Using boards, pieces, and other game-playing paraphernalia as well as paintings, prints, and decorative arts that depict people playing games, Asian Games: The Art of Contest explores the role of games as social and cultural activities in the diverse societies of pre-modern Asia. It also highlights the paramount importance of Asia as a source of many games—chess, backgammon, Parcheesi, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, and playing cards, not to mention polo and field hockey—now played in the West. In addition to games familiar to Western audiences, the exhibition also examines the Japanese shell-matching game (kai-oi) and incense competition (jishu-ko).
Drawing on major collections of Asian art in the United States, Europe, and Japan, Asian Games comprises approximately two hundred objects, including spectacular examples of games sets dating from the twelfth to nineteenth centuries; Persian and Indian court paintings and illuminated manuscripts of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries; and Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings, screens, ceramics, and decorative arts. It also features a game room where visitors can play some of the major board games addressed in the exhibition, including chess, backgammon, weiqi (go in Japan), and pachisi. For the first time at the museum, labels written with younger visitors in mind accompany selected objects.
Asian Games: The Art of Contest is organized by the Asia Society, New York. Major support was provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support is provided by United Airlines. Funding for the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery presentation has been provided by the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries, with additional support from Glenna and David Osnos and H. Christopher Luce and Tina Liu. Media sponsor is Washington Parent magazine.