The Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art Annual Lecture 2022

Key information

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Brunei Gallery
Event type

About this event

Conspicuous and Invisible: Reading the Sanxingdui Civilization
Dr Jay Xu
Director. Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre, SOAS University of London and on Zoom at 6pm on Friday, 13th May 2022, followed by a drinks reception

Tickets are free but registration is required:

In-person click here: Lecture in person

Online click here: Lecture online

About the event:

A Bronze Age civilization lost for more than three thousand years was found in China's southwestern Sichuan province in the summer of 1986. Two underground pits filled with a staggering abundance of objects were discovered at the site of Sanxingdui which was later found to be part of a large-scale walled settlement whose construction started around 2000 BCE and whose occupation ended about 1000 BCE. The objects from those two pits comprised familiar items such as bronze vessels and jade blades known elsewhere in China, but most strikingly a rich array of bronze sculptures the likes of which had never been seen before, including a monumental bronze tree thirteen feet tall, fabulous birds, a life-size standing human figure, human-like heads, and masks of fantastic supernatural beings with protruding eyes and huge flaring ears, along with a large number of actual elephant tusks. No one was prepared for the sudden re-emergence of this extraordinary civilization, especially in a region that had been considered in conventional historiography a cultural backwater during China’s Bronze Age.

Nearly thirty-five years later, in March 2021, Sanxingdui shocked the world again with the news that six more pits filled with spectacular bronzes, whole elephant tusks and other precious artifacts and materials had been discovered in the same precinct and being excavated since November 2019.

The presenter began research on the Sanxingdui civilization in the early 1990s and has since collaborated closely with the field archaeologists at the site. His work so far includes a doctoral dissertation, a landmark exhibition that toured North America accompanied by a scholarly catalogue, and an international symposium with published proceedings.

As no writing has been found at the Sanxingdui site to shed light on the culture and its history, the presenter has relied on the method of internal relationship in reconstructing the rich and extraordinary imagery, and on the method of stylistic and fabrication study in understanding cultural relationships with the outside world. This lecture will present a number of case studies to reveal the invisible from the conspicuous, and surprises beyond what meets the eyes.

About the speaker:

The first Chinese American director at a major US art museum and the first Asian American museum director elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Jay Xu has been Director and CEO of the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco—Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Art and Culture since 2008. Dr. Xu enjoys a rich variety of international museum experience over a period of nearly forty years as a research scholar, curator, and museum director. He earned his MA and PhD in early Chinese art and archaeology at Princeton University, and had previously worked in administrative and curatorial positions at the Shanghai Museum, China; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Seattle Art Museum; and the Art Institute of Chicago. He was Pritzker Chairman of Department of Asian and Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, in charge of arts of Asia and of the ancient Mediterranean world including ancient Near Eastern, Greek and Roman cultures, before he joined the Asian Art Museum.

Organiser: Dr Stacey Pierson, Reader in the History of Chinese Ceramics