Secrets of the Sea: A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia at Asia Society Museum, March 7 – June 4, 2017

Secrets of the Sea: A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia features precious cargo—bound for the Abbasid Caliphate, an empire that included present-day Iran and Iraq, and produced in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907)—including ceramics, gold and silver vessels, bronze mirrors, and other artifacts. Discovered in 1998 off of Belitung Island, Indonesia, the ship’s contents were miraculously protected from erosion and breakage by tight and ingenious packing as well as the conditions of the silty floor of the Java Sea. Until the discovery of this ship, it was believed that the Tang traded primarily through Central Asian land routes, mainly on the Silk Road. The discovery of the ship’s cargo confirmed the significant maritime trade route. Most of the works in the exhibition have never traveled outside Asia.”

“The contents of the Belitung shipwreck testify to the scale and sophistication of contact between ancient Islamic and Buddhist peoples more than a thousand years ago. Secrets of the Sea presents some of the most important archeological revelations of the twentieth century,” said Boon Hui Tan, Asia Society Vice President for Global Arts & Cultural Programs and Director of Asia Society Museum. “By shining a light on the rich cultural and commercial links among Asia’s disparate ancient empires hundreds of years before the arrival of the Europeans to the region, this exhibition challenges widely held Eurocentric conceptions of globalization, migration, and trade in the region. It is proof that globalization is a very old concept in Asia.” — Asia Society

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Long-necked ewer China, probably Henan Province, Gongxian kilns. Around 830s. Glazed stoneware with copper-green splashes over white slip. H. 40 1/2 x W. 9 x D. 10 1/4 in. (102 x 23 x 26 cm). Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005. Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Tang Shipwreck Collection

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Four-lobed bowl with dragon medallion China, probably Henan Province, Gongxian kilns. Tang dynasty, ca. 825–850. Stoneware with pale copper-green glaze over white slip. H. 5 x D. 14.5 in. (12.7 x 36.8 cm). Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005. Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Courtesy of John Tsantes and Robert Harrell

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Bowl with decorative inscription in cursive script China, Hunan Province, Changsha kilns. Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50. Glazed stoneware with underglaze iron-brown. H. 2 x W. 6 in. (5.1 x 15.2 cm). Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005. Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Courtesy of John Tsantes and Robert Harrell

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Installation view. Photograph by Corrado Serra

Dish with floral lozenge decoration China, Henan Province, Gongxian kilns. Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50. Glazed stoneware with cobalt-blue pigment over white slip. Approx. H. 1 1/4 x Diam. 8 in.(4.5 x 22.5 cm). Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005. Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Courtesy of John Tsantes and Robert Harrell

Square-lobed dish with insects, flowers, knotted ribbons, and swastika (wan, “10,000”) China. Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50. Gold. H. 1 1/4 x W. 6 x D. 4 in. (3.5 x 15.5 x 10 cm) Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005. Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Tang Shipwreck Collection

Four-lobed oval box with deer and lion decoration China. Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50. Sliver, parcel-gilt. H. 1 x W. 3 1/2 x D. 2 1/2 in. (2.5 x 8.9 x 6.4 cm). Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005. Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Tang Shipwreck Collection

Fan-shaped box with parrot and duck decoration China. Tang dynasty, ca. 825–50. Sliver, parcel-gilt. H. 1 x W. 3 1/2 x D. 2 1/2 in. (2.5 x 8.9 x 6.4 cm). Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore, 2005. Photography by Asian Civilisations Museum, Tang Shipwreck Collection

“The artifacts exhibited will expose American audiences to the rich narratives of the two great trading powers of the ninth century—Tang China and the Abbasid Caliphate—and highlight ancient Asia’s early advances into industrial production for the export market,” noted Kennie Ting, Director of the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.

Secrets of the Sea: A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia is jointly organized by Asia Society and the Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore. Objects are from the Khoo Teck Puat Gallery, Asian Civilisations Museum, Singapore.  The curator of the New York exhibition is Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Senior Curator for Traditional Asian Art at Asia Society.