Archive of Posts by Janet Brunckhorst

Manager of Web and Digital Media, Asian Art Museum

Artist Toyin Odutola’s New Rendition

IYANU by Toyin Odutola, 2013. Pen ink and marker on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

IYANU by Toyin Odutola, 2013. Pen ink and marker on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, NY.

Toyin Odutola and I were planning her project for the museum’s Artists Drawing Club since last October, but we did not meet in person until the day before her event last week. Toyin graduated from the MFA program at California College of the Arts in May 2012 and moved to New York City this spring. All of our planning for this program took place over the phone, which might have been difficult if not for Toyin’s use of social media to document her art practice, an extremely helpful way to convey and understand her process. It almost felt like I was in her studio. This sensation of close connection through social media might seem like a novel and trendy idea, especially considering that she was featured in an ARTnews article, “What I Like About You: Artists to Follow on Instagram.” That type of documentation can provide practical, important information as well as reach a broad audience for her work.

During our initial talks, Toyin was really excited about a recent shift in the colors she uses in her drawings. Her new works featured a more subdued and restrained palette. We talked about how this change might be a great wayto view the museum’s collection through the formal lens of color. Ideas continued to develop after each talk and culminated in her project Rendition. While other projects in the Artists Drawing Club emphasized deliberate, face-to-face interaction between audience and artist, this project derived inspiration from Toyin’s social media practice to facilitate exchange. Using the hashtag #colormatch on Instagram and Twitter, she followed the stream of participant photos that were posted from the galleries when visitors matched the color of artworks to the swatches provided by Toyin. When she saw something of particular interest she included an element or motif from the object into the portrait she drew onsite. Along the way she shared progress online.

I interviewed Toyin right before her event.

Marc Mayer (MM): I learned that you use ballpoint pens in your drawings when I started to follow you on Instagram. You were on a flight and took pictures of a portrait in progress, which I loved seeing. Making work on an airplane made me very curious about the materials you use. What materials are you drawn to and why?

Toyin Odutola (TO): I am really drawn to ballpoint pens. The ballpoint pen is primarily seen as a writing tool, but the use of the ballpoint pen as an art material has existed since the 1950s, possibly earlier. I am drawn to pen ink for its duality, how blacks and whites are captured by the ink, how the pen is both a writing tool and an art material. It’s accessible and ubiquitous. The more layered the ink, especially if you cake it on, the more you can see the heavy dark and great light qualities of its materiality. It renders the concept of a black/white binary almost null. The ink embodies both qualities because of the nature of the viscous fluid. The ink also creates a sense of subtlety and immediacy, perfect for drawing. I’ve always been prone to drawing more than any other mode of creating. I sometimes paint, but it’s only been to support my drawing. I am attracted to materials that facilitate drawing and make its sense of immediacy. Pencils, pens, markers—these are my main tools. Sometimes I use acrylic ink and watercolors, but it all boils down to what helps the process of drawing move along smoothly and allows the ideas to flow.

Image of artwork in progress via the artist’s Instagram

Image of artwork in progress via the artist’s Instagram

MM: I am very interested in your presence on social media. How would you describe your use/practice of social media? How does it support and influence the way you work?

TO: The first introduction of my work to an audience came from interactions on social media. Concurrently, it was through the Internet and social media that I was first exposed to contemporary art and, in some way, the art world at large. I was inspired and heavily influenced by a number of burgeoning illustrators and comic-book artists who openly shared their work process. It was prior to the advent of official online tools like Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, and it involved artists of all manner of mediums, varying fields and experience, taking process shots of their works and writing about their methodology in a very open way. Needless to say, it was a major part of my art education at the time. Through these various artists’ process blogs, I learned about materials, lighting, color—you name it, all from and the dialogues these posts generated.

I started my Tumblr blog around 2009, when I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to pursue art making. It became a space for me to explore artistic methods, theory and materials. I also used my blog as a catalog of how I felt while working. Initially, the blog was only viewed by me. I hardly had any followers and, honestly, that wasn’t my aim in the beginning. Soon, other artists, writers and designers began commenting on my posts. They would ask questions about what I was making, why I was making such work, and why I was using these materials –all questions I hadn’t really asked myself. The best interactions were getting recommendations to look at other artists I had not known, and artistic movements I had not yet studied. From that dialogue my work began to progress, and my independent art education blossomed. By the end of 2009 I was convinced I wanted to be an artist. It inspired me to apply for graduate school.

One could say I should thank the Internet for helping me get on the track I’m on today.

Today there are many more people viewing my work on social media. The response has really blown me away and often I am confronted with questions about why I share so much about my studio work online. In my mind, it is no different from the illustrator and comic-book artist blogs that inspired me. Maybe the difference is the art world, and that artists aren’t always comfortable or encouraged to share so much of their process, which is a shame. Maybe there is a flipside of sharing too much, where people give you direction on work instead of talking about ideas, which can be disconcerting. I am more interested in a constructive critique, friendly suggestions and, in some rare cases, collaboration.

