A major donation of art will help California students and scholars explore Chinese history and culture. A gift of Chinese antiquities to the California State University, Northridge, is the largest gift ever made to the 23-campus system.
The art works make up the first part of a $38 million gift from Chinese American entrepreneur Roland Tseng and they feature a small gold and bronze ritual vessel valued at $5.5 million dollars. The works also include a Stone Age axe head, a bronze bull with inlaid gold and silver and a glass water buffalo.
The objects are on display at the Northridge campus in suburban Los Angeles, in a library gallery named to honor the donor's parents. They are being shown along with other antiquities on loan from Mr. Tseng's collection. The 100-item exhibition of archaic bronzes, jades, tools and pottery covers 6,000 years of Chinese history.
Mr. Tseng is a high-tech entrepreneur who developed a digital imaging system used on archeological sites and for general surveying. He has worked on art preservation projects in China and helped draft an international agreement with the Chinese government on preservation of key cultural sites in that country.
A major collector, he is also an expert on Chinese art. "My interest in art and antiquities actually stems from my love of technology," he said. "I believe through technology, you can understand the tools that a civilization has in order to either grow itself, destroy itself, or to share and make progress."
Mr. Tseng noted that Chinese artists relied on technology to shape materials like jade, using abrasives such as gravel and quartz crystal to give form to the stone.
He said that these art works offer a glimpse into China's history. For example, painted porcelains more than one thousand years old illustrate figures from the imperial court of Tang Dynasty China.
California State University, Northridge, has formal relationships with nearly 40 Chinese educational and government institutes, from Nanjing Normal University to the Shanghai Theatre Academy. Cal State Northridge President Jolene Koester said that her university also has links to Chinese culture through its Chinese and Chinese-American students.
"The Southern California area, of course, has many people who were born in China, who have immigrated here, or many times they live in both places," she said. "They have affiliations in both places. And we have a lot of students from China at Cal State, Northridge, both those who come and study for a year or two, and also those of Chinese origin who may be living in the U.S. on a more permanent basis."
Exhibit curator Tony Gardner said that professors, students and local residents will benefit from the gift and the exhibition. "For us here at Northridge, it's a chance now for our students as well as our faculty to come in and see Chinese artifacts that they might never see, except in a museum or if they went to China and saw them there," he explained. "For our faculty, there are already three interested faculty who are going to be studying these pieces in different ways."
One scholar will examine the content of the materials, for example the bronze used in Shang Dynasty vessels from nearly four thousand years ago. Another will study the objects from the perspective of art history, and a third will create computer reconstructions that allow scholars to view the works three dimensionally.
Library Dean Susan Curzon called the donated objects "treasures" and an unexpected gift to the San Fernando Valley, northwest of Los Angeles. "I think [the fact] that it's here, that it's in the heart of the Valley, that it lets both the academic community and the community at large come to see these precious resources, is really exceptional," she said.
As Roland Tseng escorts visitors through the gallery at the opening of the exhibit, he solicits their opinions. He believes that some people are moved by the intricate jade carvings, and others by the heavy elaborate bronzes.
He said that artifacts like these are made to be admired, and that they broaden the minds of those who come to see them. "I believe that sharing antiquities and allowing people to look at and to view and experience ancient art will help them and give them an insight and certainly greater compassion for other cultures," he added.
The donor said that collaborative efforts between China and international scholars are helping preserve Chinese historical art, which he says is the world's heritage, as well as China's.