Cal Conversations: Dreaming the Lost Ming explores the cataclysmic end of the Ming dynasty by examining the paintings and literature of China’s long seventeenth century. The exhibition presents paintings by such artists as Xu Wei, Lan Ying, and Shitao in tandem with text from the plays and memoirs of the period. The Ming dynasty city of Nanjing, a flourishing urban center of pleasure and artistic innovation, was decimated in 1645 by the conquering Qing army. The paintings and inscriptions on exhibit here, by the artists and connoisseurs of seventeenth-century Nanjing, capture the ephemeral world portrayed in the play The Peach Blossom Fan (1699), which narrates a tragic tale of dynastic collapse, lost futures, and social disarray. Works by artists from the Ming–Qing transition period suggest an intense effort to come to terms with nostalgia for a lost past. Some painters and connoisseurs found solace in eccentricity, eremitism, and monasticism, while others collaborated with the Qing rulers. All had to negotiate their nostalgia for the Ming with an allegiance to the reigning Qing dynasty.
This is the second in a series of annual exhibitions developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley classes. Students in Professor Sophie Volpp’s seminar Seventeenth-Century Nanjing: Painting, Theater, Memoir designed this exhibition in conjunction with Senior Curator for Asian Art Julia White and postdoctoral fellow Yi Yi Mon Kyo, drawing on BAMPFA’s permanent collection. Students formulated the exhibition concept, delved into the relations between visual and literary representations of seventeenth-century Nanjing, translated seals and inscriptions, and wrote essays for a guide that accompanies the exhibition.