Archive for 'Preparations'

Our Japanese New Year Bronze Bell — Believe It or Not

Buddhist bell, 1532, Tachibana Kyubei (Japanese). Tajima province, Japan. Bronze. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of William Goodman.

Buddhist bell (detail), 1532, Tachibana Kyubei (Japanese). Tajima province, Japan. Bronze. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of William Goodman.

Our mountmaker, Vincent Avalos, shares some fun trivia about installing our 500+-year-old bell. Believe it or not!

The little knobs on the bell that look like asparagus shoots are probably actually stars.

The wedge-shaped ebony tenons you see are called nuki, but as far as I know they have nothing to do with pacifiers.

The nuki are essentially decorative. Long steel bolts inside the beams are what give the structure its actual integrity.

Each year that we put the belfry together, the elm gets a little more warped, making it a harder to get the beams into their respective joints.

If you stand inside the bell while it rings, you can make out the sound of “good morning” in Japanese: OHAYOU!

If we’ve all had our Philz coffee, no one bothers us, and we can remember how to put it together, we can get the bell up before noon. But this is almost never the case.

The original belfry was made of giant fir beams that would injure about one preparator a year… usually a back injury.

By the original belfry’s last days, it had become severely warped and twisted, making the final structure visibly lopsided.

One year (after we had installed the belfry), the mochi pounders for the New Year ceremony decided the bell was in the way and somehow just pushed the whole set-up across the room. You’d have to ask Director of Education, Deb Clearwaters, how many mochi pounders it took to move a 2,100-pound bronze bell.

All jokes aside, here’s a time lapse video of how we installed the bell one year:

Changing Light

Visitor watching the effects of the changing light installation on a Japanese screen

On my first day as a Preparations Intern at the Asian Art Museum, I was assigned the task of touching up the walls and borders of the In the Moment exhibition. I went around the room with a brush and cup of paint and covered up spots and areas that were missed during the first pass of the painting process. During that moment of duty, I thought about the purpose of an exhibition presentation—to bring attention and focus to the works being displayed.

Normally, when I walk through an exhibition, my attention is focused solely on the artwork. My eyes do not wander to scuffs on the walls, dents on frames, and patches of misplaced colors, because in a presumptive sense, there should not be any scuffs, dents, or patches of misplaced colors. However, at times, these slight imperfections can diminish the effect of the exhibition as a whole. It’s much like the use of proper lighting. There are many ways that lights can distract a viewer from enjoying a piece of art. To preserve a light-sensitive piece, the lighting can be too dim to really see the piece. Or if there is a protective layer of glass covering the artwork, the glare from lights could obscure parts of the work.

In the Moment features some theatrical lighting that I believe is ingenious. Lee Gallery features a Japanese screen depicting waves and rocks in an environment of fluctuating lights to mimic the passing of time from morning to noon to dusk; we’ve called it Changing Light. It makes the viewer focus on the artwork as the lights complement and complete the work to represent the cyclical nature of a day. Interestingly, electricity is used to convey a time devoid of electricity, in attempt to emulate natural light. For as the pamphlet provided by the museum mentions, before the advent of electricity, people saw folding screens and hanging scrolls under changing natural light. Paintings, especially screens with gold leaf, look different under bright or dim lighting conditions, and artists in Japan painted with an awareness of variable lighting conditions and their effect of perception.

To provide more insight, I interviewed Evan Kierstead, Principal Preparator and Lighting Specialist at the Asian Art Museum.

Josh Lee: How did the idea for Changing Light come about?

Evan Kierstead: The idea first came up a few years ago by Melissa Rinne (Associate Curator of Japanese Art) for Tadeuchi, the second floor gallery. At one time there was supposed to be a show with the screen and she wanted to do that kind of passing in the daylight. So I kind of figured out at that time how to do it and got the cost information and all that but then it never happened. But then it happened for this exhibit. Actually, the teahouse upstairs has a similar thing. There isn’t a screen in there but there’s a window that’s supposed to be the east and there’s a window that’s supposed to be the west and there’s a light that travels across.

JL: What’s the process in setting up such a display?

EK: Well, we have to figure out how to do it. I already kind of figured it out through the original idea [in Tateuchi] and the teahouse. So basically it was finding all of the equipment and the equipment in the teahouse wasn’t quite right for what we were doing. I was dealing also with an electrician who did the wiring. He had some ideas because he does some residential stuff and he does nothing like what we’re doing. But he and I had some ideas to deal with the dimming system and timing system. So first of all then, we had to figure out how to do it and I had a program figure out how to design it. Then I had to figure out the zones, zone being each area of light and how long each zone is gonna happen. It went from being a little longer and ended up going to three minutes because the sound loop was going to be three minutes long.

JL: Were there any major difficulties along the way?

