October 9, 2019

“The Eternal Feast” At PU Art Museum

“ARRANGING AN OUTDOOR BANQUET”: This coffin box panel from the Liao dynasty, 10th–early 11th century, is part of “The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century,” on view October 19 through February 16, 2020 at the Princeton University Art Museum.  The exhibit features more than 50 objects from the Liao, Song, and Yuan dynasties of China.

The feast has existed at the core of culture in China for thousands of years and remains a vital part of life in East Asia today. As an important social and ritual activity, feasts commemorated major life events, served as political theater, and satisfied religious obligations.

“The Eternal Feast: Banqueting in Chinese Art from the 10th to the 14th Century” traces the art of the feast through more than 50 objects from three dynasties – the Liao, Song, and Yuan. Focusing on a rare group of surviving paintings from the period — along with ceramic, lacquer, metal, and stone objects as well as textiles — the exhibition reveals the singular influence China’s culture of feasting had on the formation of the artistic traditions of China.

The exhibition will be on view at the Princeton University Art Museum from October 19 through February 16, 2020. It is curated by Zoe Kwok, assistant curator of Asian art at the Museum.

“This fascinating and subtle exhibition, based on years of scholarly research and benefiting from one of the most important collections of Chinese painting outside of Asia, here at Princeton, speaks once again to our commitment to examining the art of the past in a new light,” said James Steward, Nancy A. Nasher–David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976, director.

In ancient China, feasts intended to nourish and celebrate the spirits of the deceased were a fundamental part of funerary practices. From the 10th to the 14th century, art related to the feast began to survive in greater quantities outside of tombs. At the same time, the tradition of building grand underground tombs stocked with the paraphernalia of feasting began to wane. Presenting a selection of paintings of feasts and banquets from these four centuries alongside an array of feast-related objects, “The Eternal Feast” demonstrates the important role feasts and banquets played in shaping funerary rituals, social status, gender identity, and contemporary politics in China.

Feasts were also crucial opportunities for other forms of performance art, including music, dance and theatrical productions. “The Eternal Feast” presents objects related to these features of the feast along with figural sculpture depicting different kinds of feast participants and performers. Together, these works offer a window into the feast as a site for the creation and consumption of art in China.     

The exhibition is divided into three sections — “Dining in the Afterlife,” “Ladies Banqueting in Seclusion,” and “Gentlemen Feasting as Scholarly Business” — reflecting the different social, political, and religious roles played by feasts from the 10th to the 14th century, with each centered on a key painting or set of paintings.

Programs accompanying the exhibition include a panel discussion on Friday, October 19, 2 to 4 p.m. in Princeton’s McCormick Hall. The interdisciplinary panel, entitled “In Good Taste: Food and Feasting in Chinese Art,” will bring a range of international scholars and perspectives to the table. On Saturday, November 2, an opening lecture by the curator in McCosh Hall at 5 p.m., followed by a reception at the Museum at 6 p.m., is also planned.

The Princeton University Art Museum is located at the heart of the Princeton campus. Admission is free. For more information, visit artmuseum.princeton.edu.