Social media is a tool to connect to a different audience. I’m thinking of that kid, like myself not too long ago, who doesn’t have access to galleries or museums or studios; giving her/him a chance to see the day-to-day drudge of it all. To show people that, in the end, it’s all about the work. It’s not all glamorous, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important, meaningful and educational.

MM: I am curious if you think of your work as portraiture? Do any elements in your work challenge traditional portraiture? Does the concept of portraiture have any interest for you?

TO: I don’t mind being labeled as a portraitist; however, like everything that goes on in my studio, I’m not beholden to the practice. I admire portraiture and it is the main platform I use to create my works, but to limit my work to just creating portraits isn’t the case either. I admit, I am drawn to many artists who took more ownership of the term, such as John Singer Sargent, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Hans Holbein the Younger. But there are other artists who have used the parameters of portraiture beyond its initial purpose, such as Charles White, Kerry James Marshall, Alex Katz and Chuck Close.

I use portrait for conceptual means. I like some of the restrictions of portraiture. It’s a very basic premise. You are capturing the essence of a person at a certain time and place, but from there you can manipulate any of these elements and still constitute a portrait. I want to create spaces where things aren’t so concrete, spaces that aren’t so certain. The more you try to pin a feeling of a person down, it slips, no? I try my best to pin down that essence, which is crazy. How can you pin down something so abstract visually? You can try to capture it with color or various lines, but I know that part of a person is invention; part of what makes up an individual cannot be represented. That’s why I love portraiture.

We are living in a time when there is a plethora of ways and forms of portraiture. I like to carve out my own niche and create works that are distinctive, but also heavily entrenched in our contemporary moment. The fact that there are many ways of creating a portrait makes me more inclined to restrict the format: to decontenxualize the space surrounding a subject; to enhance the focus and emphasize a feature (skin, eyes, hair); to help the viewer to pay attention more intimately. I have been developing this focus of these portraits since 2009 and will continue to work on this a little longer. But what the future holds for me in portraiture is uncertain.

MM: You have mentioned that skin is really important in your work. What draws you to skin? Why do you find it so compelling?

TO: Skin is important because it is the singular feature where I can express the varying rhythms and lines that convey meaning or even poignancy. When it comes to how I draw skin, it may be the primary subject of the work, but what I hope is that skin becomes a gateway to how to read a person’s subjectivity. This has political implications related to the way people justify prejudice based on skin color. I want to invert this process and create a more positive and thoughtful outcome. I want to change people’s perception of skin, from seeing only the stereotype to seeing a fully formed, complex individual. Skin can be a vehicle to change ones perception, but that isn’t the end result of my work in and of itself.

MM: Do you listen to music while you work? What are three songs, artists or albums you are currently listening to?

TO: Yes, but it’s more of a tossup between music and movies. I love watching documentaries while working, which really means I love listening to them. Podcasts and audiobooks are great for my process. I get the visual experience through my drawing, so the experience of listening to great conversations and stories is ideal. Sometimes certain excerpts or random texts find their way into the titles of the drawings.

Right now, I’m obsessed with the band Inc., particularly their song “5 Days,” which has been on repeat in my studio. Also, two SOHN’s songs: “The Wheel” and “Bloodflows.” As for a third, I guess that would be the Spinners’ “I’ll Be Around.” It’s one of my all-time favorites. Generally, I listen to just about anything that comes on shuffle from my computer. Lately, it’s been electronic music for some reason.

MM: You mentioned that Asian art has influenced you and your work. What is your interest in the Asian Art Museum and Asian culture?

TO: I’ve visited the Asian Art Museum while living in San Francisco, and I enjoyed the collection and its diversity and saw some very interesting exhibitions. I like that you always find something new or different whenever you visit. I also love that James Jean is a part of the collection. I am a HUGE fan of his work. As for Asian cultural and aesthetic influences, I have been fascinated with Japanese art history, especially printmaking, and, I’ll admit it, manga and anime culture have interested me since I was a kid. As an undergraduate in Alabama I obsessed over Chinese literati works and posters from the 1950s and ’60s.

The irony is, whenever I get asked about my influences for art, I have to say manga. I wasn’t one of those kids who knew at the age of five that I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t have that sort of precocious insight. I was like any other kid, just going through the motions. I didn’t even think of myself as an artist until I was about to graduate high school and start university. I read comics voraciously when I was young. I loved that the illustrative platform allowed and inspired a variety of ways to express narrative. The graphic nature of the work is what fascinated me most. Artists such as Takehiko Inoue, for instance, really influenced how I looked at art and what I enjoyed: sumptuous detail and pattern language; various ways of enhancing thick, rich blacks, and the infinite ways in which one could express a moment in a face or individual features, such as the eyes. I guess you could say that’s where it all started for me. Manga and anime continue to influence me.

