Driven by a fundamental quest for harmony, to “unite heaven and humanity”, the art of gardens in Asia is based on a spectacular and idealised creation of nature. From the gardens of Mughal India to Japanese and Chinese gardens, each of these countries has made a particularly significant and original contribution to this art, the exhibition Asian Gardens at Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet in Paris, France, until 20th September 2021, explores a selection of eighty works from the museum’s collections (Indian miniatures, prints, photographs, textiles, ceramics).
Royal or imperial gardens, gardens of Buddhist temples, Confucian scholars’ gardens, tea gardens, gardens dreamed up by poets, from Lahore to Kyoto, there are many differences in type and aesthetic style. The influence of the climate, cultural characteristics and historical change all make a comparative examination of Asian gardens particularly interesting. The exhibition approaches this through three key themes: structure and layout, uses and pleasures and symbolic and literary references.
Asian gardens are enclosed spaces designed according to organisational and structural choices specific to each of the civilisations in which they developed. Combining water and architecture, through pavilions, fountains, rocks, mountains, twisted trees, vast views or hidden pathways, gardens are places of ever-changing life. They are also places of sensory, artistic and spiritual experience. Naturally, they reflect the social status or wealth of their owners.
As a momentary escape from everyday life, with its banal perceptions and its power games, gardens offer fresh inspiration. These are the places where many have hoped to glimpse the harmony and vitality of various paradises, be they Muslim, Taoist or Buddhist. Celebrated in Mughal miniatures, painted on long scrolls in China, miniaturised on trays in Japan or evoked on diverse objects (dishes, vases, textiles, etc.), the world of gardens has also found its way inside palaces and homes. It was through these kinds of artistic expression that it was exported out of Asia. Today, it strongly influences contemporary spaces, be it through subtle references in domestic gardens or more ambitious projects in public spaces.
Asian gardens differ from Western gardens in the symbolic choice of plants and the ways of combining them, but also in the presence of lightweight permanent or temporary architectural structures. All this creates a world full of life and individuality. Gardens appeal to the senses and the memory, offering an experience that changes with the seasons, or with the emotions and thoughts of those who spend time in them. Through plants, flowers, stones and sand, they create numerous religious, literary and symbolic references.
The exhibition will be accompanied by an artistic and cultural programme on the theme of gardens, including tours, conferences and workshops (for adults and children). The rooftop terrace is reopening to the public with the addition of flowers and plants, and light refreshments will be available. Visitors can then continue to the garden of the Hôtel d’Heidelbach, just 100 metres from the museum. Finally, as part of the projects conducted by the cultural action service over the last decade, a programme of free activities will be available to organisations promoting access to culture for underprivileged groups, allowing their beneficiaries to discover Asia, the Guimet Museum, its collections and the “Asian Gardens” exhibition. The “Vacances Apprenantes” (learning holidays) scheme will continue throughout summer 2021, offering high-quality activities for children.