Archive of Posts by Dany Chan

Dany Chan is Assistant Curator for Exhibition Projects at the Asian Art Museum. She serves as curatorial coordinator for special multicultural exhibitions and performs curatorial duties related to the identification, acquisition, preservation, exhibition, and interpretation of a variety of Asian art objects.

Small Things

“Monumental” is how I would describe much of the exhibition, Roads of Arabia, with its colossal stone sculptures to the massive gilded doors of the Ka’ba, putting the small things at risk of being missed. So I want to draw your attention to three pint-sized artworks for the next time you visit the exhibition.

Male figurine, 2500–2000 BCE. Probably Mesopotamia. Lapis lazuli. Courtesy of National Museum of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, 1177.

Male figurine, 2500–2000 BCE. Probably Mesopotamia. Lapis lazuli. Courtesy of National Museum of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, 1177.

This small figurine (cat. no. 39) in Gallery 1 (Osher Gallery) was discovered by chance on the island of Tarut in northeastern Arabia. It represents a seated man, wrapped in a cloak; his deep-set eyes, long hair, and beard are characteristic of statues of worshipers associated with Mesopotamia. The figure is carved in lapis lazuli, a highly-prized semiprecious stone imported from a region in present-day Afghanistan.

Scarab, 1st millennium BCE. Egypt. Tin-glazed earthenware and gold. Courtesy of National Museum of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, 2227.

Scarab, 1st millennium BCE. Egypt. Tin-glazed earthenware and gold. Courtesy of National Museum of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, 2227.

The scarab (cat. no. 185) in Gallery 2 (Hambrecht Gallery) was brought into Qaryat al-Faw in southern Arabia from Egypt. The scarab is made of tin-glazed earthenware and set into a gold mount. The back side (flat side) has Egyptian hieroglyphs that unfortunately have not been deciphered. And standing only 1.5 cm (less than an inch) tall, this object is the smallest artwork in the exhibition.

Dinar, 778–779. Saudi Arabia; Darb Zubayda, Ha’il site. Gold. Courtesy of National Museum of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, 1/A H.

Dinar, 778–779. Saudi Arabia; Darb Zubayda, Ha’il site. Gold. Courtesy of National Museum of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, 1/A H.

And finally in Gallery 3 (Lee Gallery) is a group of ten coins made of gold and silver. They were found along one of the major pilgrimage roads, and each was minted outside of the Arabian Peninsula; one as far away as Samarqand, in present-day Uzbekistan. Each gold coin is called a dinar and has a specific weight equivalent to 4.25 grams (0.15 ounce); each silver piece is called a dirham and has a specific weight equivalent to 3.0 grams (0.10 ounce). Dinar and dirham coins remained official currency until the early 20th century.

Though small, these objects testify to the Arabian Peninsula’s role as a cultural crossroads over the thousands of years that this exhibition covers.

Curator Talk: Michael Knight on the Ming Dynasty

Our own Senior Curator of Chinese Art, Michael Knight, will be giving a talk on the arts of the Yongle reign (1403-24) of China’s Ming dynasty. The Yongle (“Eternal Happiness”) emperor was certainly among the most dynamic of the Ming emperors, and also the most active in the arts. What cool things will you learn?


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UPDATED Chinese Calligraphy Meets Haute Couture

Thanks to all who participated in this little word game. Actually, you guys are right on the mark! The characters read:

Take out the hairpin,
See the reflection of the stream.
Lie in bed with books around,
Wake up to comb hair, half drunk.
— Xu Bing

These lines are adapted from a Tang-dynasty poem by Yu Xuanji 魚玄機 (842-72) titled, “Curing Yourself of Lovesickness” 遣懷.

Contemporary art and high fashion have long been partners-in-crime. Browsing the September 2011 issue of Vogue, I was delighted to come upon contemporary artist Xu Bing 徐冰 in one of the editorials! Xu is pictured here with a modeled Calvin Klein Collection shift, which, in my opinion, is a perfect pairing of a master of line and form in fashion (Klein) with a master of line and form in calligraphy (Xu). In fact, we are hoping to have Xu participate in our upcoming Chinese calligraphy exhibition (so, fingers crossed!).

Vogue Magazine (September 2011)


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UPDATED A Rediscovered Treasure?