MM: What is the project you are working on for the Artists Drawing Club?

TO: The project is Rendition, a collaboration between you and me. We’ve been discussing it for about a year now, and it came from this idea of incorporating the Asian Art Museum’s collection into a project. I was excited about creating a work that had some connection to the works on view. I had begun working with a more polychromatic palette only recently, and it was interesting to think about this change. I also work in a very controlled manner, so the possibility of creating a work in a site-specific way intrigued me.

I like the notion of having the color palette influence the potential of a work. Normally, when I set out to create a drawing, I lay out which colors I wish to enhance and explore. For Rendition, we looked at features in the museum’s collection and narrowed the colors down to five. From there the project takes a sort of interactive turn. We wanted to include the audience, and although the idea of drawing on site is different from my studio method, you suggested taking the experience a step further: having the audience go through the collection and find the colors in the works, all while I draw the portrait on site, cataloging the colors found via social media. Of course, I would like to finish the work in the time slot of the same day, so I will be working on the piece a little ahead of the scheduled event, but I will be keeping track of the logs while I am working.

What excited me the most (and sort of terrified me) was the idea of having this entire thing documented with a live video projection. This gives the audience a chance to see my method in person, in real time, something which I tend to do mainly through social media platforms, i.e. my blog and Instagram. It gives the audience a chance to see the evolution of a work, and it bridges the gap between the studio and exhibition. I look forward to it all. I just hope I don’t make too much of a mess of it. Right now, I am still planning which portrait to draw. I have a few sketches laid out. I suppose it won’t be revealed until the event takes place.

3D printing for everyone

A few months ago I got an email from a young entrepreneur with a product to push.

As you can imagine, I get a lot of unsolicited emails trying to sell the museum products and services. I’ll be honest with you—most of them just get deleted. But this one stood out. Will Drevno had something we couldn’t ignore.

I replied right away.

Now we have the privilege of being one of the first users of the Dreambox. It’s a 3D printing vending machine. Cool doesn’t even begin to describe this.

The Dreambox team installing the 3D printing vending machine.

The Dreambox team installing the machine.

The team at Dreambox have taken a consumer-level 3D printer and modified it for use in a vending machine context. The printer sits in a plexiglass case, so you can see it working. Using a tablet interface, visitors can purchase the model that just printed. We’re offering models of objects from our collection; at the moment there are just two, but we’ll be adding more soon.

This is a trial for us and for Dreambox. They’ve had a machine on campus at Berkeley for a while, but this version is their first production model. That means they’re tweaking the interface and the models as they go along, making changes based on observation and visitor feedback. As you’d expect with a new piece of equipment, things don’t always go exactly to plan, but the Dreambox team is on call to sort out customer issues.

For us, we’re building on what we learned in our earlier Scanathon, where we had artists photograph objects from the collection to create 3D models. We’re interested in how our visitors might want to use these objects; taking them home is one option.

So next time you’re at the museum, stop by and check out the machine in South Court, near the store. Maybe buy yourself a little Nandi, or just watch it print for a while. And tell us what you think. We’re all learning from this one.

Copy Right/Copy Left with Artist Lordy Rodriguez

Untitled 809 (Murakami/Kors) by Lordy Rodriguez 2013. Ink and artificial gems on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery.

Untitled 809 (Murakami/Kors) by Lordy Rodriguez 2013. Ink and artificial gems on paper. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery.

I vividly remember my studio visit with Lordy Rodriguez last fall. It was my first trip to Hayward since I had moved to San Francisco the previous year. The whole experience felt like an adventure. I have a very great appreciation for being invited into artists’ studios, and I felt the same way as I walked into Lordy’s studio. One can tell a lot about an artist’s practice from the way he or she arranges the space and organizes art supplies. One thing is certain: the precision of his drawings is matched by the precision of his organization of materials, from paper to markers.  This video should illustrate what I mean by the precision needed to make these drawings.

Lordy showed me a drawing in progress for his show Code Switch at Hosfelt Gallery, which closed last week. As I pored over the drawing, we talked everything: neighborhoods and cultural districts, brands, language, typography, and topography as they related to this new body of work. Between these ideas, layered with the intricacies of the artwork’s patterns, and combined with a unique system of mapping, there was something different happening with this work. During this visit I learned that Lordy and I share an affinity for reality television, and we are both pretty open about how it inspires each of our respective work. I interviewed Lordy about how his Artists Drawing Club project Copy Right/Copy Left might engage with some of these ideas.

