Archive for 'Maharaja'

The Maharaja Munchies

I don’t know about you, but food consumes my mind almost every waking moment (pun intended).

It should come as no surprise then, that when I had a long visit with our Maharaja exhibition (closing April 8), I got a bad hankering for Indian food. I loved this rich art going experience, gallery by gallery, beautiful object by beautiful object.

But you get hunger pangs from museum fatigue, and the craving is fueled when you see a jade wine flask here or a spice box there.

Maharaja's a superb exhibition, but it makes me hungry. Don't those cloth game board pieces look like Rolo chocolate candies?

This silver spice box, though intended for betel leaf stimulant use, prompted me to think about all the spices used in South Asian cooking

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Top 5 for Kids at the Museum

We’ve had a mild winter in San Francisco this year, but this week will bring a colder, wetter spell. Time to find some indoor activities. We asked our museum family for kids’ favorites at the Asian; come in out of the rain and check out our top 5:

1. A perennial favorite is the glass elevator that takes you from the first floor up to the galleries. Nathaniel, aged 3, insists on riding in it every time he comes to the museum.

Vaishravana (Bishamonten), Guardian King of the North

Vaishravana (Bishamonten), Guardian King of the North and kid-pleasing demon-stomper.

2. Bobby, aged 6, is fascinated by the sculpture of Vaishravana stepping on the demon. He and his Dad walked the galleries looking for more images of people stepping on other people, and they found a lot. We’d love to hear about any you can find.

3. Recently a mom approached one of our staff at a conference to share the story of her 7-year-old son’s love of our samurai armor. Not only does he like to visit the armor on view in the galleries, he’s also completed many of our make-at-home art projects. They’re great for a rainy day when you can’t make it in to the museum.

4. Our librarian’s son, Peter, is all grown-up now and an artist himself. His favorite piece has always been the Ganesha that greets you at the top of the escalators. Young Peter was struck by the offerings people left; these made Ganesha seem not only wonderful, but all the more real. His Dad writes:

“He was especially impressed with the offerings of Hershey kisses. “Why kisses?” he once asked me. I said, “Those must be Ganesha’s favorite.” Peter replied: “I think he’s got good taste.”

5. Ishaan, aged 2, is very taken with Sanjay Patel’s depictions of Maharajas. You can enjoy them on the banners outside, but if you come in there’s more kid-friendly fare in Patel’s exhibition on the second floor. Ishaan also recommends the video ‘How to Dress an Elephant’, which can be viewed in the Maharaja exhibition.

This weekend is our monthly Target Free Sunday, so there’s no better time to get your kids out of the rain and into the museum. Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts closes in a little over a month, so Sunday is a great opportunity to see this colorful exhibition for only $5 before it goes away.

Is your child a fan of the museum? Share your favorite pieces in the comments.


Date Night: A Romantic Liaison at the Asian

The Asian Art Museum: perfect for a date night.

Ready or not, Valentine’s Day is coming. Maybe you’re over it. That’s ok. Maybe you’re just tired of the Valentine’s same old. You know, roses, chocolates, dinner somewhere “romantic” where everyone else is trying to be “romantic” too. So we’d like to invite you to be our Valentine. Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “Museums aren’t romantic. Museums are for Culture and Art and Learning.” Well, allow us to challenge your preconceptions with this self-guided tour for lovers.

Grand staircase1. When you come to the museum, you probably head straight for the escalator, right? A more romantic entrance is straight up the staircase. Many a bride and groom have made their way up these same stairs. Pause at the top and imagine you’re in Gone With the Wind.

2.   Walk into Samsung Hall and take a turn about the dance floor before heading out to the bridge on your right. Cross over to the Betty Bogart Contemplative Alcove. You can ponder love while in the presence of Izumi Masatoshi’s Basin, or just use the quiet corner to steal a kiss.

3. Facing the alcove, take a left and head out to the escalator. Go up to your right, and then enter the South Asian galleries. In the first gallery to your left as you round the corner is a linga, or phallic symbol. Put art history aside for a moment and allow yourselves a Valentine’s titter.

