Archive for 'Special Exhibitions'

What Poets Conjured for MATCHA: Phantoms Arise!

Farnooshi Fathi reading in Phantoms of Asia

Farnoosh Fathi reads her poem to the Matcha audience.

As a recent addition to the education department at the museum, I was excited about planning public programs for Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past, as well as cultivating new collaborations. For our latest Matcha event I considered how the museum could tap creative communities in the Bay Area in order to help demystify contemporary art and illuminate ideas and connections between artworks, but also open up the museum as a platform to present new works.

I was curious about the role poets and writers play in the exploration of themes and ideas around different cosmologies, the after-life, myth and ritual, and sacred spaces. For MATCHA: Phantoms Arise! I was lucky enough to collaborate with Litquake, the organization best known for organizing San Francisco’s Literary Festival.

I worked closely with Robin Ekiss, Poetry Curator and coordinator of Litquake’s Lit Crawl SF, a “bar crawl with literature—where hundreds of literati get drunk on words!” Robin and I assembled a list of artworks and a roster of poets to invite. We wanted to stay true to the spirit of Lit Crawl, but instead of jumping from bar to bar, participants would gallery hop around the museum. We commissioned new work from seven Bay Area poets: Justin Chin, Paul Hoover, Arisa White, Farnoosh Fathi, Kevin Simmonds, Mari L’Esperance, and Truong Tran. Robin and I assigned each poet an artwork from the exhibition, but we didn’t provide any information about the artwork or artist. We wanted to privilege each poet’s experience with the piece, allowing the art itself  to serve as the initial spark of inspiration. Here is Paul Hoover reading his poem “Krishna Takes a Picture”:

You can explore more poetry from the evening on YouTube.

Please join us for MATCHA: Shamanism featuring artist Dohee Lee on Thursday, August 23.

Art of Cultivation, Cultivation of Art: Tending Charwei Tsai’s “Bamboo Mantra”.

 

Laurel watering Charwei Tsai's Bamboo Mantra

Laurel never expected to turn gardener when she joined the Art and Programs team.

The label for Charwei Tsai’s Bamboo Mantra states that the canvas of the work, twelve potted bamboo plants, will inevitably wither and die, as an example of the Buddhist precept of nonattachment. It is my job, however, to make sure the inevitable is staved off until after September 2, when our current exhibition Phantoms of Asia closes. Therefore, I can be found every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning with a big yellow watering can, making sure the bamboo gets the water it needs to stay alive.

Despite appearances I am not actually the staff gardener. As an assistant in the exhibitions department, most of my day involves administrative work ensuring the success of our exhibitions—scheduling, budgeting, and planning for the shows we will be hosting in the New bamboo shoot, with a fallen leaf featuring Charwei Tsai's calligraphy beside it.coming years. When we added Charwei’s work to the object list for Phantoms, there were many questions to answer—was it safe to have living plants in the galleries? Would the bamboo come with any insects that might pose a threat to artworks? Would they get enough sun? And, finally, who was going to take care of them? As the staff member with the most confidence in her green thumb, I happily volunteered.

It’s been fun to take care of this artwork for the last two months. Bamboo, which is actually more closely related to grass than to trees, grows very quickly. In its native environment, it has been observed growing up to 39 inches in one day. Due to the foggy San Francisco summers, our bamboo has been performing considerably worse than that, but its vigor is still impressive. In the last few weeks I have watched stalks grow from new buds to towering eight-foot shoots. Just this morning, while tending to the grove behind Ganesh on the third floor, I spotted a new sprout emerging from the soil. I look forward to watching it grow. At the moment it looks just like this Japanese lacquered netsuke from our collection. There’s something very satisfying about the plump shape of this bamboo bud—brimming with life, possibilities, or, in some cuisines, deliciousness.

As part of her art practice, Charwei delicately painted the heart sutra on the surface of the plant itself. Eventually, the plant will outgrow all the calligraphy, shedding old leaves and stalks. Every day, one or two painted leaves fall from the plants, but they are always replaced by new, fresh green leaves. The heart sutra describes the temporary nature of all things. There is flux at the heart of this artwork. It’s been rewarding to visit it so often. Every time I see it, there is something new.

Phantoms of Asia Tour, Part 7: Art from Home

Adeela Suleman with Untitled (Peacock with Missiles)

Adeela Suleman with “Untitled (Peacock with Missiles) with added elements”.

Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. In this, the final in our series of posts based on the tour, we look at four works rooted in the artists’ home towns.

Jagannath Panda‘s The Cult of Survival II is a response to modernization and development in Indian cities like Bhubaneswar, where Panda was born, and Gurgaon, the satellite-city of New Delhi where he currently lives. Panda explores these themes using traditional icons built from industrial materials such as sewage pipes. This work was created specifically for Phantoms, and is now a larger series.