Gangnam America Detail

Gangnam America (detail) by Lordy Rodriguez, 2013. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery.

Marc Mayer: When we first started talking about your participation in the Artists Drawing Club, you were in the middle of working on your recent show at Hosfelt Gallery, called Code Switch. During a visit to your studio you showed me a work in progress, now titled Gangnam, America. I was really struck by the work and your use of words/text, but also a certain visual language. Can you describe this work, your original thinking behind it, and the show as it relates?

Lordy Rodriguez: I knew that I wouldn’t have many pieces with text in the show; actually this is the only one. It was just this one piece that helped set the course for the show. I wanted to treat text the same way I was treating the visual languages that I was using. The premise for this show was to experiment with the meaning and cultural context associated with visual languages by using cartography as a “grammatical” infrastructure.

The name Gangnam, America came from the popular YouTube music video Gangnam Style, a pop song by South Korean rapper and singer PSY in 2012. At the time I was working on this piece, this song was at the height of its long popularity. The music video takes tropes from western rap, hip hop, and pop videos that seem to concentrate on emphasizing personal style and identity. The name Gangnam itself is derived from the Gangnam District, which is a very affluent area in Seoul. It is similar in stature to Beverly Hills or Ginza in Tokyo. PSY uses the cache of Gangnam to represent an ideal identity. This kind of identity appropriation is seen a lot in American music videos, and PSY capitalizes on that so well with this video. By using the cache of a place and the visual languages that are used to support that kind of identity appropriation—it was this idea that really set the foundation for this piece.

All the names in this piece are the entertainment districts in the U.S. that I gathered from Wikipedia and Google searches to create a data set of sorts. The core of “mapping” is the data set. By using a source that is most commonly available, I’m getting the most accessed data set regardless of its accuracy. Accuracy has never been a focus of my work.

These neighborhoods run the range from corporate entertainment districts by developers like Omni in Miami, which centers around the Omni Mall—once culturally thriving, gay neighborhoods that have gentrified and became popular shopping districts like South Beach in Florida and North Beach in San Francisco—and old historic neighborhoods that are now hosts to clubs and bars like the Gaslamp District in San Diego. The neighborhood you live or where you go out can act as a signifier in the same way that the clothes you wear, the music you listen too, and the TV you watch do. All of these elements, the visual look of the text, the background water of the Burberry pattern (another visual signifier with cache), and the reference to the music video Gangnam Style are all concepts that set the foundation for the rest of the work in the show. It really serves as conceptual guide to the various ways I use visual languages in the other works in the exhibition.

MM: I find the title of show really interesting. Code Switch can be applied in so many ways. What significance does the title have for you?

LR: I am making a direct correlation between visual language and verbal/spoken language. Code switch is a linguistic term that refers to conversational switching between differing languages. That term has expanded to include other elements like accents, slang, and individual utterances. An example of this linguistic code switching is “Have a hotdawg, y’all.” The code switch is starting with the New York accent of hotdawg and switching tone with the southern vernacular term y’all. I like to think that I am doing the visual equivalent of code switching. By using popular and recognizable visual patterns that already have a meaning in the social dictionary, I can make “etymological” lineages or connections between those visual languages without changing the original meaning.

MM: How did your thinking for this project develop?

LR: My work using the concept of mapping is essentially a way to explore notions of identity. At first, I used it to figure out my own identity and how complex it can be. Now it is more an exploration of the things that can signify identity like how we consume entertainment and culture, from the ways we embody music or wear fashion to reflect or even influence identity. It is interesting to think that some of the most “successful” artists are the ones who seem able to create a “brand” for themselves and their work.

An art collection is also loaded with signifiers as well, things that might tell us something about the collector, whether it is their personality, interests, a certain perspective with which they view the world. I learned that Larry Ellison’s Japanese art collection was coming to the Asian Art Museum and I wanted to see how his collection might reflect some element about his sense of the world. To be transparent, my mother works for Oracle so the company “brand” has become of part of my family. This brand culture trickles down from the corporate identity, which impacts her experiences, and trickles down further when it influences my siblings and my interactions with her too. This is kind of where the project started.

MM: Can you describe your project Copy Right/Copy Left?

LR: For Copy Right/Copy Left I am appropriating a few of the most recognizable patterns from objects in the exhibition In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection. I will create a template where people can play with these patterns (as I interpreted them), mixing and matching them to create land masses on a map, which might look similar to one of my drawings. It is a way to get people thinking about patterns and give them a focus to view the exhibition.