A prince and his consort watching fireworks India 18thC4. Wander on through the South Asia galleries until you reach a room with some paintings to your left. Imagine yourselves as a prince and his consort enjoying the fireworks, real or metaphorical.

5. Head back to the glass elevator and descend to the first floor. If you need a break, Cafe Asia is the perfect place for a shared lassi or a decadent dessert for two.

6. You’re lovers, so you don’t have to follow the rules. Head into gallery 3 (Osher Gallery) of the Maharaja exhibit. The exhibit flow has you turn left; defy the rules, turn right and you’re in the jazz age. Take in the Man Ray images of Yeshwant Rao Holkar II and Sanyogita Devi of Indore and imagine you’re an equally dashing young couple. Wander through the rest of the gallery if you like.

6. Cross over to gallery 2 (Hambrecht Gallery), opposite. Directly across from you are some paintings of intimate scenes, perfect for lovers.

7. Of course, we’re ending with a wedding. To your left are scenes of life at court, including a royal wedding, and one of the highlights of the exhibition—a stunning bridal outfit. Once you’re done contemplating your future together, walk through the rest of the gallery and out into the court.

If you really want to break the Valentine mold, we recommend giving an Asian Art Museum membership to your beloved as a gift and then taking this tour during our evening Matcha “sensuality” event on February 16. Entry is $10, but for members it’s free and you can skip the line, leaving more time for Ayurvedic head massages and alluring teas.

Afterward, stroll arm-in-arm to nearby Hayes Valley for dinner at Bar Jules, a small cafe awash in warm colors and candlelight, dishing out excellent Californian food in a casual comfy atmosphere. Or if you’re feeling more adventurous hop in a cab and head to Russian Hill, just five minutes away, where cable cars and lights strewn through trees make for that extra ambiance oomph. Dine at Frascati, a hidden gem bistro known for its pitch perfect service and quality Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.

We’re open every Thursday night through October, but if you want to catch the risqué paintings in Maharaja you’ll have to be quick—it closes April 8.

Got any other special places in the museum? Share them in the comments.

The Art of Passion

A story of steamy passion turns out to be behind an Indian painting in the museum’s collection.

Painting from India's Mewar kingdom, approx. 1720, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Hopper Fitch

Painting from India's Mewar kingdom, approx. 1720, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Hopper Fitch.

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
of parting
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.

Making the Connection: from Maharaja to Manjusha

Bay Area jewelry designer Jyotsna Singh is the granddaughter of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, whose extraordinary Cartier necklace is one of the stand-out pieces in our exhibition, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts. We’re thrilled to be able to cement the family connection by offering some of Jyotsna’s Manjusha jewelry line in our store.

Manjusha, which means a treasure chest of jewels, presents collections of unique fusion jewelry that combine the majesty of the old with the intensity of the new.  Inspired by the beauty of royal Jadau designs, Jyotsna’s jewelry is reminiscent of a bygone era of royal palaces and princely extravagance.

Here, Jyotsna talks about her special relationship with jewelry and the experience of seeing her grandfather’s necklace for the first time.

A Holiday Message from Director Jay Xu

We have much to be thankful for this past year. We began 2011 showcasing two superb exhibitions—Beyond Golden Clouds: Five Centuries of Japanese Screens, followed by the critically acclaimed Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance.

Museum Director Jay Xu and Associate Head of Conservation Mark Fenn examine the Asian Art Museum's bronze rhinoceros.

Museum Director Jay Xu and Associate Head of Conservation Mark Fenn examine the Asian Art Museum's bronze rhinoceros.

In the fall we unveiled our new brand, promising to awaken the past and inspire the next for visitors. And we opened three wonderfully diverse exhibitions fulfilling that promise: Korean Buncheong Ceramics from the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Korea, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts, and Deities, Demons, and Dudes with ‘Stashes: Indian Avatars by Sanjay Patel. These exhibitions show traditional and contemporary artworks side by side – literally in the case of Buncheong ceramics, and thematically with Sanjay’s show giving us a contemporary interpretation of themes also explored in Maharaja.

