In a significant boost to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s collection of Chinese art, museum officials announced Tuesday that LACMA trustee Eric Lidow and his wife, Leza, have donated 75 ancient Chinese works valued at a total of $3.5 million. The gift includes important bronze objects and prime examples of Buddhist sculpture.
“This is the most valuable gift the department of Far Eastern art has ever received,” said curator J. Keith Wilson, who heads the department. “The Lidows’ gift really enhances the strength of our ancient Chinese bronzes. They have given about two dozen works to the museum in the past, but this gift adds the strongest pieces from their collection, the ones they had saved. This is really gilding the lily.”
The museum has built a strong collection of Chinese art over the years, but its holding of Chinese Buddhist art has been weak, Wilson said, so the addition of works in that area is especially appreciated. Most important, he said, is a shallow relief stone carving of an Apsara, a Buddhist divinity, made for the ceiling of a cave chapel during the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534 BC).
Spanning the Chinese Bronze Age, from about 1500 BC through the Han dynasty, 206 BC to AD 220, the Lidow gift encompasses ritual vessels, weapons and ornaments. Among the most rare and valuable bronzes are a ritual wine storage jar decorated with dragons, lozenges and triangles from the middle or late Shang dynasty (1500-1200 BC), a bell from the Western Zhou dynasty (1050-771 BC) and a sword from the Warring States period (481-221 BC). Sculptural works include an intricately cast bronze depiction of Buddha in a flaming frame, from the Northern Wei dynasty.
The Lidows are longtime supporters of the museum who built their collection during the 1950s and 1960s, when due to political upheaval in China, numerous works from Chinese collections entered the art market. They have loaned many works from their collection to special exhibitions at LACMA, including “Archaic Ritual Bronzes of China” in 1976 and “Joy of Collecting” in 1979.
The Lidows’ latest show of support for the museum was partly inspired by the recent reinstallation of the Chinese art galleries on the atrium level of the Ahmanson Building, Wilson said. Some examples from their donation have already been installed with the museum’s early Chinese and early Buddhist art. By the end of the week, about three dozen pieces from the new donation will be on view, he said.