking pleasure in their forms, and ultimately recognizing their commonalities with humans were, in essence, practices whereby people may perfect themselves.” Pursuits of a Scholar, an 18th-century Qing dynasty painting album, dedicates several leaves to the different ways that scholars interacted with plants. One leaf shows a scholar writing observations of a bamboo plant in his study, while another depicts a scholar caring for chrysanthemums.

Ecosensibility Exercise: Fragrant Eight-Section Brocade 生態感悟練習: 聞香八段錦 by Zheng Bo

To invite visitors to develop their own meaningful relationships with their natural surroundings, The Huntington has commissioned the participatory artwork Ecosensibility Exercise: Fragrant Eight-Section Brocade by Hong Kong–based artist Zheng Bo. Fragrant Eight-Section Brocade is inspired by the traditional Chinese mind-body practice qigong 氣功. Building on exercises that date back nearly 900 years and remain widely practiced today, Zheng’s work includes eight exercises that combine simple full-body movements and deep breathing to activate the mind and body. Each exercise is performed with a fragrant plant, encouraging the participants to develop a human-plant connection. Visitors to the exhibition can perform the exercises on their own throughout The Huntington’s gardens at marked stops chosen by the artist. A film documenting the eight exercises will be shown in the gallery. The Huntington is also planning a series of public programs in which the artist will guide visitors through his reinterpreted movements.

Exhibition Catalog
The Huntington will publish an open-access digital catalog edited by Phillip E. Bloom, Nicholas K. Menzies (research fellow in The Huntington’s Center for East Asian Garden Studies), and Michelle Bailey (assistant curator for the Center for East Asian Garden Studies). The book will include seven essays, 16 catalog entries by various scholars, and a conversation with artist Zheng Bo. A paperback version of the catalog will be available at the Huntington Store or online at thehuntingtonstore.org.

This exhibition is made possible with support from Getty through its PST ART: Art & Science Collide initiative.

Red sun dial logo with text reading PST Art

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution digital images available on request for publicity use. Request images]

About The Huntington
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is a cultural and educational institution of global significance. Building on Henry E. and Arabella Huntington’s renowned collections, The Huntington supports research and promotes education in the arts, humanities, and botanical science through the growth and preservation of its collections; the development of a community of scholars, school programs, and partnerships; and the display and interpretation of its extraordinary resources for diverse audiences. The Huntington is located at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, California, 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Visitor information: huntington.org.

About PST ART: Art & Science Collide
Southern California’s landmark arts event, PST ART, returns in September 2024 with more than 60 exhibitions from museums and other institutions across the region, all exploring the intersections of art and science, both past and present. Dozens of cultural, scientific, and community organizations will join the latest edition, PST ART: Art & Science Collide, with exhibitions on subjects ranging from ancient cosmologies to Indigenous sci-fi, and from environmental justice to artificial intelligence. Art & Science Collide will share groundbreaking research, create indelible experiences for the public, and generate new ways of understanding our complex world. PST ART is presented by Getty. For more information about PST ART: Art & Science Collide, please visit pst.art.

Contacts
Keisha Raines, 626-405-2246, kraines@huntington.org
Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, tpage@huntington.org