People will then go into the galleries and look for a pattern they find interesting. Through their eyes, they will draw a swatch of the pattern as they interpret it. There is a little flexibility in creating this swatch. This should not be an “amazing” drawing, but more a study or a diagram that shows how each person interprets a pattern. Once someone comes out of the exhibition with this study, I will then give them a postcard-size drawing, partially completed. The drawing will show a land mass filled partly with one of the patterns I created. But this is an unfinished drawing. I am going to ask each person to take his or her study as guide and draw a pattern to complete it. I am excited to see how other peoples’ patterns interact with the patterns I created. Will the patterns match, clash, line up or not register at all? It is going to be interesting to see how these different patterns relate and speak to each other. After the drawing is completed it will be documented. Participants will give me the study or diagram they did in the galleries in exchange for the drawing they completed.

In a sense, this project is a code switch between my own visual language and the code created by each participant’s visual interpretation of patterns in the exhibition. People will be able to leave with the drawing, and I will study and interpret their diagrams and patterns to interpret and try to incorporate it into some drawings done on site. But this project also might tell a bigger story of the connective transfer of visual language and meaning that I have through my mom, Oracle, Larry Ellison, and his art collection. It becomes signatory of the evolving meaning of visual tropes, giving one more way to create a workable structure in understanding visual languages. It is more than just copying.

Come to the museum on Thursday night, July 25 at 6:30 to be part of Lordy Rodriguez’s project Copy Right/Copy Left. RSVP here and share with your friends.

IDCA Awards: Silver!

You may recall that we were finalists for the IDCA awards for our Lost Warrior campaign and our website. Well, the results are in, and we received silver in both categories.

Congratulations to the winners: Paris 3D in the website category and Pablo Picasso vs Marcel Duchamp at Moderna Museet in the Exhibition Communication category. It was an honor to be up against such great projects.

Thanks again to our amazing team:  Carbon Five, who designed and built the website; JVST, who built the Lost Warrior site; Calvin Kai Ku, who made the lost warrior come to life; our senior management team, who supported both these projects; and of course our remarkable marketing department.

 

Stepping a Little to the East with Artist Binh Danh

Yosemite Falls, October 13, 2011, 2012, by Binh Danh. Daguerreotype. Private Collection.

Yosemite Falls, October 13, 2011, 2012, by Binh Danh. Daguerreotype. Private Collection.

On June 20 photographer Binh Danh takes over the museum for one night with his Artists Drawing Club project, Step a Little to the East. The project explores desires in the context of the museum and otherworldly desires as well. It is no coincidence that this project developed in close proximity to the Pride celebration in the Civic Center. I spoke to Danh to get a little more insight into his process, how this project developed, and the challenge of creating this event.

Marc Mayer: What were your first thoughts about participating in this program? I know we discussed the invitation over email and on the phone, but I am curious about your initial response.

Binh Danh: Well, my first thought was to say no because I often find these types of projects a challenge—the social practice part of it; it’s not really the way I work. But when you mentioned to me that I could use this opportunity to explore and challenge my studio practice, that itself sounded interesting. It took lots of brainstorming to get to the final conception.

As a photographer I often think the public is not interested in my process. I mean watching someone draw is quite an amazing experience, but watching me take a picture is pretty boring because there is really no art yet until the image is developed. And also everyone already knows how to snap a picture. Yet, as a photo educator, I often wonder does everyone really know how to photograph.

Keeping photography as part of the event was a must for me because it is the way I think as an artist. The other deterrent for me was the title itself, “The Artists Drawing Club.” I was thinking that I really don’t draw, but I do kind of draw with light and I guess that could work. It is interesting to see conceptual artists use photography in their production and how painting and sculpture departments at museums are acquiring artwork made out of photos. But I have gone off topic. Anyway, so I am interested in the practice and production of photography.

One way for me to start thinking about the project was to see if the Asian Art Museum has a photo collection, and surprisingly they do, and it’s accessible to view the images online. So I started there and arrived at this perhaps complex installation that would hopefully engage participants.

MM: Can you tell me a little bit about how Step a Little to the East developed as a project?

BD: Step a Little to the East was the title I came up with when I was thinking of making photographic backdrops with which viewers could interact. The backdrops are made from images in the museum collection. I imagine a commercial studio photographer would ask a client to move left or right to get a nice composition. But in this case with the photographic backdrop, I’m asking the viewer to consider a visit to the Asian Art Museum as a visit to the East, back in time. Especially for Asian Americans it’s a way for us to connect with our imagined past. So I had this idea for a possible event, but we spoke and realized that there had to be more here. What is it about photographing someone in front of this sort of backdrop? And you mentioned that the museum had a no-flash photo policy regarding their collections. I was thinking that we often see a lot of museum visitors photographing themselves with the artwork. I always thought that was fun to see, as if they are photographing themselves in front of a temple.

