Bat Cave – Treasures of the day, creatures of the night
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 2:19pm on 24th November 2015
1. Bat, pomegranate and peaches (1904) by Gao Qianfu, ink and colour on silk, round fan. From the collection of the Art Museum, CUHK, Gift of Mr. Ho Lu-kwong, Mr. Fok Bo-choi, Mr. Lai Tak and others. Photo: Art Museum, ICS, CUHK.
2. - 3. Sun Xun painting in situ mural, Asia Society Hong Kong, 2015.
4. Dish with bat-and-peach design in famille-rose enamels; Mark and period of Yongzheng (1723-1735), Qing dynasty; Hong Kong Museum of Art collection, Donated by B.Y. Lam Foundation. Photo: Art Museum, ICS, CUHK.
In the West, bats feature traditionally and in popular culture as frightening, blood-sucking creatures of the night. In horror stories, films, and with Halloween approaching, bloodied zombies wandering the city’s streets owe much to this fear of bats. However, there is little frightening in this exquisite and compact exhibition, as the bat in Chinese iconography is considered an auspicious animal and remains prominently seen outside Hong Kong pawnshops and in temples.
The Chinese for “bat” has a similar pronunciation as “good fortune”, and images of the bat traditionally appeared on a range of objects alongside other auspicious symbols to bestow propitious messages and greetings.
Co-organised by the Asia Society and The Chinese University of Hong Kong Art Museum and curated by the museum’s Xu Xiaodong, the exhibits, including ceramics, jade carvings, paintings and textiles with bat designs are predominantly sourced from Hong Kong museums, including the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and collectors.
A highlight is the reuniting from separate collections of a pair of beautiful famille-rose peach and bat decorated ceramic dishes, displayed together for the first time in thirty years. Dating from the Yongzheng period (1723-1735), the combined motifs of bat and peach represent good fortune and longevity. In a wonder of small-scale composition, ripe peaches skirt the dishes’ circumference while three red bats hover in the empty space of an imagined sky.
The one contemporary intervention in the exhibition is mainland artist Sun Xun’s impression of a bat cave by projecting a short looped video of groups of bats in flight onto the gallery’s historic vaulted ceiling. Also, on a long corridor wall, Sun has painted in situ a freehand mural of bats in flight and fight through a mystical mountain and cloud landscape. This alludes to an exhibited court robe of the Guangxu period (1875-1908) of embroidered bats amidst a design depicting eternity: “may your blessings and longevity be as great as the mountains and oceans.”
This excellent exhibition is complemented by seminars and nighttime walks to see the fruit bats living near the Asia Society.
Link for further information:
‘Bat Cave – Treasures of the day, creatures of the night’ exhibition @ Asia Society Hong Kong
A version of this review was published in the South China Morning Post, 27 October 2015.