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The New Yorker magazine quotes expert with serious doubts about the centerpiece of recent Chinese Art acquisition from C. C. Wang at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

It also reports that C. C. Wang plans to auction many works at Sotheby's next month where his grandson is "resident Chinese-painting expert

Magazine story follows up doubts about famous painting and collection first disclosed in The City Review

By Carter B. Horsley

The Talk of The Town column in the August 11, 1997 issue of The New Yorker magazine disclosed further developments in the controversy over Chinese painting acquisitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that were first reported in The City Review.

(See the following related stories in The City Review: Chinagate, original untruncated story, story as it appeared in The New York Times in 1976, Chinagate Revisited, New York Post reports on controversy in lead Page Six article, Major donor says museum violated contract and disputes extravagant claims about centerpiece of recent Tang gift of paintings from C. C. Wang collection, New York Post reports on controversy again on Page Six, The Imperfect, But Impressive Metropolitan, and Attributions.)

While the article in the magazine, which appeared on the newsstands August 4, 1997, lead with a headline suggesting that the so-called "Mona Lisa" of China, a painting illustrated on the front page of The New York Times when it reported the museum's second major acquisition of a group of Chinese paintings from C. C. Wang, a New York collector and painter, might be "a fake."

The article quoted James Cahill, one of the world's most respected experts on Chinese painting who has published many books on the subject and is an art historian affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley, as stating that he could not "accept" the work "as a tenth-century painting," adding that "It's simply not plausible in terms of the fuzzy brushwork, the structural incoherence, and the unreadability."

Mr. Cahill, who was one of the leading experts interviewed by me in 1976 when I first reported problems with many of the attributions of a group of 25 Sung and Yuan dynasty paintings that the museum bought from C. C. Wang in 1973, told The New Yorker that "there are all kinds of inconsistencies" with "The Riverbank" that were "telltale signs" of a forgery by Chang Ta-chien. These inconsistencies were "a winding river that turns into a road, obscured peaks, and spongy landforms," according to the author of the magazine's article, Carl Nagin.

Chang Ta-chien, who died in 1983, was a legendary artist, connoisseur, collector and self-professed forger, who has been the subject of an exhibition in 1992 at The Asia Society in New York and a film by Mr. Nagin.

He left mainland China in 1949, the same time as did C. C. Wang and according to Mr. Nagin's article took with him "a trove of early scrolls (the Met's prized "Riverbank" among them), a mixture of fake and genuine works which still confounds experts."

The City Review reported last May that Robert H. Ellsworth, a major donor of Chinese paintings to the Metropolitan Museum as well as a leading collector and author of an important book on late Chinese paintings said that the museum's unqualified attribution of "The Riverbank," a very large and dark hanging scroll, to Dong Yuan was "not entirely accepted," adding that it does not "come anywhere near the quality, importance and beauty" of two other paintings that The New York Times compared it with: one by Fan Kuan and one by Gui Xi, both in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. The front page article in The Times by Judith H. Dobryznski May 19, 1997, described "The Riverbank" as "the earliest of three rarest and most important early monumental landscape paintings in the world." The story in The Times quoted C. C. Wang as saying that "The Riverbank" is "the very best painting, like the Mona Lisa."

C. Wang, who is 90, "became one of the main Chinese authorities on whom Western scholars relied to untangle Chang's forgeries," Nagin wrote, "But because C. C. Wang also bought scrolls from Chang Ta-Chien for his own collection, his financial interest in the Chinese-art market made the task of separating pearls from fish eyes even murkier."

Mr. Nagin noted that C. C. Wang "has long been a controversial figure in the art world" who has served as a dealer and an authenticator "…which has raised questions about conflicts of interest." Mr. Nagin wrote C. C. Wang "has been a paid adviser to Sotheby's and a consultant to Christie's" and in a lengthy article published almost a decade ago in Art & Antiques magazine Mr. Nagin documented an aborted sale of a painting on which C. C. Wang had consulted at Christie's, and a subsequent investigation by the city's Department of Consumer Affairs into auction practices in which the seller actually bid on his own property, a practice that violates auction ethics. The painting had been sold at the auction to a European museum, which subsequently decided that it was not as attributed and declined to take the painting. As a result of the investigation, the auction house was ordered to make announcements at the start of auctions that such practice was not allowed.

The most fascinating aspect of The New Yorker article, which was not mentioned in its table of contents and given much shorter space than two other articles on art in the same issue despite its far greater interest and importance, was the disclosure by Mr. Nagin that "In September, forty more ancient masterworks from his collection will be auctioned at Sotheby's, where the resident Chinese-painting expert is Wang's grandson."

There are, in fact, two Chinese Painting specialists mentioned in the catalogue, Noah Kupferman and Andrew Wang.  Mr. Wang is a grandson of C. C. Wang.

Whether the works planned to be included at the auction are masterworks remains to be seen, of course. Whether the works will be auctioned, furthermore, remains to be seen, in light of Mr. Nagin's disclosure about the familial connections of the expert at Sotheby's, which, of course, in the best of all possible worlds, might just be coincidental.

In the original, lengthy and detailed press announcements accompanying the 1973 acquisition of 25 paintings from C. C. Wang, the museum had boasted that it had not only acquired the best pieces of his collection, but also that they were almost all masterpieces by the greatest masters of the Sung and Yuan dynasties, which are widely regarded as the highpoint of Chinese art, dating from the latter part of the Tenth Century through the middle of the 14th Century.

According to Mr. Ellsworth, C. C. Wang still has important paintings that have so far eluded the Metropolitan.

The lead news item in the ArtDaily ( August 8, reported Mr. Cahill's doubts about the "Riverbank" painting that were disclosed in The New Yorker magazine.   It also said that the Metropolitan Museum did not doubt its authenticity and would publish a defence of it.  The City Review contacted the communications office of the museum for comment, as it has previously offering to publish any statement about the Chinese paintings controversy, but no one was available for comment or details about when the "defence" might be published and what paintings it might discuss.  (8/8)

Metropolitan Museum Shows C. C. Wang Collection in 1999 and concedes there are scholarly disputes over "Along the Riverbank"

Orientations Magazine carries two long commentaries over controversy of The Riverbank attribution

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