So the idea started to snowball, and all of a sudden I’m considering my own desire and sexuality for this project. So there is a lot here and a lot will be revealed on the night of the event. But in short, I hope to engage viewers about how the Asian Art Museum influences our imagination of Asia as a land and Asians as a people by looking, talking, and questioning objects of wonder from the East. I say “wonder” because the objects I used to make the backdrops were landscapes viewed through Western eyes (a painting by the American designer and artist Lockwood de Forest [1850­–1932] and an album of prints by photographers from the Collection of William K. Ehrenfeld, M.D., both currently on view).

Lockwood

One of the twenty-four ghats at Mathura, 1894, by Lockwood de Forest (American, 1850–1932). Oil on canvas. From the Collection of William K. Ehrenfeld, M.D., 2005.64.116

Considering all of this I am now thinking of the Asian Art Museum as a place for “desire.” Why do we visit the museum beyond intellectual curiosities? Are we looking for home? Are we trying to travel to the past? Do we wish to take an artwork/artifact home with us? Are we looking for a date or going on a date? Are we looking for some sort of arousal? What are we seeking by visiting this museum?

So I was thinking of these questions for myself about my own relationship to the museum. There’s a lot to discuss here but the turning point for me was when I considered one of my large-format cameras. This 1900s camera is from India. I have used it to photograph the American landscape as if I was seeing it for the first time; I objectified the land like 19-century photographers did in Asia and the Americas. I recall the day I unpacked this camera from its shipping box; there was this amazing musky smell that one could only identify as coming from Asia, the smell of maybe old wood that had rot in a way that is pleasant to the nose. This olfactory experience made me high and nostalgic for India, a place I have never visited before.

From this sense of smell, I made a leap into a sense of sexual intimacy. My own sexual awakening came at a very early age when I was a boy working in my parent’s movie rental shop. To pass the time, I would watch many movies, usually on VHS or laserdisc that the distributor sent us. As I recall, my parents never really selected any movies to display for rental; the movies usually came in bulk, although there was an X-rated section that I was not allowed to browse. One movie in particular had a big effect on me and perhaps informed my own sexual desires: My Beautiful Laundrette, a 1985 British comedy-drama written for the screen by Hanif Kureishi. It wasn’t until later in high school that I truly understood these feelings and came to the conclusion that I would never be straight. My Beautiful Laundrette was the first gay film I had ever seen. So for the Artists Drawing Club, I considered all of these elements and will be creating an installation to address some of these complexities and ask visitors to consider some of these questions for themselves.

MM: This event seems different from your other work. Is it a departure for you? How would you explain this project in the context of your art practice?

BD: Yes, in a way this project is a little different from my signature work, at least the way it looks, but conceptually it has issues and concepts I have been thinking about: what make us, us? What makes me, me? How does our experience shape our lives, both real and imagined—our hopes, fears, desires? I feel that all these “worries” do play out in my work, but this is the first time I am dealing with sexuality and in particular my own, because June is gay pride month. So, happy gay pride everyone; I hope you come to the event next Thursday, June 20.

MM: How do you want to interact with visitors/participants? What do you want people to get from this event?

BD: First and foremost, I want visitors to have fun. I’m going to suggest to them some “tasks” to perform during the night with objects in the collection. Many objects in the museum feel really serious because some of them are religious, but I imagine the stories they hold are much livelier than how they are displayed. Many of the items are functional objects like jewelry or ceramics. I think that, secretly, many of us would want to wear or use these items. “How would these beautiful earrings look on our girlfriends?” I’m sure men would want to imagine themselves wearing the samurai armor. I imagine how amazing a delicious Thai dinner served to us on Thai ceramics would taste. And those lingams, phallic Hindu sculptures—ok I’ll stop there. I’m going to have participants consider some of their own desires and seek it out in the museum.

IDCA Awards: We’re Finalists!

We’re very excited today because we are finalists in two categories of the International Design Communication Awards.

Our website made the finals in Best Website, and our Lost Warrior campaign is a finalist in the Best Exhibition Communication category.

Our Lost Warrior says goodbye at SFO

Our Lost Warrior says goodbye to our marketing team, Ami and Jenn, at SFO.

Both these projects were huge for the museum, so kudos to the team who made it all happen. Special thanks to our partner Carbon Five, who designed and built the website, to partner JVST who built the Lost Warrior site, and to the remarkable Calvin Kai Ku, who truly made the warrior come to life.

The winners will be announced in a cavern in Stockholm (yes, really, a cavern) on July 5. Wish us luck!

Artists Drawing Club is here

Procession

Towards a Creole Procession

On Thursday, February 28 the Asian Art Musesum launched a new contemporary art program series called the Artists Drawing Club. The Artists Drawing Club is a salon of sorts.  Every month a local contemporary artist is invited to use the museum as a project platform, drawing inspiration from the collection, special exhibitions, the building, or the surrounding neighborhood to create an interactive event for the public to engage with museum through the artist’s process.  The inaugural event featured artist Ranu Mukherjee and future session will include artists Amy M Ho, Julie Chang, Weston Teruya, Binh Danh, Lordy Rodriguez, Toyin Odutola, and Ala Ebtekar over the next eight months. I spoke with Ranu just before the first event about the project and the process of working at the museum.

