With the delicate chiming of brass bells and the chanting of Buddhist monks in saffron robes, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's new China Gallery received blessings for prosperity on Wednesday night.
The new home for the museum's growing collection of Chinese art also received generous nods of approval from gallery donors and top-tier MFAH patrons who joined in the preview of the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery.
For weeks, anticipation had been building as Chinese gunpowder artist Cai Guo-Qiang prepared his paper canvas that would be ignited to create the ethereal images that now line the walls of the new gallery. Major donors and museum patrons who had witnessed the ignition now oohed and aahed over the sublime finished product. A video documenting the creation of the work, titled Odyssey, looped on screen throughout the evening.
Anne and Albert Chao (the gallery is named in honor of his parents), Diane and John Riley, Nidhika and Pershant Mehta and Sima and Masoud Ladjevardian were among those praising the end result. That something so explosive could evolve into the serene landscape of the gallery walls seemed to captivate all that had seen the ignition, whether in person or via CultureMap's livestream of the process.
The artist — dressed in charcoal turtleneck, black suit and gray tennis shoes — beamed throughout the night as he strolled the gallery with the aura of a rock star. Michelle and Frank Hevrdejs, Martha Long, Ann and Charles Duncan, Pam and Dr. David Ott, Lily and Charles Foster, Jay Jones and Terry Wayne Jones were among those swept up in the moment.
In his remarks to the dinner gathering that followed inspection of the gallery, MFAH director Peter Marzio observed that "Cai's great work of art serves as a receptacle for the ancient arts of China ... It is a contemporary crucible to hold ancient work." This juxtaposition of old and new, he said, is something not replicated anywhere in the world.
Cai was clearly enjoying the moment. "What a wonderous evening is this," he said through his interpreter. Remarking on the gathering of 130 that included Chinese, Koreans, Indians and Japanese, he beamed, "This is truly a gala for Asians."
Christine Starkman, MFAH curator of Asian art and key in the Odyssey accomplishment, would probably have agreed. She even spoke a few words of Chinese in her remarks.
MFAH board chair Cornelia Long and Meredith Long welcomed guests that included Marjorie Horning, Leslie and Jack Blanton Jr., Susan and Lenoir Josey, Kent Shaffer and Joan Lu. Special guest was Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums which will hold its national conference in Houston in May.
Relive ignition night at the warehouse: