Archive of Posts by Thomas Christensen

Head of Publications, Asian Art Museum. Outside the museum I do writing, translation, graphic design, and other literary stuff. My books with Asian art-related content include River of Ink and 1616: The World in Motion.

Forthcoming staff publications

Left to right: Illustration from A History of Chinese Civilization (Ritual vessel ding, approx. 1050–1000 BCE. China, early Western Zhou dynasty. Bronze. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60B2+; photo by Kaz Tsuruta) and covers of Modern China Studies; 1616: The World in Motion; and Along the Yangzi River: Regional Culture of the Bronze Age from Hunan. (See below for larger images.)

Asian Art Museum staff have been busy on the publication front beyond our own upcoming exhibition-related publications such as Phantoms of Asia by assistant curator of contemporary art Allison Harding (with Mami Kataoka of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo) and Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy by senior curator of Chinese art Michael Knight.

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Letter from Japan

Boy at Writing Desk. Japan, Edo Period (1615–1868). Netsuke; ivory. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. Ney Wolfskill, B81Y93.

Boy at Writing Desk. Japan, Edo Period (1615–1868). Netsuke; ivory. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. Ney Wolfskill, B81Y93.

We recently received the following letter from Mike Thompson, a friend of the museum who is teaching English near Tokyo. He has given us permission to share it. The letter speaks to the rebuilding that must occur within the heart after a major tragedy such as Japan has experienced.


Hello Friends,

I would like to update you on the situation in Japan. The radiation danger is still present, but our lives have returned to something approaching normal. My friend Tom Gally has a web site where he has been culling the Japanese news outlets and translating them into English for his family and friends, and he said I could give out his link. His sources are better than mine, and he has links to other web sites with earthquake / tsunami / nuclear recovery information. His page has his daily routine for his family members to read, but also general information about post-disaster Tokyo that might be interesting (I met Tom in the student dormitory at UCSB many years ago, and now he teaches at the University of Tokyo):

Along with milk and spinach, now add cauliflower, broccoli, most leafy green vegetables and tap water to the radioactive contamination list! Bottled water is being rationed and distributed to families with infants. Nobody really knows how far the fallout from the Fukushima reactors will spread, or how long this will go on. The news can be depressing. Some workers have been hospitalized for radiation sickness. As the death toll climbs, individual stories are coming up in discussions with friends and colleagues—A 24-year-old American woman who was a schoolteacher in Fukushima drowned. A bus with kindergarten children was caught in the tsunami and the children died, but the bus driver was swept onto the roof of a two-story building and lived. But then there is this—a grandmother and her grandson were rescued from the wreckage of their house nine days after the earthquake. And we are hearing about babies that were miraculously born in the midst of the deluge and survived.

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Bali Temple Explorer

Bali Temple Explorer is now live, both on our website and in the galleries. This remarkable interactive film by Martin Percy, produced by unit9, lets you explore a complex of three small temples located near the village of Bedulu in Bali. You can travel through the site by clicking on the video images, and a menu at the bottom of the screen offers a map and commentary. The museum is grateful to Martin Percy and unit9 for making this interactive experience available as a complement to our Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance exhibition. Let us know what you think!

UPDATE: Bali Temple Explorer has won the 2011 Webby award in the Travel and Adventure category. Congratulations to all!

International Chinese food

Culinary historian Cynthia Clampitt has made an interesting post about variations in Chinese food around the world. An excerpt: “The Chinese Exclusion Act might have slowed Chinese immigration into the United States, but it didn’t stop the Chinese from leaving China. They simply began to go everywhere else, including South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, and India.” Read the whole post here.

Gary Snyder speaking and reading from Riprap

Recently poet Gary Snyder celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his groundbreaking book of poetry Riprap. Here Robert Hass introduces him in a reading on the UC Berkeley campus, where he had been a graduate student in the East Asian Studies department. Gary will be speaking at the Asian Art Museum this Thursday on the subject of “West Coast Sensibility and Traditional Chinese Lyrics.” The event is certain to sell out, so be sure to get a ticket before coming to attend.

Contributing to Treasures

Would you like to write for the museum’s magazine, Treasures? We are currently soliciting contributions for our summer issue. Following are details:

What’s going on?

We are interested in hearing about visitor reactions to Shanghai. We will publish the results in the July issue of our members magazine, Treasures.

What kind of commentaries are acceptable?

There are no restrictions on content, except that the Shanghai exhibition must be the subject, and we cannot publish material that is plagiarized, offensive, or libelous. What we would like are thoughtful commentaries that relate to the art on view and visitors’ responses to it. Personal connections to the topic are especially welcome.

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Poll: Your favorite Shanghai era

[polldaddy poll=2608818]

The museum’s Shanghai exhibition is organized into four main time periods. One of the themes that runs through the show concerns the attitudes to women expressed in Shanghai art. These four images of women will give a taste — but only a taste, since in each period the range of artistic activity is of course much wider than these images suggest — of the various phases in Shanghai’s artistic development. Asking you to name a favorite is a little silly, like asking what’s your favorite color, as if you would want everything in the world to be green or whatever; still, suppose you only had a few minutes to catch the show — which section would you head for?

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Shanghai web materials

Blog readers who are interested in our Shanghai show, which opens February 12, should keep an eye on the Shanghai exhibition web page, which is the central hub for all of our Shanghai materials. There are several things already up, and more will follow soon.

Today Nico supplied a reading list from the standpoint of a retail book specialist (as distinguished from a curator’s bibliography, which would likely be somewhat different). Nico is well informed and her judgment is sound, so this list would be an excellent starting point for learning about Shanghai. A portion of the page is shown above (click the image to see the rest).

The show spans the history of Shanghai, from its mid-nineteenth century treaty port days to the present.

The Lady from Shanghai

The Lady from Shanghai is a classic noir film, released in 1947, starring Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. It’s melodramatic but probably not quite as straightforwardly so as this trailer suggests. It doesn’t have much to do with Shanghai, but the title no doubt carried connotations of sexuality and decadence that American audiences of the period associated with that city.

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This museum is frightening!

Skull with two snakes coiled around it. Japan, 1800-1900. Netsuke; Ivory. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y199.

Skull with two snakes coiled around it. Japan, 1800-1900. Netsuke; ivory. The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y199.

Happy Halloween, or Samhain, or Ancestor Night, or Day of the Dead, or whatever you want to call this day, which many cultures consider the true beginning of winter (it is the cross-quarter day between the equinox and the solstice — what in the U.S. we call the beginning of winter, December 21 or 22, is actually midwinter by this reckoning).

As everyone knows, on this day ghosts and demons come among us. The Asian’s collection contains a lot of images that are appropriate to Halloween, such as the Japanese netsuke shown above (not all are on view in the museum now, or at any given time).

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