Silk Road Comes to Audubon Street

Shen Dawei gave a brush-and-ink monumental traditional Chinese landscape painting to the city of New Haven and Mayor Toni Harp.

One day soon he may try his expert hand at our own scenery, and introduce East Rock and West Rock to art lovers in China.

That possibility emerged at the opening of the Silk Road Art Gallery Friday morning at 83 Audubon St. across from the Neighborhood Music School in the Audubon art district.

Two dozen officials with the Chamber of Commerce, neighboring art organizations, and landlord Yale University Properties came by for the ribbon-cutting and to meet Shen Dawei, one of the six Emerging Chinese Artists whose workowner Liwen Ma is highlighting in the gallery’s inaugural exhibition.

The long rectangular space, previously he site of a used book store and toy store, has been vacant for several years.

Friday’s was no ordinary ribbon cutting. In addition to giving large landscape scroll paintings to the city and to Yale University, Dawei finished each, as is the custom, with a grace note of calligraphy that he added along the top border of the painting right before the attendees’ eyes.

Xi’-An- based gallery owner Ma said she chose to open her first gallery in the United States in New Haven because she identified no serious collection or exhibition of traditional Chinese painting by contemporaries anywhere between New York and Boston.

Of course, there was another reason: “The first and biggest reason is Yale University,” Ma said through a translator.

But not only Yale, she said. “New Haven is an international city.”

Ma said she wants her gallery to be a place not only where contemporary Chinese artists are introduced but also a “place for community, a platform for artists, and a bridge.”

That bridge ultimately may go both ways, Dawei said. “Next time I come maybe I’ll paint the scenery in New Haven and introduce New Haven landscapes to China.”

Ma has lived in Woodbridge for several years and operates ArtPlus, an American subsidiary of her Golden Earth Art gallery chain, which has galleries at its headquarters in Xi’-An and other Chinese cities.

Ma has hired two China-knowledgable recent Yale graduates—exhibition planner Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent and gallery assistant Tori Lewis—to help her with the launch.

Speaking on Ma’s behalf, Rodriguez-Torrent called planting her flag on Audubon street “a step into the unknown” for Ma.

Xi’-An in western China is “known for its ancient terracotta warriors, but not its contemporary artists,” he said.

The Silk Road Gallery aims to fix that.

Yale University Properties Director Lauren Zucker said Ma came to her at the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance in the Yale-China Association.

In her remarks Zucker placed the opening of the gallery in the context of the long relationship the university has had with China dating to 1835, including the 1854 graduation of the first person from China from an American university, namely Yale.

“Fast forward” to the Silk Road Gallery, she said. According to Patrick O’Brien of her office, 614 “Chinese scholars”—that is, Chinese nationals at all levels of post-graduate learning—are studeying at Yale, along with 519 Chinese undergraduates.

The other artists in the show include Zhai Jianqun, He Wei, Zhong Di, and Yang Jianxiong whose landscape (pictured) based on the deserts of western China looks eerily like some nearby rocks we know.

By Allan Appel

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