Opposite the sewage-snake is another of Panda’s works, The Cult of Appearance III, which is being shown for this first time. The painting includes collage elements made from traditional Indian fabrics. For those who know Indian textiles these fabric pieces would be identifiable as being from a particular region; thus the artist has used the very materials of the work to create an additional layer of meaning. The piece depicts scenes from epics alongside contemporary images of Indian life. The figures at the bottom of the painting show people fleeing from floodwaters in Bhubaneswar in 2011. Some experts claim that the floods were caused by the mismanagement of water from a nearby dam.

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul creates an eerie otherworld in Phantoms of Nabua. The film is set in the artist’s hometown, which suffered in the military crackdowns from the 1960s to 80s, forcing the men of the village to flee. There is a legend in the area of a witch who abducts the men of the village, and this intersection of myth and reality has earned the village the name “widow town”. In the ten-minute film we watch the rituals of young men hanging out, kicking a soccer ball, but in the film the ball is on fire; this peaceful activity holds the seeds of destruction. The film reminds us that  notions of home can be destroyed, burned down.

Another artist with a complex relationship with home is Pakistani Adeela Suleman. Suleman lives in Karachi, where she holds the Chair of Fine Arts at the Indus Valley University of Art and Architecture. She is also a mother of three. Her steel reliefs are based on the metal decorations used in the city’s delivery trucks and buses, and is strongly rooted in the everday live of the city. But for people in Karachi, death is a part of everyday life, and Suleman’s work powerfully confronts the reality of living surrounded by violence. She says that when her husband goes to work each day, she never knows if he will come home. Her juxtaposition of symbols of violence such as missiles and suicide vests with images from nature and scenes from myth are unsettling, and tell a powerful and disturbing story of home.

Tour Part 1: Heman Chong
Tour Part 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Tour Part 3: Asian Cosmologies
Tour Part 4:  Hidden Energies
Tour Part 5: The Afterlife
Tour Part 6: Myth, Ritual, Meditation

Phantoms of Asia Tour, Part 6: Myth, Ritual, Meditation

Adrian Wong planning feng shui installation at the Asian Art Museum

Adrian Wong in our library during the planning of his feng shui installation.

Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. We’ll be presenting a series of posts based on the tour, with Allison’s insights into the works and the artists who created them.

Osher Gallery is the final room of the exhibition and also the largest. The diverse collection of works here deals with the overarching theme of myth, ritual and meditation. These works ask how we can commune with spiritual.

As you enter the room you are confronted by Motohiko Odani‘s masks, which are styled on the masks worn in Japanese no theater. These, though, are half anatomical, half trapped here on the physical plane. There seems to be a tension as well as a communion between the physical and the spiritual. On the opposite wall is a selection of traditional masks from our collection; old and new confront each other across the room. I wonder what they make of their counterparts from another time.

As you continue through the gallery you reach one of the most unusual—and funniest—works in the exhibition. Canadian artist Adrian Wong
has created two rooms using the principles of feng shui, one auspicious and one inauspicious.  Wong is trained as a research psychologist, and his art practice is a fusion of science and art.  He was inspired to create this work after learning that many people wouldn’t come to the Asian Art Museum because they believe that our building has bad feng shui. He began researching feng shui with a scientific eye, interviewing many experts from the Bay Area and becoming along the way a leading expert on the feng shui of our building. Walking through the rooms, with their linoleum floors creating a cheesy 70s aesthetic, you get the feeling that the artist’s tongue is firmly in his cheek.

From the somewhat ridiculous to the sublime, you next encounter Prabhavathi Meppayil‘s white panels. Meppayil is from a family of traditional metalworkers. Using traditional tools and techniques, she blends 1960s minimalilsm and her own cultural tradition to create these meditative pieces. The works are created by embedding copper wire in the panel; you need to get low  to see the metallic quality of the wires and really appreciate the detail of the piece. Achieving this kind of simplicity is a complex process; maybe that’s why these tend to be favorites among the artists that come through the exhibition.

Tour part 1: Heman Chong
Tour Part 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Tour Part 3: Asian Cosmologies
Tour Part 4: Hidden Energies
Tour Part 5: The Afterlife
Tour Part 7: Art from Home 

Whose Space? Our Space!


An unusual rotation is taking place in the Museum Store, one that re-imagines space and meaning, collaboration and inspiration, politics and culture.  It all sounds rather weighty and intellectual, but in fact is the start of a really good time culminating in our next MATCHA on Thursday, July 26. Thanks to Space Bi, Bay Area artists will be Taking Up Space.


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Phantoms of Asia Tour, Part 5: The Afterlife

Jompet, Anno Domini, 2011. Wooden pillars, sound installation, text, soldier figures and video components. Dimensions variable.  Installation view.

Jompet, Anno Domini, 2011. Wooden pillars, sound installation, text, soldier figures and video components. Dimensions variable. Installation view. Photo: Kaz Tsuruta.

Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. We’ll be presenting a series of posts based on the tour, with Allison’s insights into the works and the artists who created them.

As you leave Hambrecht gallery you encounter a video installation by Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. In this provocative piece, Araya lectures a group of cadavers on death and the afterlife. Her work explores how we react to death, and is very much tied up with her own Buddhist faith. The reactions to her work bring home the different attitudes to death across cultures.  In many cultures the body is brought into the home for ritual and preparation. Araya’s work in some ways reflects these traditions, while also being irreverent–she is, after all, using dead bodies as props. This caused her some problems when she performed a similar piece in Italy, where corpses cannot be used for any purpose. In the end, denied access to the Italian dead, it is rumored Araya had cadavers flown over from New York. For me, these stories add to the experience of the work itself, prompting me to think about how different cultures think about death.

Outside the gallery is an alcove charmingly named Vinson Nook, currently housing an installation by Indonesian artist Jompet. Works from this series have been shown around the world and made a huge splash at the Venice Biennale last year. Jompet’s work delves into the history and syncretic culture of Java. This piece depicts bodiless soldiers, the symbolic protectors of a blended past. The guards’ costumes incorporate Dutch and Javanese elements, the music references street parades, and the whole is contained within the frame of a traditional Javanese house. The installation weaves these elements together to physically depict the story of modern Java.

Tour Part 1: Heman Chong
Tour Part 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Tour Part 3: Asian Cosmologies
Tour Part 4: Hidden Energies
Tour Part 6: Myth, Ritual, Meditation
Tour Part 7: Art from Home 

Phantoms of Asia Tour, Part 4: Hidden Energies

Hambrecth gallery with Thai and Indian sculptures and contemporary paintings in background.

Hambrecht gallery presents old and new objects with common themes. In the background are works by Varunika Saraf, Palden Weinreb and Lin Xue.

Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. We’ll be presenting a series of posts based on the tour, with Allison’s insights into the works and the artists who created them. Our last post introduced Asian cosmologies; in this one, we continue through Hambrecht gallery to explore how art can connect us to hidden energies.

The most striking thing for most visitors in this gallery is the display in the center of the room of many pieces of religious sculpture from the museum’s collection. By including these pieces out of their original cultural context, the curators are intentionally countering the presentation in the upstairs galleries. The goal is to spark a conversation between the new works and the traditional ones, pulling the focus to the thematic similarities between them, rather than differences in time or space. This allows us to see the ways in which things that are ancient and traditional explore ideas artists are still grappling with. The experience is an arresting one.

Some of the connections are visual, such as the eyes in Varunika Saraf‘s paintings and our Vishnu and Lakshmi sculpture (which Chief Curator Forrest McGill discussed in an earlier post).  Allison says that seeing Saraf’s intricate paintings in person has been one of the greatest surprises of the show for her. The artist packs in references—to Indian painting, to Renaissance art, to Frida Kahlo—there’s so much in it you’re bound to find something new every time.

Other works in this gallery aim to produce a spiritual response in the viewer. One is a new work created specifically for the show by New York artist Palden Weinreb. Weinreb aims to reduce his work to its simplest form in order to incite meditation. At the other end of the spectrum are NS Harsha‘s two pieces, Distress Call from Jupiter’s Neighbourhood and Distress Call from Saturn’s Neighbourhood, which bookend the gallery space with color and movement. “Garlands” of people suggest a collective universe, while drums situated at the base of the paintings represent the rhythm of the universe. Eggplants are also prominent in these works. Allison asked the artist about the meaning of the eggplants, and he replied that there is a certain absurdity in the universe, and he had wanted to reflect that by throwing eggplants into the painting. Allison admits that she’s not entirely satisfied by his explanation and she has enjoyed musing about the eggplants with colleagues and visitors.

Tour Part 1: Heman Chong
Tour Part 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Tour Part 3: Asian Cosmologies
Tour Part 5: The Afterlife
Tour Part 6: Myth, Ritual, Meditation
Tour Part 7: Art from Home 

Phantoms of Asia Tour, Part 3: Asian Cosmologies

Indian Cosmological Painting

Cosmological painting, approx. 1750–1850. India; Rajasthan. Opaque watercolors on cloth. From the Collection of William K. Ehrenfeld, M.D., 2005.64.54.

Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. We’ll be presenting a series of posts based on the tour, with Allison’s insights into the works and the artists who created them. In our third episode, we explore Asian cosmologies through some very different works.

As you enter Hambrecht Gallery, you’ll see a large Indian cosmological painting. Many people, including guest curator Mami Kataoka, name it as one of their favorite pieces in the exhibition. If you’re like many of us, you’ll be surprised to learn that the painting is not one of the contemporary works in the show; it dates from some time between 1750 and 1850. It has been in our collection for some time but has never been on view before; the video below gives a glimpse into the painstaking conservation effort that made it ready for this exhibition.

The painting uses a common geometry of interconnected spheres to represent the cosmos. It’s a convention that you also see in Tibetan thangkas, including an example that hangs opposite the painting. The work begs to be decoded—as with contemporary art, there is no single established reading of this painting, and the viewer is forced to let go of any expectation that they can have all the facts.

The connection between this painting and Poklong Anading‘s series Anonymity might not be immediately apparent, but these images also explore cosmological themes. In an earlier post we shared Mami Kataoka’s thoughts on the relationship between the Chinese bronze mirrors and Poklong’s work, a series of nine lightboxes. On her tour, Allison spoke about how these images turn traditional ideas of portraiture on their head by deliberately obscuring the subject’s face. She also pointed out the connections to other traditions in art history, where reflections of light can suggest a connection to the spiritual realm. The individual subjects are depersonalized and placed within a larger universe. The images are always shown in groups of nine, and were reduced in size for Phantoms so that they could be displayed together in this space. An interesting fact: Originally, the curators believed that all these photographs were taken in metro Manila, but in fact some were taken in Zurich.

Developing the exhibition has not only helped us make connections between different artistic traditions, it has also led us to artists we didn’t previously know. Allison had not encountered Poklong before planning this show—they were introduced by another Filipino artist whose work is also included in Phantoms, Ringo Bunoan. The show has given us a wonderful opportunity to tap into smaller art scenes where the community of artists is more important than the gallery system, and it’s these human connections that have enabled us to bring you such a diverse selection of works. If you want to learn more about contemporary art in the Philippines, join Ringo and Poklong In Conversation on August 18.

Tour Part 1: Heman Chong
Tour Part 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto
Tour Part 4: Hidden Energies
Tour Part 5: The Afterlife
Tour Part 6: Myth, Ritual, Meditation
Tour Part 7: Art from Home 

 

Phantoms of Asia Tour, Part 2: Hiroshi Sugimoto

Visitor contemplating Hiroshi Sugimoto's "Five Elements".

A visitor contemplating Hiroshi Sugimoto’s “Five Elements”.

In easy-to-miss Lee Gallery, visitors to Phantoms of Asia will find a row of tiny pagodas on plinths. These are Hiroshi Sugimoto’s vision of the cosmos, rendered in optical quality glass and photographs.

Sugimoto has been creating seascapes since the early 1980s. These seascapes have a personal connection for the artist because he uses the series, which is ongoing, to place events in his own life. It also has a larger meaning; the five-part Japanese pagoda represents the five elements of the cosmos, while the ocean is seen as the source of all life.

In displaying these objects, Sugimoto wants to create a sense of theater. He visited the museum a few times before Phantoms opened and determined every aspect of the room. The yellow didactic panel that explains the work is deliberately outside the room, and the fact that there is no seating was part of the artist’s design. The experience of seeing the piece is part of the work; in the intimacy of close looking the viewer can contemplate their relationship to these objects and to the universe itself.

Tour Part 1: Heman Chong
Tour Part 3: Asian Cosmologies
Tour Part 4: Hidden Energies
Tour Part 5: The Afterlife
Tour Part 6: Myth, Ritual, Meditation
Tour Part 7: Art from Home 

Fish, Food

Carp Shaped Hanging Basket,  Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection.

Dootsu Toshosai, Carp Shaped Hanging Basket, Lloyd Cotsen Japanese Bamboo Basket Collection

I have worked at the Asian Art Museum for over 20 years and there are several objects in the galleries that I never get tired of looking at. In the Japanese gallery—way at the end by the tea room —we always have a beautiful collection of bamboo baskets from the Cotsen Collection on display. The baskets get changed out every 6–8 months and I look forward to seeing the new selection each time. At the moment this area is especially interesting because  the tea room objects have been selected by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto, and one of the contemporary pieces from Phantoms of Asia has found its way in there.

Section of dried salmon. Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mr. Ney WolfskillIf you wander a ways down the Japanese gallery to the case full of diminutive netsuke (the sculptural toggles used to attach pouches to a kimono),  look for this fish with amazing details including actual fish skin.

White Miso Glazed Trout from Nojo, Hayes Valley.This usually makes me hungry for Japanese food, so at lunch time I walk over to Nojo on Franklin St in Hayes Valley for some White Miso Glazed Trout or their delicious noodles.