Archive of Posts by Sharon Steckline

Senior Registrar, Asian Art Museum. Have worked at the Museum since 1991.

Goodbye, Terracotta Warriors


Jennifer with the truck that took the warriors away.

We’re all going to miss those wonderful Terracotta Warriors. But after their stay at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for several months, and then here at the Asian for 13 weeks, the warriors are finally on their way back to Xi’an, China.

Packing up the entire exhibition was a formidable job, as you can imagine, but we got it done in just four days — a minor miracle. We could never have accomplished this huge undertaking without the help of so many people working behind the scenes from the Preparation, Conservation and Registration departments.

We also had a team of three staff from Xi’an helping us pack the exhibition up–Messrs. Ma, Wang and Zhou–really nice guys who were very helpful in assisting us. Now that the warriors are in crates, registrars from Minneapolis Institute of Arts will travel on two separate flights with the crated exhibition objects. (Ship Art International, CASE Company and Exclusive Art Service have offered us excellent assistance as well.)


Packing objects into cases.

But now we’re getting the galleries ready for Larry Ellison’s wonderful Japanese collection. Of course, we’re looking forward to the shift into an entirely different exhibition. But I was the last to see the warriors as they drove away, and honestly, it was sad to see them go.


Sharon packing some of the treasures into a case.


UpSideUp FLy

My morning walk to work is bleary eyed and trance like, and I don’t even like to snap out of it, since it seems like the final few moments of rest and quiet before the day begins. Tuesday, though, I was jolted out of my stupor: a rainbow of of origami butterflies perched on the wall outside the museum. Evidently they materialized overnight, for God knew what reason. Walking closely along the wall, I could see the things were arranged in a pattern, but honestly, I couldn’t—forgive me—I couldn’t read the writing on the wall. It wasn’t until I took a photo and saw the installation from a different angle that I realized it: the butterflies spelled out fly.

Later that morning, all the museum had seen the wall, and people were excited. I emailed my photo to the staff to see what everyone made of it. Jason in Creative Services suggested it might be the work of a French artist named Mademoiselle Maurice. There followed a good deal of speculation. It wasn’t until later in the day that Jenn, our ruling queen of social media, solved the mystery: Des Moines street artists The UpSideUp had graced our wall with their work.

It’s amazing how something so simple but so lovely can add color to an entire day. John, our librarian, said, “Talk about a wonderful East-West example of contemporary art.” The director said he loved it. Tom in Publications said it reminded him of a Wu Mali exhibition from several years ago—one of my favorites.

Jenn met the UpSideUp artists yesterday, and she gave them a message from all of us: however ephemeral their piece might be, it has permanently altered our perception of the museum—our walls are porous. Art shines from the inside out, but contemporary expressions also flow in from the community around us, and the two interact with one another.

Fish, Food

Carp Shaped Hanging Basket,  Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection.

Dootsu Toshosai, Carp Shaped Hanging Basket, Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection

I have worked at the Asian Art Museum for over 20 years and there are several objects in the galleries that I never get tired of looking at. In the Japanese gallery—way at the end by the tea room —we always have a beautiful collection of bamboo baskets from the Cotsen Collection on display. The baskets get changed out every 6–8 months and I look forward to seeing the new selection each time. At the moment this area is especially interesting because  the tea room objects have been selected by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, and one of the contemporary pieces from Phantoms of Asia has found its way in there.

Section of dried salmon. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. Ney WolfskillIf you wander a ways down the Japanese gallery to the case full of diminutive netsuke (the sculptural toggles used to attach pouches to a kimono),  look for this fish with amazing details including actual fish skin.

White Miso Glazed Trout from Nojo, Hayes Valley.This usually makes me hungry for Japanese food, so at lunch time I walk over to Nojo on Franklin St in Hayes Valley for some White Miso Glazed Trout or their delicious noodles.



Korean Objects Out on Loan

Sharon contemplating our Moon Jar in the National Museum of Korea's exhibition.

Sharon contemplating our Moon Jar in the National Museum of Korea's exhibition.

I just returned from delivering and overseeing the installation of 10 Asian Art Museum objects to an exhibition at the National Museum of Korea. The exhibition is called Korean Art from the United States and if you find yourself in Seoul between June 5 and August 5 you can see it for yourself.

Staff at the National Museum of Korea prepare our Standing Buddha for display.

Staff at the National Museum of Korea prepare our Standing Buddha for display.

The exhibition highlights the history and importance of Korean art collections in the United States and features Korean treasures  from museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Harvard Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Brooklyn Museum. For more, check out these reviews from The Korea Times and The Korea Herald.

Although we removed nine of our most precious Korean objects from display for this loan, including our Standing Buddha, the Moon Jar and Tiger jar, we have borrowed five objects from the collections of the National Museum of Korea to replace them. Come and see them soon in the Korean gallery.


The Art of Packaging Art

Yoshihiro Suda, Kasuga Deer Deity, Japan

Kasuga deer deity. Deer: Heian Period,pigment on wood; Monju Bosatsu: Kamakura period,pigment on wood; Negoro lacquer tray: Kamakura Period, the second year of Tokuji (1307), former collection of Sankei Hare; With: Sakaki plant and antlers, 2010. By Yoshihiro Suda, pigment on wood. H: 13 3/8 in x W: 16 1/2 in x D: 11 5/8 in. © Courtesy of Private Collection.

