Published: August 3, 2010
The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Heritage Board of Singapore are organizing the first exhibition and international tour of one of the oldest and most important marine archaeological finds of the late Twentieth Century.
The exhibition will focus on the 1998 discovery of a Ninth Century shipwreck and its cargo of about 60,000 objects from Tang dynasty China, ranging from mass-produced ceramics to rare and extraordinary items of finely worked gold. The cargo had lain undisturbed on the ocean floor for more than 1,100 years until sea-cucumber divers discovered it off the coast of Indonesia’s Belitung Island.
The ship, an Arab dhow, and its contents confirm the existence of a direct maritime trade route lluded to in ancient Chinese and Arabic texts †from China to the Persian Gulf and beyond, well before the Portuguese set sail in the Fifteenth Century.
The discovery offers scholars and scientists an unprecedented time capsule of knowledge about the period and a wealth of unanswered questions that will fuel research for decades to come.
The grand opening of the exhibition will take place in Singapore in late 2010 or early 2011. The Sackler Gallery will host the US premiere in spring 2012, coinciding with the museum’s 25th anniversary celebration. The exhibition is expected to travel for about five years to major museums in Asia, the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Australia.
The cargo, known as the “Tang Shipwreck Treasure: Singapore’s Maritime Collection,” was purchased with the support of the estate of Tan Sri Khoo Teck Puat shortly after its discovery but has never been publicly displayed on a large scale. In the years following their recovery from the sea the objects have remained in private storage, where they have been studied and carefully restored.
The Freer and Sackler galleries are the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art on the National Mall. For information, www.asia.si.edu or 202-633-1000.
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