The museum’s Arts of Asia collection consists primarily of work from four areas: China; India and Southeast Asia; Japan; and Korea. After the MFAH launched an initiative to create dedicated galleries for these collections, the first to open was the Arts of Korea Gallery in 2007. With a great deal of support from Houston's local communities and valuable international partnerships, the gallery became a tremendous success. The Arts of India Gallery and Arts of China Gallery followed in 2009 and 2010, respectively, culminating with the Arts of Japan Gallery in 2012.
In this suite of galleries, ancient and modern objects are presented alongside one another, engaging visitors in a dialogue that conveys artistic and cultural continuity.
The MFAH Portal Project provides a unique context for the Arts of Asia collections. The museum invites a renowned contemporary artist to create a site-specific installation piece for each gallery. The series debuted with Cai Guo-Qiang's monumental gunpowder drawing Odyssey. Created in a 25,000-square-foot Houston warehouse in October 2010 and installed in the museum a few days later, the 162-foot masterwork covers 42 panels and lines the walls of the Arts of China Gallery.
Internationally recognized contemporary artist Do Ho Suh was commissioned to create a site-specific installation for the museum's Arts of Korea Gallery. His plan is based upon a gate designed by his father, Modernist painter Suh Se-Ok, whose gate, in turn, was modeled after the entrance of a 17th-century Korean courtyard. Do Ho Suh’s gate, made from a laser-cut mold and cast in clear acrylic resin, turns a heavy architectural facade into a transparent shell, thereby questioning the boundaries between reality and reflection, art and architecture. The concept was developed in Seoul, with the physical components created in New Jersey and Colorado for assembly in Houston.
The objects in the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery reside amidst a massive site-specific installation by renowned contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang. The construction of Odyssey, Cai's contribution to the portal project, required the help of more than 100 volunteers and took place just before the opening of the gallery. Objects from the MFAH collection of Chinese art, ranging from the 13th century BC to the present, rest in a tranquil and contemplative space that unites them despite their various historical time frames and cultural influences. The gallery connects China's legendary past with its present as a global economic and creative superpower. Highlights include bronzes dating from the 13th to 5th century BC, jade carvings, a limestone sculpture of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara from the late 6th to early 7th century; a Ming dynasty scholar’s table screen in a Qing dynasty frame, and Xu Bing’s late-20th-century masterpiece, Books from the Sky.
The Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery, dedicated to the museum's growing collection of Indian and Southeast Asian art, contains outstanding examples of painting, sculpture, and photography that span over 2,000 years. The objects are placed in the context of the great empires of India, emphasizing significant international trade routes. The major dynasties represented—including the Kushan, Gupta, Chola, and Mughal—have tremendously impacted and continue to play a role in the development of Indian culture and society. Among the many highlights in the Arts of India collection are an ornate mid-18th century flywhisk carved from a single piece of ivory; 1st–4th century Buddhist sculptures from Gandhara, a region at the heart of the Kushan empire; a 13th-century Chola bronze figure of the Hindu god Shiva; a monumental sculpture by contemporary artist Subodh Gupta; photographs by Dayanita Singh; and miniature paintings depicting varied scenes, from the daily life of the Mughal court to tales from the ancient, epic books of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
The first Japanese object in the MFAH collection—a humble and quietly beautiful ceramic basket—was acquired in 1935. In February 2012, the Arts of Japan Gallery opened as the final installment in the museum's suite of galleries created to showcase Asian art. Like its counterparts for the arts of China, India, and Korea, the Arts of Japan Gallery draws on the richness of ancient art as well as the creative forces of modern masters.
The Tokyo National Museum has generously agreed to loan significant works as part of a long-term partnership with the MFAH. In the gallery, artworks from the MFAH collection are on view alongside ceramics, Buddhist bronze ritual implements, and archaeological objects from the Tokyo National Museum. The MFAH objects include elegant paintings; Edo-period albums of woodblock prints by Kitagawa Utamaro; lacquer; prints; and a sculpture by Hiroshi Sugimoto.
The first gallery completed in the suite of Arts of Asia galleries at the MFAH, the Arts of Korea Gallery is the only museum gallery in the Southwest dedicated solely to Korean art. Showcasing some 5,000 years of visual culture, the gallery features exclusive loans of ancient Korean artworks from the National Museum of Korea and AMOREPACIFIC Museum of Art alongside works of contemporary Korean art from the MFAH collection.
Friends of Asian Art was established to help the MFAH acquire ancient and contemporary masterpieces from China, Korea, India, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Since its inception in 2003, this patron group has been an asset to the Houston community by supporting social and educational programs that raise interest in Asian art.