One of the most interesting things for the exhibitions team is discovering the way the objects from Phantoms of Asia have been packed. Since we have loans from so many different countries—over a dozen—all the packing was really different.

Yoshihiro Suda Sakaki tree in its box

I was impressed with the shipment from Japan which includes an object from a private collection, Kasuga Deer Deity. It is a collaborative work: some of the parts are as old as Heian Period (794-1185) and some are as new as 2010. One of the newer parts is a tiny reproduction,  made by the artist Yoshihiro Suda, of the sakaki plant (Cleyera japonica), which grows in East Asia. The sakaki is an evergreen that is considered sacred in the Shinto religion. This piece is extremely fragile and we were concerned that it might not be able to withstand the rigors of traveling from Japan.

Fortunately some of the best packing in the world comes from Japan, including this amazing little box designed to protect the tiny tree in transit.

Where is this Flower?

Yoshihiro Suda morning glory

Yoshihiro Suda, Morning Glory, 2010. Paint on wood.

The artist Yoshihiro Suda was here recently to help install his beautiful painted wooden flowers.  The flowers are stunning and actually look like they are real. The good news is that these flowers will last the entire length of the Phantoms of Asia exhibition.  It takes nearly a month to make just one of these incredible pieces.  Suda really enjoys challenging the viewer with his work so I challenge you to find this lovely morning glory in our galleries.

He also enjoys making leaves and weeds, some of which you can also find on display. He grew up working on his father’s farm and had to pull many weeds in his life, an activity which somehow inspired his art.

Yoshihiro Suda weeds

Yoshihiro Suda, Weeds, 2008. Paint on wood.

Suda told me a funny story of placing some of these weeds in another gallery setting: they were displayed out in the open, and to his horror when he returned the next day he discovered that the cleaning crew had thrown them away overnight. Thankfully our stellar staff are not likely to make such a mistake.


Jagannath Panda: Not Just Paint


Cristina and Katie with Jagannath Panda's The Cult of Appearance III

There are some very diverse contemporary pieces in the Phantoms of Asia exhibition. There is one that I especially like, The Cult of Appearance III, by South Asian artist Jagannath Panda. It is in two sections and the interesting thing—especially from the perspective of our exhibitions team installing the works—is that there are some separate elements that get attached to the painting.

Above is a photo of Assistant Registrar Cristina Lichauco helping our Head of Conservation Katie Holbrow during the installation. Katie is attaching a fabric and ribbon laden element to the piece.

One of the exciting things about contemporary art is that its meaning has not been fixed by scholarship. I cannot tell you that much about the painting or the artist’s intentions, but if you read his bio on our website it might give you more insight. You can also join us this Thursday night, May 17, for an after-hours preview of the exhibition and decide for yourself what it all means.

Bali, the Final Post

For museum visitors, the exhibition Bali: Art, Performance, Ritual closed on September 11, more than two months ago. But for me, the Bali exhibition has only recently truly ended. As the registrar charged with ensuring the safe travel of the exhibition objects, I can’t call my job done until the last object has been safely returned home.

Objects from Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance are deinstalled following the close of the exhibition.

Most of the objects in Bali were borrowed from lenders in the Netherlands. Returning these works was therefore quite a journey.

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On the Silk Road at the American Museum of Natural History

The Asian Art Museum often provides loans from our collection to other museums for permanent gallery display (see my May 7  blog and for special exhibitions. Sometimes the borrowing institution travels these exhibitions on to other museums. We recently lent several objects to an exhibition on the Silk Road at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

This exhibition is presented in a different manner than an exhibition at the Asian would. The exhibition at the AMNH takes you along the world’s oldest international highway, on a voyage that spans six centuries (AD 600-1200). It showcases four representative cities: Xi’an, China’s Tang Dynasty capital; Turfan, a bustling oasis; Samarkand, home of prosperous merchants; and Baghdad, a meeting place for scholars, scientists, and philosophers.

The exhibition at the AMNH is now closed, but will be traveling to four additional museums outside the United States. The Art Science Museum, Singapore, December 20, 2010 – April 3, 2011 The National Museum of Natural Science, Taichung, Taiwan, June 11 – September 11, 2011 The National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, Taipei, Taiwan, October 29, 2011 – January 29, 2012 and The National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australia, March 31- September 1, 2012 We are also adding one additional object to the exhibition which is being packed right now.

AMNH loan being packed

AMNH loan being packed

This piece is a three-footed plate of glazed earthenware from China and is Tang dynasty (618-906).

The Asian Art Museum travels on the Silk Road

The Asian Art Museum often provides loans from our collection to other museums for permanent gallery display (see my May 7 blog entry about lending to the San Antonio Museum of Art) and for special exhibitions.  Sometimes the borrowing institution travels these exhibitions on to other museums.  This past summer, we lent several objects to an exhibition titled The Silk Road – Ancient Pathway to the Modern World organized by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York.

"The Silk Road" at AMNH (image courtesy American Museum of Natural History)

"The Silk Road" at AMNH (image courtesy American Museum of Natural History)

Since this is a natural history museum, the show was presented in a very different manner than an exhibition at the Asian would be.
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