Archive for 'Collections'

Avatar at the Asian

There you go again, Hollywood, stealing from ancient Hindu lore.

The word “avatar” comes from Sanskrit avatara, literally meaning “descent.” It referred, originally, to the incarnations of the great deity Vishnu. When humankind was threatened with disorder and violence Vishnu would take on an appropriate form and descend to earth to set things right.

There are usually thought to be ten incarnations, and they include animal or part-animal forms such as The Tortoise and The Man-Lion, and human forms such as The Dwarf, Rama, and Krishna.

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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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The Museum of Asian Puppetry

Within the registration department, we sometimes like to joke that we are really the Museum of Asian Puppetry. With boxes and boxes of puppets lining our art storage areas, it certainly seems that way! Altogether, the museum owns close to 500 puppets and related theatrical arts. Almost half of these are Indonesian rod puppets (wayang golek) from The Mimi and John Herbert Collection (a rotating selection from this collection is permanently on view in our Southeast Asia gallery). In addition, the collection includes numerous puppets from China, Thailand, and Burma.

Given this notable collection, we were recently thrilled to be offered a full set of Javanese shadow puppets that have been tucked away in their original traveling trunk since before World War II. Now we normally don’t showcase new gifts until they have completed our lengthy and deliberate acquisitions process (a topic for another post some day), but because it will be a long time before we finish processing this gift and because they are just that cool, I thought a sneak peek might be in order.

This vast layer of shadow puppets is only the second of seven layers tightly packed into this trunk.

This vast layer of shadow puppets is only the second of seven layers tightly packed into this trunk.

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Korean Palaces of the Joseon Dynasty

Ceramics, bronzes, screens, and scrolls —- these are the sorts of objects that probably come to mind when picturing the galleries of the Asian Art Museum. However, there are many more artistic mediums out there for our curators to explore. One such medium is photography, represented in our latest rotation by portraits of the lost palaces of Korea’s Joseon dynasty.

As mentioned in a previous post, we routinely remove light-sensitive works from our galleries and replace them with new works from storage. In this case, the contemporary fiber arts that have livened up our Korean gallery for the past year have been replaced by a selection of photographs from the vast archives of the National Museum of Korea.


The Hall of Diligent Rule at the Palace of Great Felicity, approx. 1909-1945; printed 2009, National Museum of Korea

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Mithila Women painters of India–last weeks

"Women can do everything now" painting by Shalinee Kumari

"Women Can Do Everything Now" by Shalinee Kumari. Acrylic and ink on handmade paper. Image courtesy of Frey Norris Gallery.

These are the last weeks of two opportunities to view contemporary Indian paintings by artists of the Mithila region of India at the Asian Art Museum and Frey Norris Gallery.

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In with the new

June 31 is the end of the museum’s official business year, so over the past few weeks staff throughout the museum have been busy going over the happenings and accomplishments of the last twelve months. For registration, part of this has included checking that the year’s new acquisitions are in order.

Every year is a little different when it comes to acquisitions. Factors such as current art trends, the economic environment, and serendipity all interact with curatorial priorities and exhibition plans. But one thing I’ve noticed this year is an increase in the number of gifts of work by living artists. With this in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite such gifts from the past year.

The White Wild Kerria Rose, 2004 from the series Ceramic Representations From Natural History, By Sugiura Yasuyoshi (Japanese, born 1949), Stoneware with white, dark brown, and gold glazes; cloth texturing and carving, Gift of Paul and Kathleen Bissinger, F2009.15

The White Wild Kerria Rose, 2004 from the series "Ceramic Representations From Natural History", By Sugiura Yasuyoshi (Japanese, born 1949), Stoneware with white, dark brown, and gold glazes; cloth texturing and carving, Gift of Paul and Kathleen Bissinger, F2009.15

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Rotations make the museum go ’round

Ever since the doors to Lords of the Samauri opened, us behind-the-scene folk have received a lot of questions about what we’re working on now. As much as we would like to, we’re not just hanging around the gallery enjoying the show. At any one time, multiple exhibitions are in various stages of production, not to mention ongoing work with new acquisitions, loans, and the care of objects in storage. But at this particular moment what we’re really gearing up for is the rotation season.

“Rotation” has a pretty specific meaning here at the Asian Art Museum. It refers to the process of periodically removing all light-sensitive works from the permanent galleries and replacing them with fresh works from storage. Rotations occur approximately every 8 months and can involve switching up to 10% of the works currently on view. This particular rotation season is extra busy as we will also be rotating our two current exhibitions, Photographic Memories and Lords of the Samurai, for a total rotation of around 280 objects.

Framed prints waiting to go on view in the next Chinese gallery rotation

Framed prints wait to go on view in the upcoming Chinese gallery rotation

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For Neda

I’m not at all a political person but the recent events in Iran struck me particularly the senseless death of a young woman named Neda. A common Persian name, Neda means “divine message, voice, or calling.” I was reminded that the museum has a great collection of art from Iran including this object called “Vase in form of mother and child” approx. 1100–1200.

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In the Realms of the Unreal

The eminent Miyazaki Hayao will be making an appearance at U.C. Berkeley on July 25th, talking with Roland Kelts and picking up the 2nd annual Berkeley Japan Prize.  So far the prize reads like a who’s who of breakthrough Japanese culture, seeing as how the first one went to the genre-defying Murakami Haruki.totoro1

Expect to see rainbows and cheerful-looking kami floating around the Bay Area on that day.

I was reminded of the powerful effect that Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli has had on American animators when I saw UP the other night.  Incredibly sweet without being saccharine, it proved an important rule that many animation studios seem to have forgotten: you don’t make a film for kids–you make a good film.  Story and characters create the soul of animation, so when animation is this good, the result is an overall transcendent experience.

I couldn’t help but be reminded that the last time I had a truly transcendent experience related to animation, it was, improbably enough, looking at non-animated work inspired by Miyazaki’s genius.  
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Hugging the rhino

rhinoceros vessel, b60b11

This bronze ritual vessel in the shape of a rhinoceros is the only known thing of its kind in the world. We are all fond of the rhino (I overheard a senior member of the staff express a wish just this morning to hug it!). It’s kind of a symbol of what makes the permanent collection so special. It’s about 3000 years old, and the hollow in its back held wine or food. I like that no one is 100% certain what it was used for.