Archive for 'General'

A Partnership with Chitresh Das dance company



Although still well over a week away, we have completely sold out the performances by Chitresh Das Dance Company. To learn more about how this collaboration came about, please read this interview I was asked to give for the Chitresh Das Dance Company’s blog written by Shruti Iyer.

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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.

Support the Museum with Saks Fifth Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue La Via

Support the museum when you buy something lovely at Saks San Francisco.

Perhaps you need a new frock for our Phantoms of Asia opening gala; maybe you just need a trip to the store. This February, you can indulge in retail therapy AND help your favorite arts organization (that’s us, right?). For the month of February, 2012, Saks Fifth Avenue will give 5% of all registered purchases made with a Saks Fifth Avenue credit card back to charity.  The donations will benefit local organizations, keeping support within each Saks Fifth Avenue store’s immediate community. Saks San Francisco has chosen four arts organizations–including the Asian Art Museum–to be part of this program.

“Saks Fifth Avenue is committed to our local communities. We appreciate our customers’ charitable involvement and look forward to giving back locally with this exciting and newly implemented national program,” Steve Sadove, Chairman and CEO, Saks Incorporated, said.

Whatever you’re shopping for, you can select an organization to allocate your 5% contribution to; we hope you choose us! Registration is one simple step when you check out, and will link your customer account with your chosen organization.

We’d like to thank Saks for including us in this initiative.



About Town: Hiroshi Sugimoto

Here at the Asian Art Museum we are getting excited about our spring show, Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past. One of the artists featured in the show will be Hiroshi Sugimoto, who recently opened Photogenic Drawings at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco (until February 25).

The works on view at the Fraenkel are very different from the pieces we will have in Phantoms, so if you’re in the Bay Area the next few months offer a great opportunity to get to know Sugimoto’s work.

And if you want to get to know the artist as well, Art21 has some great videos and other information. In this one, Sugimoto takes us on a guided tour of his “cabinet of curiosities.”

Curator Talk: Michael Knight on the Ming Dynasty

Our own Senior Curator of Chinese Art, Michael Knight, will be giving a talk on the arts of the Yongle reign (1403-24) of China’s Ming dynasty. The Yongle (“Eternal Happiness”) emperor was certainly among the most dynamic of the Ming emperors, and also the most active in the arts. What cool things will you learn?

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New Year Food

With humans, it always comes back to food. We love our feast days, and most of our celebrations have some kind of special food associated with them.

New Year is no exception. I celebrated new year recently with a friend for whom sour cream and cheddar chips are an integral part of the evening. He also cooked us a Chinese roast duck; much closer to my ideal celebration.

We spoke to a couple of Bay Area experts about two specialties that are close to us at the museum: Japanese mochi and Buddha hands.

Last weekend, we celebrated the new year here at the museum with mochitsuki (mochi pounding). Local Japanese teacher Yoko Hara writes:

I am from Tokyo, but I’ve never seen mochitsuki there. We bought freshly made big square mochi (Tokyo style) and my father used to cut it into small rectangular pieces. So mochitsuki by Kagamikai was a surprise and delight.
We used to live pretty close to the old site of Asian Art Museum so when my children were still young, we used to enjoy the mochitsuki with Taiko drumming every year. Being a Japanese Teacher, I now spread the word about this lovely event to all my students and friends.

Mochi pounding at the Asian Art Museum, Kagamikai
Kagamikai guide visitors in making mochi to celebrate the new year.

Buddha’s hand has become a common sight at Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, which takes place on Wednesdays and Sundays right behind the museum. Former curator Terese Bartholomew, now a board member of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, shares her knowledge of this funny-looking cousin of the lemon:

One interesting citrus that has appeared in the farmers’ markets in recent years is the Buddha’s hand citron (Citrus medica ‘Sarcodactylis’). This yellow citron with wavy tentacles takes its common name from the shape of its fruit, which resembles the idealized fingers of the Buddha. This fragrant fruit is used as an altar offering during Chinese New Year. The fruit runs completely to rind, and is not edible unless preserved with salt or sugar. Sliced into pieces, the fruit can be prepared the same way as candied citron; dipped in chocolate, these make a most delicious snack. The Buddha’s hand citron is beloved by the Chinese because its name, foshou, puns with blessings and longevity.

Buddha's hand citron by ancient history on Flickr.
Buddha’s hand, by ancient history on Flickr.

Tell us what’s on your Lunar New Year table – or share your recipes for Buddha’s hands.

Happy New Year

This weekend, we say farewell to 2011 and welcome 2012.

Dragon coiled around a jewel, netsuke by Tomokazu, JapaneseWe hope you will join us for our annual Japanese Bell Ringing Ceremony on Saturday, December 31 at 11:30 am. As our own Saly Lee told us in an earlier post, Japanese people celebrate the start of the Year of the Dragon on January 1; we’ll be celebrating all over again come lunar new year!

We will be closed for New Year’s Day on Sunday, January 1. We hope you have a wonderful holiday with family and friends, and look forward to welcoming you for our first Target Free Sunday of the year on January 8.

