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Asian Art Scholar Colin C. Mackenzie Named Senior Curator of Early Chinese Art
Colin C. Mackenzie, Senior Curator of Early Chinese Art, beside a seventh century Guardian Lion, one of the earliest acquisitions in 1933 of Chinese art by The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

KANSAS CITY, MO.- Colin C. Mackenzie, an internationally respected scholar in Asian art, has joined The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art as its Senior Curator of Early Chinese Art. He comes to Kansas City from Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, where he was the Robert P. Youngman Curator of Asian Art and adjunct professor in the school’s Department of History of Art and Architecture.

“I am thrilled Colin has joined the Nelson. He has that rare combination of attributes that are hallmarks of a great curator. His scholarship is, of course, impeccable. But success in his position requires a passionate but discriminating love of the object, first as powerful aesthetic achievement capable of arousing and sustaining aesthetic experiences in today’s audiences and, second, as example of material culture that opens windows on to the human condition that motivated the creation of the work in the first place,” said Marc C. Wilson, the Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/CEO of the Nelson-Atkins.

As senior curator, Mackenzie has primary responsibility for interpreting and developing Chinese collections at the Museum which span almost 7,000 years: the Neolithic Period (c. 6000-2000 B.C.E.) through the Tang Dynasty (618-906 C.E.).

“The early Chinese collection ranks among the most important in the United States. The consistently outstanding level of quality is astonishing and a tribute to the remarkable scholarship and taste of the previous curators of Chinese art who built the collection,” Mackenzie said.

The new curator’s immediate priorities are to begin reinstalling three Chinese galleries and to return to display the Chinese ritual bronzes and early ceramics. A plan also calls to enhance the display in the main Chinese Gallery adjacent to the Temple Room. In addition, Mackenzie will be working with colleagues to develop a master plan for a comprehensive reinstallation of the Chinese galleries.

Wilson noted that the basic layout of the Museum’s renowned Chinese collection goes back to the late 1940s. “A major conceptual reassessment of the installation and its goals was long overdue. That reassessment has begun with Colin’s critical participation. He will be responsible for leading the development of the planning and overseeing the implementation of the new installation of what is arguably the Museum’s most important collection, bringing it up to the standards set by recent installations of other collections at the Nelson-Atkins,” Wilson said.

Mackenzie said he was passionate about helping visitors of all ages appreciate the Museum’s Chinese masterworks: “It is an immense privilege to have this opportunity to work with one of the greatest collections of Chinese art and I am thrilled at the prospect. The collection is already well known to scholars, but perhaps not as familiar to the general public as it should be,” Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie brings with him 20 years experience as a professional in Asian art, 15 as curator. His doctorate in Asian art is from the University of London with a specialty in early China where he also received his bachelor’s degree in Chinese art and archaeology. He also has been Associate Director and Curator of Asian Art at the Asia Society, New York, and curator and head of the Department of Asian Art at Yale University Art Gallery.

Mackenzie has curated or helped curate more than 20 exhibitions. He negotiated loans with Chinese cultural authorities for: Monks and Merchants: Silk Road Treasures from Northwest China; Asian Games: The Art of Contest; and Gilded Splendor: Treasures from China’s Liao Empire. Other exhibitions for which he was responsible included: Artists and Ancestors: Classical Chinese Paintings and Ancient Ritual Bronzes from a Private Collection; The Jade Studio: Masterpieces of Ming and Qing Painting and Calligraphy from the Wong Nan-p’ing Collection; and At the Dragon Court: Chinese Embroidered Mandarin Squares from Schuyler V.R. Cammann Collection.

Among his many publications are several relating to the importance of games in Chinese culture. He has also published and lectured on Chinese bronzes, textiles, lacquers and wood carving.

“Many pieces with which I will now be working are world famous and have been featured in the standard surveys of Chinese art,” Mackenzie said. “They include the early sixth-century stone sarcophagus engraved with scenes of filial piety that is a cornerstone for our understanding of early Chinese pictorial art, and a celebrated jade bi disk adorned with striding dragons dated to the fourth or third century B.C.E.”

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art | scholarship | Chinese | Gallery | Marc C. Wilson |

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