Marc Mayer: The Artists Drawing Club grew out of conversations I had with Imin Yeh and other local artists while working on the event at the museum, Taking Up Space which was part of Yeh’s larger project SpaceBi. Knowing the development of this series, what interested you about this opportunity?

Ranu-HeadshotRanu Mukherjee: I was excited about the idea of doing a site specific project in the museum that would respond to the objects and their positioning as historical and cultural artifacts. This opportunity seemed like it would challenge me. It is outside of my comfort zone, yet it also connects with some very core elements of my work. I was sold on it by your enthusiasm and vision, as well as the fact that it felt like such a perfect way to engage the class of graduate students I am teaching at California College of Art (CCA) this semester. It seemed to be a really nice scale of event. Rather than a bigger spectacular kind of proposition, I really liked the sense that the event might be a place to actually experiment with ideas in a public yet intimate format.

MM: What are some of those “core elements” of your work that have a connection to the museum?

RM: I’ve been working with Indian mythological images from the 19th Century for a few years now. I am interested in the way that these images are so familiar and accessible and have become part of popular culture, yet were not addressed in the my art school education, which was based in Euro-American art historical framework. I like to think about and question patterns of cultural influence and how objects embody those patterns.

I think that many of the artifacts in the museum’s collection possess the power of being immediately accessible, even if the specific stories attached to them are not. I am intrigued by the consistent presence of the archaic or ancient in the contemporary moment and the difficulty to imagine a future without these influences. While my reasons for being interested in the idea of Asia have a personal origin, they also engage with current narratives about the ‘rise of Asia’ and how those stories might manifest at the intersection of culture, matter and economics.

Orange-Chimera

Ranu Mukherjee, Orange Chimera, Narottam Narayan,2012. 19 x 19inches. Ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

MM: Can you tell me more about the class you are teaching at CCA?

RM: The class is a studio lab comprised of 6 MFA students, and part of CCAs Engage program.

It is called ‘Towards a Creole Procession’ and looks at ways that mixed cultural heritage can appear in aesthetics as well as how artists think and work with the idea of ancestry, whether in line with dominant cultural heritage or in contrast. I was excited to work with students to explore the idea of ancestry in relation to contemporary art, because these can seem incommensurable. Framing an artwork as a cultural or historical artifact positions it as a vessel for understanding a larger society and conditions wherein it was produced, while framing work as contemporary art brings the subject of the artist to the forefront. I think good work is always both, yet it matters how the work is contextualized. How does one balance this delicate act, merging the historic/cultural with the contemporary? The class allows us to focus on some of these questions.

The second half of the class will continue a conversation we have started with Leah Gordon, a London based artist, filmmaker and curator. She has been curating the Ghetto Biennale in Haiti with Andre Eugene of the Grand Rue sculptors group, Atis Rezistans. The class will be held at the Luggage Store Annex/ Tenderloin National Forest for the rest of the semester and will culminate in a workshop with Leah and Eugene about the ever presence of ancestors in Haitian culture,  tactics used by artists like Atis Rezistans, and ways these artists’ work is received outside of Haiti.

MM: What are you planning for the Artists Drawing Club at the Asian Art Museum this Thursday?

RM: I, along with the six MFA students in the class (Dimeng Brehmer, Jamie Emerick, Maral Hashemi, Laura Arminda Kingsey, Opesanwo Omoifa and Tali Weinberg) will conduct a procession that travels through the permanent collection galleries on the third floor and concludes in Samsung Hall. Each artist is devising a piece that responds to a specific object in the collection. Some performances will be ongoing throughout the procession and others will halt the group to let an artwork unfold. It is an attempt to re-animate some of the objects or images we see in the vitrines or on the walls in the museum. All of us are engaging with distortions of history, personal associations, interpretations and translations to intervene and reimagine these works as artifacts for the future.

MM: What interested you about the concept of a procession?

RM: Originally I had thought of the procession as being a fiction around which we could make artifacts. I wanted to take the format of the procession as the starting point for our studio lab. The procession embodies and honors mixes of culture and heritage. I think the format, especially considering our project at the museum, allows each person participating to work with what is meaningful for them, while tackling some of the complexity around cultural representation in the context of cultural heritage. I also liked the idea that a procession physically maps out a place while also blurring boundaries. The procession can blur the role of audience from spectators to participants. At a most basic level, if you walk with us, you become part of the procession.

MM: What has the process of working on this project been like for you and your students?

