On April 22, 2019, a six-and-a-half-ton Scholars’ Rock was loaded onto a truck near Wuxi, China, then shipped from Shanghai on the container ship Cosco Santos for a month-long ocean voyage to Houston. It will again travel by truck to the San Antonio Museum of Art and arrive by May 30. This gift to the City of San Antonio from its sister city Wuxi will be installed at the San Antonio Museum of Art.
Made of limestone that has been dramatically shaped over eons by the natural action of water, Scholars’ Rocks were appreciated aesthetically by the Chinese elite since at least the Tang dynasty (619–907). Small ones might be placed in a scholar’s studio to provide inspiration, while large ones, which can weigh several tons and be up to six feet tall, have been used as a sculptural element in garden design for over a millennium. This type of rock is considered an embodiment of the yin-yang dichotomy and represents harmony between man and nature, and some of the best of them are quarried near Wuxi on the shores of Lake Taihu.
The international journey of the Scholars’ Rock has been long in the making. The plan was conceived in May, 2018, when the vice mayor of Wuxi, Ms. Liu Xia, visited SAMA while attending the Tricentennial celebration. Kelso Director Katie Luber proposed to Ms. Liu that obtaining a Taihu Scholars’ Rock would serve to promote Chinese art and culture in the San Antonio community.
Impressed by SAMA’s permanent collection—and, in particular, the Museum’s collection of Chinese art—Ms. Liu agreed that this would be a meaningful way to honor the sister-city relationship, and the project collaboration between China and SAMA began. In December Emily Sano, Senior Advisor for Asian Art, Shawn Yuan, Assistant Curator of Asian Art, and Luber met with Ms. Liu in Wuxi to choose a Taihu Scholars’ Rock from among several candidates pre-selected by Garden Bureau of Wuxi specialists.
Upon its arrival at SAMA, the rock will be installed outdoors so that it is visible from both the Museum and the River Walk. An unveiling and dedication ceremony will be held on November 6, 2019, attended by a delegation from the Wuxi government, San Antonio officials, and the Chinese Consulate in Houston. A public dedication ceremony will follow on November 12, 2019.
To celebrate the Taihu Scholars’ Rock, the Museum will present an exhibition called Elegant Pursuits: The Arts of China's Educated Elite, 1400–1900 on China’s long tradition of collecting and appreciating rocks from the Wuxi Museum, November 6, 2019–February 23, 2020.