Archive for 'General'

Chinese Language Teachers Conference in San Francisco

Teachers at the museum

The museum is proud to host the participants in the 2011 National Chinese Language Conference organized by the Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning and the College Board in collaboration with the SF-based Mandarin Institute. The conference takes place April 14-16, 2011 at the Hilton, and our event is the evening of April 15.

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Cremation Video


Bali Shortcuts: Ubud Cremation from Something Creative on Vimeo.

I am hoping the filmmakers who made this piece will give us permission to show it as part of our exhibition. In the exhibition, there will be a platform used for the actual burning of the animal coffin with the body inside, a ritual dagger that may have been used to cut open the coffin so the body may be placed inside, and a painting showing many of the cremation ceremonies.

A cornucopia

Some of my favorite objects in the museum’s fine collection are netsuke — delightful little mini-sculptures that I like to call Japan’s Edo Period cell phone charms, except netsuke are not only ornamental but highly functional.

b70y358The persimmon, a lovely symbol of fall

In a nutshell, they act as toggles (fasteners), used to secure a purse or container suspended on a cord from the sash of a robe.  The museum’s labels explain:

An inro (literally “seal casket”) is a small tiered container that a man would suspend from the sash of his kimono on a silk cord. A netsuke threaded onto this cord would serve as a toggle, and a movable bead (ojime) would keep the inro closed. Inro were used not only to hold seals (sometimes called “chops”)—which function in East Asian cultures in much the same way signatures do in the West—but also to hold other small items such as medicines.

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Seven Swords

Death, protection, wisdom, prestige, peace, war, and beauty; throughout the world the blade has taken many shapes and has had many uses and meanings.  From the elegant beauty of a samurai’s sword to the unique serpentine kris blades of Southeast Asia, come take a closer look at these seven blades from the Asian Art Museum’s collection representing different cultures, ideals, and uses.

Punch DaggerDEATH – