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An Intimate View: Sanyu’s Small Masterpieces

In 1995, the Sotheby’s sale of The Johan Franco Collection of Works by Sanyu was the first inter- national auction that drew the attention of Chinese collectors across Asia on this artist who had been forgotten for nearly half a century. The silent nudes, still lifes and small animals, subjects of his paintings, spoke to this increasingly unsettled world and reminded us of the beauty of serenity.

In 2017, Taiwan’s National Museum of History showed forty-nine oil paintings by Sanyu in Parisian Nostalgia: the National Museum of History’s Sanyu Collection, an exhibition that brilliantly re- vealed Sanyu’s outlook on life and art in his later years, with large paintings showing expansive spaces and highlighting the relative smallness and complexity of his own life. The scarcity and beauty of his works have made them highly sought after in recent years, resulting in skyrocket- ing auction prices. Thus the final days of the exhibition drew throngs of viewers, jostling against each other to get a glimpse of his works. What often got lost was how those works embodied the subtlety and uniqueness of this artist’s perspective. In this hurried age of the twenty-first century, we seem not to be able to afford the patience for such things.

Thus the notion of An Intimate View: Sanyu’s Small Masterpieces was borne. Mr Leo Shih, re- nowned Sanyu collector, and Rita Wong, Sanyu chronicler, shared their ideas and conceived to offer a different look at Sanyu’s works, and invited music critic and Sanyu lover, Yao Chien, to add another dimension to the curatorial team. The exhibition is meant to be viewed at a more leisurely pace and the design within the expansive rooms, with music specially produced for the exhibition, permits viewers to get as close as they like to the works, each no more than fifty centimeters in size. An Intimate View: Sanyu’s Small Masterpieces tries to help us forget, tem- porarily, the relationship between artworks and the market, to forget the ceaselessly flickering images on our screens, to forget those urgent messages always demanding our attention.

During this short exhibition, more than a hundred works will be shown from collectors the world over, borrowed for a short time from the nooks and crannies of their studies, bedrooms, and stairwell walls. A particular feature of this exhibition is the inclusion of nearly all of the prints made by Sanyu, the only Chinese artist working in the drypoint and linocut method in the 1920s and 1930s, and his oils on mirror, a medium unique to Sanyu.

While the three of us thoroughly enjoyed working together on this exhibition, we are fully aware An Intimate View: Sanyu’s Small Masterpieces depended on the collaboration of many. We wish to express our gratitude to The Eslite Gallery for the use of their gallery space free of charge; to The Fubon Group for sponsoring the insurance expenses; to Emily Chao and her team at The Eslite Gallery and The Li Ching Foundation for their administrative support; to Chia Chi Jason Wang for contributing the catalogue essay; to Chen Li for creating the music special- ly dedicated to this exhibition; to Christie’s and Sotheby’s for their invaluable assistance; and to all the loaners to this exhibition from around the world.

It is our hope that viewers will experience the magic of viewing Sanyu’s small works intimately and allow themselves to be immersed in his world.

Curators | Leo Shih, Yao Chien, Rita Wong 

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