Rhino Horn Art

It is an awkward fact that great artworks are sometimes created amid deplorable circumstances. Next week the popular PBS program Antiques Roadshow will air a segment featuring a record-breaking appraisal of Chinese rhinoceros horn carvings (check their site for local scheduling). It is hard not to think of the current plight of the rhinoceros when viewing artworks made from rhino horns, or indeed of that of the elephant when viewing objects made of ivory. The rhinoceros was almost extinct in China by the time of the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) due to hunting and habitat destruction. On November 10, 2011, the western black rhinoceros was declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and all rhino species are currently endangered. So what are we to make of rhino horn art?

Chinese bronze rhinoceros from the Asian Art Museum's collectionThe rhinoceros was of special importance to the ancient Chinese, as the museum’s famous rhinoceros-shaped vessel, which probably dates from 1100–1050 BCE, attests. Rhinoceros horn was (and still is) valued for its medicinal properties, and considered an antidote to poison. Often carved into cups, it became a prized medium of artistic expression, and Chinese artists created great works of art from it; the period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was one of particular excellence.

Rhino horn cup, Chinese, Ming dynasty, app. 1600.This example from the turn of the seventeenth century, which depicts an immortal paradise, closely follows the shape of the original rhinoceros horn.

More examples of rhino horn objects are on view in Gallery 17, on the second floor of the museum. By displaying these objects we hope to improve understanding of traditional Chinese art and to heighten awareness of the current threat to an animal long esteemed in Chinese culture, and admired by people the world over. For information about rhino conservation visit the World Wildlife Fund.

What do you think? Use the comments to share your views on antique art works that use materials from endangered species.

The Year of the Dragons

One of the cool things about working at the Asian Art Museum is that I get to meet artists from all over the world who are creating some fascinating works, big and small.

A few days ago, I received a holiday card from an AsiaAlive alumnus, Japanese bamboo artist Tanaka Kyokusho. He also sent me a photo of his latest work, a fifty-foot-long dragon made entirely from bamboo.

Tanaka's bamboo dragon display in Tokyo.

Another Japanese artist, Paris-based artist Natsusaka Shinichiro, recently sent us the new year’s netsuke he created specially for the museum. This is his third year designing netsukes for our education programs; he previously created netsukes for the year of the tiger and the year of the rabbit.

Natsusaka's dragon netsuke is about an inch tall.


Unlike Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese communities, Japanese people celebrate the new year on January 1. This change from the lunar calendar was made during the Meiji Restoration Period, in 1873. Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese new year starts on January 23, 2012 (it changes every year according to the lunar calendar), so you will have three extra weeks to make new year’s resolutions.

Next Saturday, December 31, museum visitors can ring the new year in with our annual Japanese bell ringing ceremony, make their own netsukes at our family art activity, and welcome the Year of the Dragon in style.

Christ as the Good Shepherd

The stories of how pieces come into our collection are always interesting, and since it’s the holiday season we wanted to share a story about an ivory sculpture of Christ as the Good Shepherd.

Christ as the Good Shepherd  ivory statue: Goa, IndiaThis sculpture is more than a lovely artwork; it is a window into history. It was made some time between 1650 and 1700 in Goa. A number of such statuettes were made during the Portuguese colonial period, when many local people converted to Catholicism, no doubt for a variety of reasons. In other parts of southern India Christianity had had a long history–back, it is said, to the time of the apostle Thomas, who traveled to India in the first century.

The statuette was probably carved by an Indian sculptor trained in Portuguese-related artistic traditions. Christ is shown as a boy tending sheep; in a cave below a woman reclines, reading. She is identified by some as Mary Magdalene, but others believe that she is St Catherine of Alexandria. St Catherine is associated with Goa because it was on her feast day in 1510 that the Portuguese took possession of the city.

Like any other work of art, this little statue is inextricably linked to the events that led to its creation. Some would say it is tainted by colonialism; others that it is important precisely because of its links to events that reach well beyond art, informed by a clash of cultures and an imperialist view of the world that has not entirely disappeared. And of course, Christianity in Goa is not a thing of the past – about 20% of Goans will celebrate Christmas this year.

We acquired this piece at the Arts of Pacific Asia show in February this year through the generosity of Paul and Kathy Bissinger. The Asian Art Museum has a tradition at the show – if one of the curators finds something wonderful, they approach supporters on the spot, hoping to generate enthusiasm for the piece. If we’re lucky, as we were this year, we are able to augment the collection with an important find. Mr. and Mrs. Bissinger write:

We were so pleased that we were able to help the Asian Art Museum fill a gap in its South Asia Collection. Dr. Forrest McGill, whose expert eagle eye first spotted the piece at last year’s APA Gala Opening, was enthralled by its beauty, fine execution and perfect condition. We were easily persuaded to acquire it for the Museum.

We plan to put the newly acquired statuette on display in mid 2012, so you can come in to see it for yourself.

Are there pieces of art that make you reflect on their history? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.