RM: We have been working at the museum for the last month. During our first class we explored the collection galleries. Each of us chose a few objects that spoke to us in some way. We narrowed it down further selecting objects that might be more dynamic in the context of audience engagement. During the next class we had the opportunity to research these object in the museum’s library.  We also met with multidisciplinary artist Dohee Lee who discussed her performance-based work. As visual artists, we are not as well verse in performance yet it is a skill we need to employ for this project. Dohee’s perspective and insights gave us strategies to help animate the procession.

The process has made me realize that making an ephemeral work in the context of a museum, with all its limitations is going to contribute a lot to the content of the project. It has been really exciting to start the class right in the middle of this amazing collection-outside of a classroom- because we are immediately steeped in the ideas that the course was designed to consider. It has been remarkable to witness the way that these objects affect us in the present, through watching the students’ responses unfold.

For more information about Ranu’s work you can visit her web site.

Mukherjee’s studio research lab is part of ENGAGE at CCA, an initiative merging project-based learning with community engagement. center.cca.edu/engage.

After a Night Rain

Chen Xianzhang, After a Night Rain.

After a Night Rain by Chen Xianzhang, 1428–1500. China. Ink on paper. Museum purchase, B68D6.

Our librarian John recently translated a poem from a work in our collection. Below is the original Chinese text and his beautiful English translation; above is the calligraphy. We hope you enjoy it.

陳獻章  : (雨夜後詩)

蒼山收雨鵓鳩靈

曉雨松花對曉晴

風日醉花花醉鳥

竹門啼過两三聲

 

After a Night Rain

—-Chen Xianzhang

When it rains in these blue-green hills

The pigeons become ghosts:

(unseen,

unheard).

Yet,

When sparkling-dry daybreak comes

& the pines and flowers,

alike,

Greet the brilliant dawn,

Then

The birds, like the flowers, flutter

Drunkenly

In the brilliant breeze,

Even now,

I hear their cries penetrate the

Bamboo gate.

The staff of the Asian Art Museum are saddened to hear of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, this morning. Our thoughts are with all those who are suffering today.

Sho Kannon is one of the most popular deities in the Japanese Buddhist pantheon. As an agent of the Buddha Amida, he watches over all of humankind and extends his limitless compassion to all sufferers.

Sho Kannon

Standing bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Sho Kannon), approx. 794-1185. Japan. Wood with traces of lacquer and gilding. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S420.

Eighth Wonder: Eight Gifts

As you’re getting ready for the holidays, we’re getting ready to welcome the Terracotta Warriors to the west coast. Sometimes called the Eighth Wonder of the World, Xi’an’s famous denizens are unique and awe-inspiring. They will be appearing at the Asian Art Museum from February 22, 2012—perfect timing for a memorable holiday gift. Here are eight gift ideas to get your holiday shopping underway:

1. The most economical way to see the warriors is to become a member of the museum. Memberships start at $75 for a year of free entry for two adults (children under 12 are always free). Special exhibitions are always free for members.

2. If you’re a planner, you could grab some advance tickets for the exhibition. Tickets are already selling fast, so lock in your preferred date now. Adults $20 weekdays, $22 weekends (children under 12 free).

3. Big family? Bunch of friends? Book a group visit, with discounted admission for groups of 10 or more (adults $18 weekdays, $20 weekends). To make the experience really special, add a private tour of the exhibition.

Maybe you like a gift you can put a bow on. Luckily, the museum store is full of beautiful items—many of them artworks in their own right—for all ages.

 

4. Sterling silver jewelry from Johnson Hui  These hand-crafted pendants recall the graceful movements of calligraphy. Sleek and contemporary, each piece is unique and will add a dramatic look for a special occasion. $100 – $475

5. Zen Collection Jewelry.  Inspired by forms and designs of the Qin Dynasty, these sterling silver pieces are rhodium plated.  Rhodium, a member of the platinum family of metals, has been used for centuries to plate jewelry to create vibrant pieces.  Rhodium gives a very bright finish without the need to polish and is hypoallergenic. The collection includes earrings, necklaces, bracelets and even cufflinks. $25 – $185

6. Buddha Boards. Enjoy practicing your calligraphy or just painting to watch the board transform.  Slowly the image fades to create a blank canvas for new inspirations. Each set includes the Buddha Board, brush and water tray/stand. Everything you need for hours of artistic enjoyment. $34.95

7. Batik scarves from Java.  These beautiful scarves use a combination of hand drawing and stamping to create delicate patterns before they are hand dyed in a several step process.  Lightweight and dynamic these scarves are a perfect gift. $20 – $135

Batik scarves8. Gifts for kids.  We have a wide range of stories, with over 100 titles that explore the tales and cultures from across Asia. Other gift ideas for our younger visitors include dolls, puppets, puzzles, language blocks and more.  Ask our staff about their favorites.