While Maharaja is still going strong in our galleries, behind the scenes we’re gearing up for our next major exhibition, Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past. I spoke to assistant curator of contemporary art Allison Harding about why preparing for this show is different.
What’s special about the way this show is being presented?
To deepen visitors’ experience of contemporary art, we are incorporating traditional objects into the exhibition. This approach might seem counter-intuitive but we’ve found that blending old and new art offers more entry points for the viewer, and inspires new insights about both. For me, this exhibition shows that over thousands of years art really has not changed at its core. We make things to explore and to communicate ideas, and to access realms beyond everyday life. When artisans during China’s Han dynasty handcrafted incense burners in the shape of sacred mountains, for example, they were exploring some of the same questions as today’s artists who make work about the environment: how can we respect and protect the landscape? How does it respond to our actions?
When you visit Phantoms of Asia, you’ll find contemporary objects in many collection galleries. I look forward to hearing the connections that these old and new objects spark for you.
Which works are you the most excited about seeing installed?
I am most excited about site-specific installations by Adrian Wong, Sun K. Kwak, and Heman Chong. These works will be created by the artists just before the exhibition opening. We won’t see them until we can experience them in the space. I am eager to see how visitors engage with these installations as I expect that people will have unique, personal experiences of each work.
Which works will be the most challenging to display?
For a museum of mostly traditional art, a project like Phantoms of Asia pushes many boundaries of display. Our team has taken on this challenge with creativity and an open mind. We will have live trees in our galleries, we will have art created by visitors, we will show large installations and videos, and we are building temporary walls in our collection galleries.
This show is a huge amount of work – are you going to treat yourself when it’s done?
First I will spend time enjoying the galleries. Seeing the work of 31 contemporary artists in our museum will be the biggest treat! Then I will fulfill an outstanding promise to visit barns and ride tractors in Vermont with my son.
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