Highlights from The Ringling’s New Center for Asian Art

Here’s what you can expect to see at The Ringling’s new Center for Asian Art.

Sarasota Magazine
BY KAY KIPLING 3/1/2016 AT 5:00AM

The Ringling’s new three-story, 20,000- square-foot-plus Center for Asian Art in the Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art (yes, that name is a mouthful) opened a couple of weeks ago. There were obstacles along the way, including delays in realizing the acclaimed design by Boston-based architecture firm Machado Silvetti. (Those custom-designed glazed jade-green terra cotta tiles on the building’s exterior have to be placed just so.) And there have also been ongoing legal matters related to the withdrawal of the collection of Asian art aficionado Wall-Apelt, who nevertheless did provide initial funding for the center and for its Asian art curatorship.

Shortly before the opening, we took a sneak peek on a tour with executive director Steven High and Fan Zhang, the Helga Wall-Apelt Associate Curator of Asian Art. The dramatic red interiors and high ceilings of the Selby Grand Hall, windows overlooking the museum grounds and Sarasota Bay, climate-controlled object and print study room and 125-seat lecture hall make an impressive setting for the Asian collection.

And what about the art itself? The Ringling is best known for its Baroque art, although exhibitions have highlighted its collections of Asian art, which include pieces acquired by John Ringling himself, along with the collection of Ira and Nancy Koger, works of the Turkomen tribes from the collection of Stephen Wilberding, and Japanese prints gifted by Charles and Robyn Citrin.

We asked Fan Zhang to select some highlights of the collection, which will focus on three aspects of the museum’s holdings: objects from China, Japan, Korea, India and other regions in South and Southeast Asia; works that reflect the cultural exchanges that occurred between West and East in the age of the Silk Road trade; and 20th and 21st-century Asian art.


Seated young Arhat (Luohan), Chinese, 13th-14th century, limestone with paint (gift of Ira and Nancy Koger)

Seated young Arhat (Luohan), Chinese, 13th-14th century, limestone with paint (gift of Ira and Nancy Koger)


“One of the finest examples of Yuan dynasty Buddhist art,” says Zhang. The statue represents a young monk in a moment of meditation; he’s possibly one of the 500 arhats, those perfected Buddhist disciples who have gained insight into the true nature of existence. Yuan Buddhist sculptors chose a realistic approach to imitate daily life, which made their icons and images more popular among common folk. “Viewers can sense from the monk’s sweet smile the enjoyment of his moment,” Zhang says.

[…] This article appeared in the March 2016 issue of Sarasota Magazine.



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