One of the challenges of contemporary art is that artworks may be created for a particular space or a particular time. As a result, instead of shipping finished artwork from studio to museum, for the exhibition Phantoms of Asia we have found ourselves moving around a lot of bits and pieces for artworks that won’t be fully realized until the final installation.
Archive for 'Behind the Scenes'
Recently Cambodia (along with its neighbors Thailand and Laos) celebrated new year. This seemed like a good time to report on one or two interesting outcomes of a study trip to Cambodia last year.
Four hours of dusty, bumpy dirt road northwest of Angkor lies the 800-year-old temple complex of Banteay Chhmar. The complex is so spread out and so ruinous that no picture can suggest its extent and importance. The site is so remote that until 2008 it had not been cleared of landmines. It has also been a target of looters; entire sections of wall have been stolen by well-organized, well-armed raiding parties.
Now, though, Cambodian and Western archeologists are working together on the clearing and restoration of Banteay Chhmar—a process that will take decades.
While I was there, a Cambodian archeological team discovered a large demon head and were able to reunite it with its body. They were eager to record their latest accomplishment. They clustered around the restored figure for photos—insisting that my hosts and I join in—and passed cameras so that everyone got a photo with themselves in it. (I’m the second from the right).
A large head in a style related to that of Banteay Chhmar has been in in the Asian Art Museum’s collection for many decades. When I showed a photo of it to Hab Touch, a respected Cambodian archeologist and senior official with the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, he asked if the sculpture might not be of cement. Over the years, as the heads of Cambodian sculptures have been stolen for sale on the international art market, cement replacements have sometimes been made. If the sculpture were one of an identical set, and other heads from the set remained, a mold would be taken from a genuine head and a cast, very close in appearance to the original, made in cement.
I assured Hab Touch that our piece had every appearance of being original, but he reminded me how much genuine Cambodian sandstone and cement made with Cambodian sand might resemble each other. Recently, Mark Fenn of our museum’s conservation lab has confirmed that our head is indeed cement. So much for the certainties of an American curator. Cheers for the sharp eyes of a Cambodian archeologist!
Seriously: we’re always eager to learn more about art objects in the museum’s collection, and to correct our records, even if it means discovering that a work is a reproduction.
I’ll be giving a talk on the study trip to Cambodia and more of its results related to the Asian’s Cambodian collection on the evening of May 3.
For those interested in the current political situation in Cambodia, here’s a recent interview from Australian radio.
With Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts leaving us, the official big countdown to Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past has begun. Around the museum there is lots of talk about the new works that are coming fresh from the artist’s studios, from leading galleries, and even being created right here. It’s new and it’s exciting and honestly makes our head spin. But did you know that new works are only half the show?
Phantoms of Asia is also about the phantoms in the Asian Art Museum’s own collection—more than ninety wonderful and seldom seen objects that will join contemporary artworks in the special exhibition galleries.
Contemporary artist Takayuki Yamamoto got together with the Asian Art Museum and local art education non-profit Artseed to create the latest chapter of his ongoing artwork called What Kind of Hell Will We Go To.
Under the artist’s direction, and with help from staff and volunteers, children in the after-school program run by Artseed at Leola Havard Early Education School in the Bayview district of San Francisco devised and constructed their own “hells”. These are places where they imagined miscreants of all types might end up. The young denouncers were then filmed describing their creations; the transgressions, and the curious, often torturous, and sometimes hilarious, situations that awaited the guilty within.
Organizing and scheduling all the different players and components took super-human effort by the artist, staff, volunteers, and parents. One initial challenge was in finding the perfect group of kids to partner with. After a lot of searching Artseed’s after-school program was recommended and we knew it’d be a great fit.
The week of the project itself was an eye-opening and invigorating spin-cycle of activity. Takayuki’s calm confidence and child-like sense of playfulness and curiosity brought a sense of shared purpose and joy to the children and adults alike. The results are funny and cute, bitter and grim, and altogether quite thought-provoking. We’re all looking forward to seeing Takayuki Yamamoto’s (and the kids’) What Kind of Hell Will We Go To on display as part of the Phantoms of Asia exhibition beginning May 18. Yamamoto will also be participating in our teacher program Shh! We’re not Supposed to Talk About Religion and a panel discussion with other contemporary artists on May 12. Hope to see you in new hell!
Our upcoming show Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past is presenting us with all kinds of unexpected delights. Assistant Registrar Cristina Lichauco sent me this image of one of Singapore artist Heman Chong’s works that will appear in the show. Well, not exactly. It’s a box of stickers, actually; the raw material of the work. Chong will be applying them directly to the gallery wall to create Star(burst).
Cristina is also expecting 8,500 sticky dots from London, which will be used to hang Chong’s Calendars (2020–2096). The piece itself is coming from Singapore. As Cristina says, this truly is an international effort.
We’re incredibly excited that we will be welcoming artists like Heman Chong to the museum to install their work in the coming months, and seeing our galleries transformed with new materials and unique installations. How do you feel about art using everyday materials like self-adhesive stickers? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
This is the first in an ongoing series in which our curators introduce artworks that have recently gone on display.
The strength of the Chinese painting collection in the Asian Art Museum lies in modern and contemporary ink painting. To complement the special contemporary exhibition Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past (May 18–October 14), I have selected from the collection representative ink paintings ranging in date from 1965 to 2011.
The group of ink paintings on view in the Chinese painting gallery represents several major trends and artists, including:
- Modern Chinese ink painting movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong from the mid-1950s to the 1970s;
- 1980s new ink painting;
- 1990s experimental ink painting in China; and
- Works by overseas Chinese ink painters in the last several decades.
