You could measure the long shadow cast by Chinese artist I-Hsiung Ju in any number of ways.
There are the students, now in middle age, whom he taught at his Princeton, N.J., studio or whom he inspired when he was an artist in residence and professor at Washington and Lee University.
There are the Georgia families who commissioned Ju to paint elaborate Asian scenes on their dining room and living room walls.
There are Ju’s own family members, who came together for a reception at the Millennium Gate Museum, traveling from as far away as New Jersey and Taiwan to pay homage to an artist who influenced so many of them.
Ju died in 2012, but his memory and influence are clearly still vivid for those who knew him.
For “Chinese Master Artist I-Hsiung Ju,” the Millennium Gate Museum highlights two late in life series of works by Ju focusing on both the natural beauty and encroaching modernity of China. The 43 traditional ink brush paintings on paper and silk panels are accompanied by Ju’s own poems inscribed in elegant Chinese characters in the image margins. The exhibition also features Ju’s brushes and other tools of the trade and videos in which the artist illustrates his technique.
In one monumental series of delicate ink-on-panel works that progress from the museum’s entrance into an interior gallery, the 72-foot “Ten Thousand Li of the Yangtze,” Ju charts the progress of the Yangtze River from wild terrain unmarked by development where men on horseback are the only evidence of a human presence. As the series of panels continues, modernity intrudes with skyscrapers, electrical towers and tankers bringing their cargo to port. The artist painted this series when he was in his 80s, and it’s tempting to see the works as evidence of a man surveying his own past, sketching a life from childhood to maturity in that progression of time along the river.
If those images of the Yangtze can suggest the span of a life in the course of a river, then Ju‘s dreamy images of the Huangshan mountains in eastern China, in “Misty Clouds of Huangshan” in ink on Xuan paper and silk, are like visions of the afterlife, a magical, mystical cloudland where iceberg jagged peaks emerge from a white fog. Small figures traverse narrow mountain trails, the same trails Ju and his wife took together, as they were carried up into this fantastic landscape.
In addition to extensive panels of these two studies of the Chinese landscape, the museum has offered a nod to its mission “to preserve and interpret Georgia history, art, culture and philanthropic heritage,” with a backroom of the museum devoted to the four Georgia homeowners who commissioned Ju to ornament their dining rooms and entryways with his artwork.
In one humorous anecdote, the Trawick family of Macon had the artist disguise an entryway HVAC duct with an image of a pagoda that incorporated the grill into its design. Ju was nothing if not accommodating, it appears. For the home of Louise and Ivan Allen Jr., Ju integrated the Georgia state bird, the brown thrasher, as well as the couple’s golden retriever and chow, into a mural in their Atlanta dining room.
Wall text can occasionally lapse into fawning adulation of these Georgia families, the kind of tone that shows the museum’s focus as both a fine arts venue but also one that seems to relentlessly advocate for the importance of Georgia’s founding families.
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