Archive of Posts by Nicole Harvey

I'm a bookie. But not the kind that does good maths. I help run the book department for the Asian Art Museum's Store. Yes, it is very glamorous and no, I haven't read every book. Apart from occasional missives via the internet, I take a lot of photographs, try to be a good listener, and occasionally make some art. I respond well to criticism, but better to cups of tea.

Shanghai, closer than you think

Excitement is building for Shanghai: Art of the City.

DurianDave, who runs the excellent vintage Chinese cinema blog, Soft Film, spotted us in the old Diesel site downtown.


So nice to be noticed, isn’t it?

Notable Books Asia: 2009

Considering that books are such a large part of my job, I shouldn’t find questions like “Is this book any good?” complicated.  I won’t lie to you: if I don’t like a book, I’ll tell you (sorry, capitalism).  Ultimately it’s more important to find out whether or not you like a book for yourself.  You’d think a bookseller would tell you that there are no  bad books, but unfortunately, I have my standards. The best way to tell if a book is worth it?  Start reading.

That said, I would like to break with all my usual feelings about “best-of” lists and provide for you…a best-of list.  Word on the street is that it’s going to be one cold winter, and you know that you can’t spend that much time on Facebook…
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welcome our fuzzy overlords

Did I say something in that last post about snow lions?



This Friday and Saturday, November 20-21, the Asian Art Museum Store is honored to host a trunk show featuring work from the Tibet Artisan Initiative and Dropenling Handicraft Center.

There is much more to be seen: supple leatherwork, traditional weavings, painted wood, jewelry, dolls and yaks, all of it fascinating work produced by artisans in Tibet in order to keep the folkways alive…but as you can see, I only have eyes for the felted wool cats.  Will someone please help me make up my mind?  Tiger or snow lion?

thank you for your support

In San Francisco, we’re used to hearing certain turns of phrase, perhaps to a point of weariness.  “Local-sustainable-organic” gets bandied about so much that a candle I just purchased advertises the appeal on its (post-consumerist) packaging.  But as fickle as we are, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and sometimes we simply tire of plotting out our every civic-minded detail.

But there’s one point on which I won’t budge, especially given the alarming content of this article in the Guardian UK.

Many people forget that the Museum Store is also an independent bookstore.  We sell everything from postcards on up to Qing-era architectural carvings, with a lot of curious objects in between.  I’ll likely be writing about felted wool Tibetan Snow Lions and our squishy Ganesha later this week, but a goodly amount of our square footage is given over to bookshelves which I painstakingly try to keep in OCD/Library of Congress-style order.
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Super #1 Thursday

You’ve probably heard that we’re closed Thursday nights until the Shanghai exhibition starts up next year.  Bittersweet, considering the packed Thursday evenings of the last few months, but, this meant that I could finally drag one of my hard-working colleagues out for First Thursday.  Neither of us had been to the hive of galleries at 49 and 77 Geary in a long time, which is just as well.  I find that I quickly lose steam amidst the press of cheap wine-drinking art lovers and the awkward first dates–much better to visit galleries in quiet moments after the opening, when socializing takes a backseat to the work. 
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What I did for my summer vacation

It’s a little bit of a joke with us that even when we’re not working, we’re working.  Despite traveling several thousand miles away from the museum, I still managed to get some work into my holiday.

In Berlin I visited the Pergamon Museum, which houses both the Greek Pergamon Altar and the Assyrian Ishtar Gate. While the blockbuster architectural elements were spectacular, my favorite pieces were wrought on a more intimate scale.

incensor, West Asia

incensor, West Asia
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Big Brother in Burma


It’s a much-repeated joke in Burma that George Orwell wrote not one but three books about Burma.  His Burmese Days showed Burma during the British Raj, while 1984 and Animal Farm neatly summed up the totalitarian regime that turned one of the richest countries in Southeast Asia into one of the poorest.

This is my rather roundabout way of saying that if you don’t have plans for Sunday or Monday, please go to the Red Vic Movie House to see Anders Østergaard’s Burma VJ.  I haven’t yet seen it, but a friend who exhausted herself at the last Sundance Festival said that it was probably one of the best docs she’d seen.

Usually I eschew pushing media I haven’t experienced firsthand, but the trailer gives me the shivers.  Sadly, it also reinforces the truth of the sick Orwellian joke that has been visited upon the people of Burma for too long.

This will be no passive experience, as the Burmese American Democratic Alliance and the Buddhist-inspired Clear View Project will be on hand after each evening screening for what surely will be an intense Q&A.

Please set us know what you think in the comments if you do go!

Dewa mata atode*

Ten to ten on an unusually cool morning, autumn nearly making itself known but for yesterday’s heat.  A strange charge in the empty courts of the museum, truly negative space.

Always a strange feeling–we’ve spent so much time together, and soon it will be time to say goodbye.

Memory, that persistent, unfailing shadow.  Not nostalgia, no.

We’ll remember the good times, the first glimpse of new-old treasure.

But to be honest, I’m going to be really happy that I don’t have to keep turning over the Japanese books.  For the record, in Japan, books start from the other side.

If it has the price on it and a barcode and it looks like the back of the book, it’s the back of the book.

Maybe I should have mentioned this at the beginning of the exhibition.

Yes, better luck next time on that.  We’re open, time to go upstairs.  If I get a chance to leave the building for lunch, expect a picture of some epic queue.

*ではまた後で。= “see you later.”

Love, Yayoi Kusama

I’ve a slight allergy to films about artists: how to capture and convey what is essentially an internal process?  The artist drinks! Smokes! Acts out! Scowls at canvas! Drives into a tree/ODs/walks into river!

I doubt that I’m the only one in the audience asking, “Is that all there is?”

All rather dull, really, compared with the hard work of getting up in the morning and making art, which is why films about artists tend to look at subjects that uneasily fit their environs.  I know no one’s going to watch a film about a completely stable artist who dies peacefully of old age after a life of steady production…except maybe me.

I don’t think I have to worry about Yayoi Kusama: I Love Me.  Instead of scripted histrionics, the documentary by Matsumoto Takako was made with the full cooperation of the artist, and based on the trailer, made with love.

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Guerrilla book arts: found in the museum store, made by a patron with an appreciation for a good story.

While I might grumble about how taking care of the books is like minding toddlers (put your toys back where they belong according to the Library of Congress classification!), the job is not without its merits.  The above scene was left for me this week, and the art of it was not lost on me.

Literature is rich with animal stories, and this charming tableau reminded me of a long-out-of-print children’s book, The Mouse King, by Yeshe Tsultim. Read the story here.