A scholars' rock is lifted out of the transportation vessel in which it was shipped from China. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A piece of China has come to San Antonio. At 11 a.m. Friday morning, a 12-foot-tall, 6 1/2-ton “scholars’ rock” arrived at the San Antonio Museum of Art, crated in a shipping container to protect it during its 7,500-mile journey from Wuxi, China.

“It’s enormous,” said Katie Luber, SAMA’s executive director, in December soon after returning from a visit to China to select the rock, a gift from San Antonio’s sister city.

Scholars’ rocks, called gongshi in Mandarin, have been prized by Chinese elites for centuries, since at least the Tang Dynasty of 619-907, according to a SAMA news release. The rocks have been shaped over millennia by erosion from water and wind, and are valued for their resemblance to other forms like mountains, flora, figures, and abstract shapes.

The arrival of the scholars’ rock is the result of a yearlong journey, beginning with a May 2018 Tricentennial visit to San Antonio by the vice mayor of Wuxi. Luber and a SAMA delegation then made a visit to Wuxi six months later, just one stop among many for the group.

San Antonio Museum of Art Director Katie Luber flanked by the Asian Art curators (Shawn Yuan, assistant curator for Asian art at left, Emily Sano, senior advisor for Asian art at right, and SAMA trustee Rosario Laird) Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Museum of Art

“We visited 16 museums in eight cities in 16 days. It was the most fun and hardest thing,” she said of their adventure.

The SAMA delegation included Emily Sano, senior advisor for Asian art, and Shawn Yuan, assistant curator for Asian art, who had advised Luber that large-scale scholars’ rocks are rarely found in U.S. museum collections.

The group visited a quarry near Wuxi on Lake Taihu, which produces limestone rocks particularly prized for their quality.

The form of SAMA’s gongshi was described by Sano as “a cloud or plume rising up, with holes of different sizes created by centuries of water flow,” as quoted in a December article about the acquisition in The Art Newspaper.

The Taihu gongshi will be placed outdoors to be visible from the museum and the Museum Reach of the River Walk. An unveiling ceremony, with officials from Wuxi, is planned for Nov. 6, with a public dedication Nov. 12. An accompanying exhibition of scholars’ rocks from the Wuxi Museum will run at SAMA from Nov. 6 through Feb. 9, 2020.

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...

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