In addition to presenting compelling art, we offer interactive programs for the family, scholarly lectures and presentations, films, art activities, publications, and performances that you cannot find anywhere else in the Bay Area. We also provide unique educational programs to thousands of school children, and we continue to protect and conserve the artworks in our collection for future generations to discover.

Without the generosity of our donors and supporters, none of this would be possible. So, this season, consider making an end of year donation to the Asian Art Museum. Your gift makes a big difference to us. Along with knowing that your contribution allows thousands of others to enjoy the museum’s offerings, you can also enjoy the benefits of a tax deduction or match your gift with your employer’s matching gift program to increase your support.

I wish you a healthy and happy holiday season and thank you for all your continued interest and support.

Warm regards,
Jay Xu,
Museum Director

Be the Match: Marrow Registration at the Museum

This weekend the museum is hosting  a special event at our Target Free Sunday. Be The Match Marrow Registry, a nonprofit organization that matches patients with unrelated bone marrow donors, will be conducting registrations at the museum—complete with cheek cell swabbing!

Why? Great question. Be The Match approached the museum because they have a shortage of South Asian donors in their registry. Bay Area entrepreneur Amit Gupta shared his experience:

Two weeks ago I got a call from my doctor because I’d been feeling worn out and was losing weight, and wasn’t sure why. He was brief: “Amit, you’ve got acute leukemia. You need to enter treatment right away.” I have a couple more months of chemo to go, and then the next step is a bone marrow transplant. Minorities are severely underrepresented in the bone marrow pool, and I need help.

With the Maharaja exhibition in full swing and Sanjay Patel’s show opening next week, the museum is quite a hub for South Asian cultural happenings right now. Be The Match thought it would be a great opportunity to reach out to the South Asian community, and we agreed.

Volunteers from Be The Match will be at the museum from 11:00 am until 3:00 pm this Sunday, November 6. No matter what your background, Be The Match would be grateful for your participation! For more information on what’s involved, check out Be The Match’s ‘Understanding your Commitment’ page.

Remember, admission to the museum this Sunday is free, so come see some art, and maybe save a life as well.

Behind the Scenes: Sanjay Patel’s sketches

Anyone who has been in to the museum lately will have noticed Sanjay Patel’s arresting sketches in South Court. Today Sanjay sent us this wonderful image that gives an insight into the process of creating a work on this scale.

Screen in the planning.


I have always had a rule in museums: look up! These images give you one more reason to do that.

south court wall

If you like to glimpse behind the scenes, check out these videos from the preparation for the Maharaja exhibit.

Deities, Demons and Dudes with ‘Staches: Indian Avatars by Sanjay Patel opens on November 11. Sanjay will be appearing in conversation with curator Qamar Adamjee on November 12.

Making Maharaja

Whew! Over the past month, museum exhibition staff have concentrated all their effort on getting the exhibition Maharaja installed and ready for your admiring eyes. And I have to tell you, this exhibition is full of fabulous objects with incredible stories. Be prepared for the promised bling, and for some unexpected surprises.

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Tiger, tiger

I have just discovered the only reason to want an iPhone.  This impetus, strangely enough, comes from the V&A Museum’s Tipu’s iTiger App.

If you’re not up on the history of colonial inequity, let me explain.  The life-sized wooden and mechanical tiger mauling a European unsubtly summarized the Sultan of Mysore’s feelings for East India Company.  For the Tipu, the imagery of the great beast was an essential psychological trope in defeating the infidel British.  He utilized the tiger motif in many facets of his rule, from the uniforms and weaponry of his “tiger soldiers” to coinage and standards.

After Tipu was killed defending his capital in the fourth and final Anglo-Mysore War in 1799, the automaton was taken as a sort of trophy by the East India Company and displayed in their India Museum for the next fifty years.  Visitors were allowed to “play” the mechanism, which produced the sounds of a man being ravaged by a beast.  Now in the collection of the V&A Museum, visitors are no longer allowed to play organ grinder.  Obviously their staff had grown tired of requests to turn the tiger’s crank, hence the clever introduction of the iTiger.

The catalyst for this story, you wonder?  My most recent score at a thrift store.


It's not a tchotchke--it's history.