A City News reporter gets her first taste of what it takes to be a connoisseur.
Contributed By Yeo Zhi Qi
If there is one group of people that intrigues me, it would have to be collectors. Be they antique collectors, comic book collectors, stamp collectors, I am fascinated by their passion toward one particular object, which compels them to amass an often impressive number of the same object. The talk “Which Makes A Collector A Better Connoisseur” at the Asian Civilization Museum on Oct. 17 imparted a fresh appreciation for these dedicated enthusiasts and their objects of interests. But what sets a collector apart from a connoisseur?
Firstly, while a collector collects a special type works of art as a hobby, a connoisseur is an expert judge in matters of taste or authenticity. Just when I thought having a collection was a pretty admirable feat in itself, I was now introduced to the new world of connoisseurship—an intellectual activity that involves affection and instinct. Now, I’m sure every collector would aspire to be an expert judge in their key interest—so how then does a collector learn to be a good connoisseur?
The speaker of the night, a collector and a connoisseur, Manson Wang, established that to be a good connoisseur, one has to thoroughly know the object and be familiar and in touch with it instead of merely reading about the object from books or learning about the object from experts in the field. Providing vivid analogies as he spoke, Wang stated that a good collector has to be familiar with the object of interest just as he or she is familiar with food. He also reminded the audience that an object has three dimensions; hence a good collector has to go beyond simply looking at the object of collection. For instance, a jade collector needs to feel the jade in order to understand the different variations in texture.
It is perhaps this cultivation of first-hand knowledge that will enable a true connoisseur to intuitively discern the authenticity of a piece of art, as discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink.
In order to examine the different ways in which experts evaluate objects, Wang then compared the judgments of the two British jade scholars, S. Howard Hansford and Jessica Rawson. While Hasford looks at jade with a careful intensity backed by years of experience, Rawson relies on archaeological experience to judge authenticity.
Pointing out that collectors in the past did not have archaeology to fall back on, Wang concluded that good connoisseurs need not rely strictly on archaeological principles but they should build up their judgement through direct interaction and familiarization with the object.
Manson Wang has collected a wide range of jades since the late 1970s. He writes frequently on Chinese art and has made donations to many museums. He published a catalogue of his Song ceramic collection, 50 Song Ceramics From Laiyantang Collection, last year.