Follow Us on Twitter

Gods and Monsters - Rossi & Rossi

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION of photographs by Caroline Chiu, Gods and Monsters: Portraits of the Nyingjei Lam Collection, will be on display at Rossi & Rossi from Thursday, October 30 to Friday, November 28, 2008.

Staged to coincide with Asian Art in London (October 30 to November 8), the exhibition will include some twenty unique images of exceptional Himalayan sculpture from the well-known Nyingjei Lam Collection. Chiu aims to convey the power and the mystery of these outstanding objects through her highly individual method of working with the world’s second largest camera.

Nyingjei Lam in the Tibetan language means ‘The Path of Compassion’ and this is one of the greatest collections of Himalayan art in private hands in the world. It includes rare and important Indian and Nepalese bronze sculptures of the 7th to the 12th centuries as well as many remarkable images from Tibet dating from the 10th to the 17th centuries.

Among these are figures in copper, gilt bronze, silver and other materials depicting the Buddha, Bodhisattvas (future Buddhas) and esoteric Tantric deities, as well as an outstanding group of portrait images of saints and lamas. Anna Maria Rossi and her son Fabio were closely involved with the formation of the collection over a period of some twenty years.

The collection was on loan for ten years to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, where it was exhibited for the first time in 1999, accompanied by a major illustrated catalogue by Jane Casey Singer and David Weldon, published by Calmann & King. It is now on long-term loan to the Rubin Museum of Art, New York, home to a comprehensive collection of art from the Himalayas and surrounding regions.

For Chiu to have had access to such a collection was a great privilege that would be comparable to having access to the greatest sculptures by Michelangelo, Cellini or Bernini. This exceptional collaboration between museum and artist has resulted in a series of masterpieces of photography.

Chiu uses an old-fashioned Polaroid camera, weighing about 500 lbs, with a negative size of 20 × 24 inches. One of only three such cameras in existence, this model has been used by such artists as Andy Warhol. The 20 × 24 Polaroid camera allows her to photograph the images at extreme magnification so that the results are as close to visual perfection as possible. The small objects are blown up to as much as 100 times their normal size, revealing details imperceptible to the naked eye, so taking on an almost abstract quality.

Working with such a large camera is time-consuming and presents many challenges, with no second chances or room for mistakes with the lighting and full frame compositions but, as Caroline says: “Such a rare process suits the subject matter. The resulting images are precious in themselves, echoing the feeling of the objects.”

Caroline goes on to explain: “I am not seeking an ‘objective’ view of the exceptional items I photograph, but to reveal their mystery and ‘dark beauty’. … To reveal this ‘dark beauty’, I use a chocolate film made up of a colour positive and a black and white negative. This gives the images a dense richness and intense dark brown colouring.”

Polaroid is no longer producing this precious film which she finds ideal for the evocative effect that allows the objects to emerge poetically from a mysterious sepia darkness. The characteristics of the film also contribute to the distinctive patina and texture of each image and the process which produces one unique and un-reproducible image is akin to painting and a refreshing reaction to today’s digital world of retouching, re-editing, and mass media.

Chiu was born and raised in Hong Kong, and studied in America – at Tufts University and New York University as well as photography workshops at Rockport College in Maine. Her work has been exhibited in Europe, Hong Kong, and America. Since 2001, she has been working on a long-term project called The Chinese wunderkammer which recreates the European precursor of the museum, the ‘wonder rooms’ full of far-flung curiosities from around the world. For this project she assembles and photographs a wide range of Chinese and Asian cultural artefacts.

There will be a fully illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition with an introduction by David Pritzker. Price £20.

Times: Monday to Friday from 10am to 5.30pm, Saturday from 11am to 4pm. During Asian Art in London: Sunday, November 2 from 12 noon to 5pm, Mayfair late-night opening on Monday, November 3 until 9pm.

Price range: £4,000 to £10,000.

Rossi & Rossi Ltd, 16 Clifford Street, London, W1S 3RG.

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7734 6487