Two monumental paintings are on view for the first time: Chan (1974) by Lui Shou-kwan of Hong Kong, and Ended Season by local painter Zheng Chongbin, which is the first contemporary Chinese art work commissioned by the Asian Art Museum (on display beginning mid-March).
The paintings are on view in the Chinese painting gallery on the second floor.
Why do we always have new art on display?
There’s a scientific reason: organic materials such as silks and natural dyes are extremely vulnerable to fading and damage. To protect these light-sensitive artworks, we display them under low lighting only, for a 6-month period every 5 years.
There’s also another reason: we have so many treasures in storage that sometimes it’s just fun to put them on display for our visitors. So please enjoy!
While Maharaja is still going strong in our galleries, behind the scenes we’re gearing up for our next major exhibition, Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past. I spoke to assistant curator of contemporary art Allison Harding about why preparing for this show is different.
What’s special about the way this show is being presented?
To deepen visitors’ experience of contemporary art, we are incorporating traditional objects into the exhibition. This approach might seem counter-intuitive but we’ve found that blending old and new art offers more entry points for the viewer, and inspires new insights about both. For me, this exhibition shows that over thousands of years art really has not changed at its core. We make things to explore and to communicate ideas, and to access realms beyond everyday life. When artisans during China’s Han dynasty handcrafted incense burners in the shape of sacred mountains, for example, they were exploring some of the same questions as today’s artists who make work about the environment: how can we respect and protect the landscape? How does it respond to our actions?
When you visit Phantoms of Asia, you’ll find contemporary objects in many collection galleries. I look forward to hearing the connections that these old and new objects spark for you.
Which works are you the most excited about seeing installed?
I am most excited about site-specific installations by Adrian Wong, Sun K. Kwak, and Heman Chong. These works will be created by the artists just before the exhibition opening. We won’t see them until we can experience them in the space. I am eager to see how visitors engage with these installations as I expect that people will have unique, personal experiences of each work.
Which works will be the most challenging to display?
For a museum of mostly traditional art, a project like Phantoms of Asia pushes many boundaries of display. Our team has taken on this challenge with creativity and an open mind. We will have live trees in our galleries, we will have art created by visitors, we will show large installations and videos, and we are building temporary walls in our collection galleries.
This show is a huge amount of work – are you going to treat yourself when it’s done?
First I will spend time enjoying the galleries. Seeing the work of 31 contemporary artists in our museum will be the biggest treat! Then I will fulfill an outstanding promise to visit barns and ride tractors in Vermont with my son.
A story of steamy passion turns out to be behind an Indian painting in the museum’s collection.
The subject of the painting, which came to the museum in 1984, had been identified in very general terms before. We knew that it showed the Hindu deity Krishna and his beloved Radha parted and longing for each other.
But the painting’s inscription had never been read. Recently Joan Cummins, a specialist in Indian painting at the Brooklyn Museum, was here to give a lecture. During her preparations she read the inscription and found its source:
What her companion said to him:
Hearing her moan
with the burning pain
I emptied a whole bottle
of rosewater on her,
but the flames of his separation
vaporized it in mid-air
and not a drop
fell on her!
(From Bihari: The Satasai. Translated from the Hindi and with an introduction by Krishna P. Bahadur. London: Penguin Books, 1992.)
In the upper left a companion of Radha’s, who serves as an intermediary between Radha and Krishna, describes to Krishna Radha’s intense longing for him. The situation the companion describes is shown at the lower left: a bottle of rosewater is poured on Radha to cool “the burning pain of parting” to no avail.
If you want to take steamy passion beyond the art, join us for a multi-sensorial MATCHA on February 16. If you’d rather stick to the art, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts and Sanjay Patel’s Deities, Demons and Dudes with ‘Staches offer different perspectives on Indian culture and spirituality until April 2012.
This weekend is your last chance to see our Japanese armor for a while. But don’t despair – next week there will be a new one to enjoy. If you want to catch both, you’ll have to drop in twice.
So why are we taking this armor off view? Well, armor may look tough, but some of its components are surprisingly fragile. While steel, leather, and wood are used to create the protective plating, these are laced together with leather or silk cord. After several centuries, these materials may not be strong enough to hold the weight of the armor for extended periods. Materials can also be damaged by prolonged exposure to light, meaning that the armor needs to be rested periodically.
Our conservation team has also been working to prepare the new set of armor, which is on loan from a private collection. In these pictures you can see Katherine Holbrow, our head of conservation, using a spectrometer to determine what metals are present in the samurai helmet.
We rotate many of the pieces in this collection, not just armor. Over the next few months we will be doing several gallery rotations, many in preparation for Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past. Keep an eye on the blog to hear about what’s coming down and what we’re replacing it with. We’ll try to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
With the close of Poetry in Clay on January 8, the Asian Art Museum’s Korean galleries have once again become a work in progress. A collection of old friends — ceramic and metal works from the museum’s collection — are on their way back.
The reinstalled gallery will re-open this weekend, so be sure to take a moment to revisit your favorite Korean works.
But in addition to works from the collection, we have another treat on view. When the museum opened at Civic Center back in 2003, the Korean artist Cho Duk-Hyun excavated a pack of dogs on museum grounds as part of the Eureka project. Ten of these dogs were later given to the museum. As part of the Korean gallery reinstallation, we’ve let these dogs out of their storage crate for a brief romp. You can check the pups out and watch a video documenting their unearthing starting January 28.
Bonus Quiz: There are nine dogs in the gallery but ten in the pack that was given to the museum. Can you guess where doggy number ten is? Put your answer in the comments below.