UPDATE: The entire backside of the stele has a whole grid of inscribed Chinese characters in very legible clerical script.

detail of back side

detail of back side


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If only Picard had visited the Asian Art Museum

In the third episode of season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “Code of Honor,” Captain Picard welcomes the Ligonian leader, Lutan, aboard the Enterprise. In the two screenshots below, we see Picard presenting, as a welcome gift, a clay horse sculpture of ancient China:

season-1-code-of-honorseason-1-code-of-honor-02

Picard identifies the sculpture as a Song-dynasty work of the 14th century (Data corrects him, claiming the 13th century). However, both of them are off the mark. According to my professional eye, this glazed horse should be from the Tang dynasty (618-907)–it is a quintessential Tang horse. Compare it with this one in the collection of the Asian Art Museum:

b68p21

Notice the similarities in the glazing colors and the robust form of the horse. The horse was a prized animal in China, especially in the Tang dynasty when it represented the power and might of the empire. The Tang empire is considered to be a golden era in China’s history both in culture and in the military. So it makes sense that Picard would gift the noble Tang horse to Lutan, but I blame the writers of this episode for not having done their homework.  They should have visited the Asian Art Museum!

A Curator’s Notes – Women in Shanghai, Part 1

Historically, many battles have been fought over the body of the woman. So we knew that the images of Chinese women presented in the Shanghai exhibition would be a hot topic of discussion. Interestingly, the most passionate reactions expressed by the public have been focused on a group of images that have these two characteristics:

  1. The images were for commercial use, and
  2. The majority of them date to the 1920s and 1930s.

I am curious to understand why that is. So in this multipart series (I don’t even know how many blog postings I will need!), I will attempt to make connections that may have been missed or misread, using the artworks and the available texts in the exhibition, such as object labels, wall panels, and exhibition catalogue. But right off the bat, I must say, I am having fun with this topic and it is an incredible challenge!


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A Curator’s Notes – Why Shanghai?

Within the first day of the opening of the Shanghai exhibition on February 12, 2010, a public engagement of unexpected proportions with the art on display began.  Individuals have been writing up a storm on comment cards, comment books, news articles, and online blog postings that expressed their emotional responses to the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the exhibition material.  Added to the writings are lots of verbal feedback in various conversations with visitors, stimulating interesting buzz around the museum.  I do not want to miss out on this exciting community discussion!  This blog series, A Curator’s Notes, is where I will contribute my two cents on, and inside knowledge of, the controversial issues and hot topics presented in Shanghai at the Asian Art Museum.


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Nanjing Road: Then and Now

Nanjing Road in Shanghai has been compared to Fifth Avenue in New York.  In the 1920s and 1930s, it was the mercantile and commercial hub of the city.   As I was strolling along through the now pedestrian-only street, I got a nice surprise:  I realized that I was standing at the exact same intersection that has been pictured in this 1930s poster that will be in the exhibition Shanghai:

Nanjing Road – From Series of Views of Shanghai, after 1932

Nanjing Road – From Series of Views of Shanghai, after 1932

After having looked at this poster for the past six months, the image has been burned into my memory.  So, with this image in mind, I sought to take pictures of the same frame.


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“Shanghai Baby” and the World Expo 2010

mascot of the World Expo 2010

"Shanghai Baby" (Hai Bao 海宝), mascot of the World Expo 2010

During my recent trip to Shanghai, I became somewhat obsessed with this figure of Hai Bao, the official mascot of the World Expo 2010 to be held in Shanghai in May 2010.  Hai Bao’s name can be translated as “Shanghai Baby,” and he appears all over the city (both in Puxi and Pudong) on billboards, shop posters, and bus advertisments, just to name a few.


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The British Punch

Punch, or the London Charivari, was a popular British magazine of humour and satire (1841-2002) that gained an international reputation for two things: 1) writing with wit and irrevance, and 2) using cartoons and comics to take on world politics and society during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The magazine had served as a model for Shanghai’s most popular, and historically most important, illustrated newspaper in the late 1800s, the Dianshizhai Pictorial (1884-1898), and Punch‘s renowned cartoons also influenced the development of Chinese cartooning that experienced a “golden age” in 1930s Shanghai.


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