An Emperor’s Retirement Home & Japanese Screens in Mexico

This time of year, New York is overloaded with opportunities to view and buy antiques and art. Over the weekend, the Architectural Digest Home Show in conjunction with  DIFFA and the Artists Project at the Pier was pitted against the events surrounding the Asia art auctions and sales.

Stage for an audience of one
Stage for an Audience of One

As Director of Asian Arts Week, the campaign to unify the many events loosely tethered to the Asia art auctions, it was no contest. Dr. Nancy Berliner, Curator of Chinese Art at the Peabody Essex Museum and, Henry Ng, Executive Vice President of the World Monuments Fund, were headlining at the China Institute.

Their discussion focused on their collaborative effort with the Palace Museum to restore the Emperor Qianlong’s  private “retirement home project,”  better known as the  “Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service.”

Treasures From the Forbidden City is the current show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and this lecture was  just one of many opportunities to soak up exotic and esoteric bits of information that make the fatally curious among us so passionate about art and antiques.

On Sunday, Curator Caron Smith of the Crow Collection of Asian Art, spoke on the Japan-Mexico connection, aptly captioned, “Who Knew?”  Background on the Manila Galleon Trans-Pacific trade routes surfaced insights that are at once esoteric and tangible.

From Manila to Acapulco, the ships came laden with ballast that was offloaded and sold, often at the dock.  The King of Spain’s percentage then made its way northward to Mexico City and a diminished a percentage traveled onward to Veracruz for the crossing to Spain.

Japanese Influence on Mexican art
Mexican Interpretation of Japanese Screen

No matter how you cut it, the amount of research that surfaces in intimate settings is mind-boggling. So, the next time you’re in Mexico, don’t be surprised if a bit of Nanban – such as a Japanese screen – shows up in the local antiques shop. Apparently, they were quite the rage in Colonial Mexico.

And if you’re in New York, don’t be surprised by what you can learn. For calendar of events, please visit

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