EK: The whole thing was difficult. Figuring out the technology was difficult. What exactly we were gonna use because there were different systems and it’s hard to deal with the main factors. We ended up actually rigging something, a couple of different things, together. So that took a while. We had to install it. We had to program it. We had to get a laptop and get two different programs that are doing different things. One’s controlling the time; one’s controlling the dimmer. So trying to sync it all up was the challenge.

In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection will be up until September 22, 2013.

Designing “Out of Character”

Wen Peng Thousand Character Essay Installed

Strong visual impact was a primary goal for our exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy.  This is not always easy to accomplish in an art form often intended for private viewings by small groups or individuals.  An example is Thousand Character Classic by Wen Peng (1498-1573), an album of 85 double leaves.  The album is a format that is meant to be viewed page by page, but we asked Marco Centin, our exhibition designer, Shiho Sasaki, our paper conservator, and Vincent Avalos, our mount maker to come up with a way to show all 85 leaves and the cover on a large curved wall.  As shown in the photograph here, their solution is ingenious and the result is stunning and magical.  It took almost the entire summer for the team to make this happen!

Installing Calligraphy

Curators Michael and Joseph in front of the installation of Wen Peng's Thousand Character Essay

Curators Michael and Joseph in front of the installation of Wen Peng’s “Thousand Character Essay”. Photo courtesy of Jerry Yang.

Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy opens next week, and installation is in full swing. This is always a frantic, stressful, and exciting time for us, especially for the people at the coal face: curators, registrars, conservators and the preparations team.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to walk past one of the galleries while the team was installing. I felt compelled to press my face against the tinted glass doors to try to get a better look. Although unfinished, the display in the galleries is breathtaking. I must confess, I had trouble getting excited about an exhibition of calligraphy at first. But having seen the exhibition take shape over the past few months, I can’t wait for it to open. It’s going to be amazing.

Luckily for you, our photographer has been snapping some images of the installation, so you can have your own sneak peek on Flickr. Out of Character opens on October 5, but we’re kicking off with artist Xu Bing and collector Jerry Yang in conversation with museum director Jay Xu on October 4. See you there.




Installing “Deities in Stone” at San Francisco International Airport

Are you going on a fall sojourn through San Francisco International Airport anytime soon? If so, you may encounter some divine visitors from the Asian Art Museum. . Last week, museum staff oversaw the installation of Deities in Stone: Hindu Sculpture from Collections of the Asian Art Museum in the airport’s United Airlines terminal 3.

Parvati arrives curbside at San Francisco International Airport.

The latest in as series of collaborations between the Asian and SFO Museum, this exhibition features 32 Indian sculptures from the Avery Brundage Collection, many on view for the first time.

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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.

Phantoms of Asia: Art Everywhere

We’ve wrapped up week two of the Phantoms of Asia installation (read about week one here) and a crazy week it has been. Because this exhibition encompasses the entire museum, the install team has had the challenge of juggling simultaneous installation in several galleries at once.

Phantoms of Asia Curator Mami Kataoka surveys "Mountain Gods" (2011) by Aki Kondo, being installed in the Tateuchi Thematic Gallery.

Tateuchi gallery was the first major transformation. The brilliantly colored walls of Deities, Demons, and Dudes with ‘Staches have given way to a contemporary white space exploring the theme of sacred mountains.

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Phantoms of Asia: Installation in Progress

The first week of an exhibition install is always a magical week. As we begin to unpack and examine the artwork up close, we are continually reminded that catalog photographs are no substitute for the real thing.

Museum Conservator Katie Holbrow examines "Absence of God VII" (2008) by Raqib Shaw.

For Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past, the first week of installation has concentrated on incorporating contemporary artwork into the second and third floor galleries.

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Inspiration, Installation

Sun K Kwak installation in progress.

Sun K. Kwak at work on the installation.

Sun K. Kwak at work on the installation.

What happens when an artist is suddenly inspired? She gets to work, of course. Artist Sun K. Kwak was scheduled to begin her installation on the first floor of the museum next week, but a flash of inspiration has brought her in today.

We don’t know how long she will be working this week and we don’t know when she’ll be done. As our exhibition manager Kelly put it, “This is kinda like whale watching—things just happen.” We are watching art performed and made in real time. If you’re able, you should join us.

Artists from Phantoms of Asia will be installing their work in our galleries over the next couple of weeks.

Check back here for updates about who is coming when. We promise you’ll know as soon as we do.

Phantoms of Asia: Behind the Scenes

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?

Curators Mami Kataoka and Allison Harding with exhibitions manager Kelly Bennett.

The serious business of displaying art: curators Mami Kataoka and Allison Harding with head of preparations Kelly Bennett.

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.

Adrian Wong in the museum planning his installation.

Adrian Wong planning his upcoming installation during a recent visit to the museum.

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.