NEW YORK – Internationally-renowned architect David Ling has spent his career creating uniquely minimalist spaces all around the world – but it's his self-described "umbilical cord still attached to China" that he always comes back to. For our upcoming auction Saturday at Sotheby's: Asian Art, Ling designed an exhibition space that both celebrates the traditions and history of Asia, as well as embraces its borderless, timeless understanding of sheer, understated beauty. Here, Ling shares his plans for the exhibit, opening on 10 March, his favourite lots and what Chinese architecture has in common with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
PHOTO: HANS NEWMAN.
What was your vision for the exhibition?
We decided to organize the exhibition into three parts. The first one, as you enter, is a garden with bronzes set on pedestals at various heights. The second part is the vignette zone, with six different vignettes composed around two boxed off areas – the idea was to harken back to a Chinese courtyard house, where the spaces are introverted and face each other rather than look outward. The third part is the rear courtyard. We’re also diffusing the light by scrimming off the view to York Avenue with folded, translucent material. In general, we’d like to have a subdued, tranquil, dark environment that illuminates the individual objects so they become a kind of light source in themselves.
Are there particular themes behind the vignettes?
After viewing the lots, we chose to group them around six themes. Vignette Four is what we’d like to think of as a scholar’s room. So we have a horseshoe back armchair along with a table for reading and a collection of calligraphy, books, paintbrushes and ink wells – that type of thing. It’s reflective of an earlier time when China held the scholar very high on the social ladder. Vignette Three is more rustic – we’ve chosen this really nice table that’s much more simple and less ornamented as the centerpiece and paired it with some monochromatic ceramics and chests.
AN ILLUSTRATED PREVIEW OF THE EXHIBITION. COURTESY OF: DAVID LING.
How has Chinese furniture and design inspired you as an architect?
When Kissinger and Nixon brokered the opening of the doors back in ’79, my mom took my sister and me over to China. While I was there, I noticed the skeletal, stick-like nature of a lot of the pavilions and palaces. There’s a big commonality in terms of structural clarity and texture between what the Chinese had developed and German architecture in the twenties. It’s very similar to Mies van der Rohe, except he worked with steel instead of wood. I think there’s a lot to be learned from Chinese and Japanese architecture and how it influenced modernist architecture.
AN ILLUSTRATED PLAN OF THE EXHIBITION SPACE. COURTESY OF: DAVID LING
Is it the minimalism of those styles that appeals to you? What should we take from them?
Yes, I absolutely love their minimalism. When you look at Chinese architecture, especially imperial architecture, the ornament is actually quite pronounced and important. But to borrow a line from Kandinsky, it’s really the ornamentation of a line or a plane or point. I think simple, pure shapes can take on a lot of ornament and texture as long as the concept is very clear and the ornament doesn’t become a substitute for design. It should support design.
How would you describe your personal aesthetic?
It evolves. I’m very interested in space and light – I think the space an object inhabits can be as important as the object itself. I’m interested in the intrinsic beauty of certain materials, like a grain of wood or a texture of stone or a rawness of rusted steel, and extracting as much richness and meaning out of them as possible.
Above, a selection of David Ling's favourite pieces available from Saturday at Sotheby's: Asian Art.
LEAD IMAGE: TODD EBERLE.
David Ling would like to express his appreciation to the following collaborators who have made this exhibition possible:
Design Collaboration: Judy White Studio
Translucent Scrims Provided By: Precious Pieces
Area Rugs Provided By: Nanimarquina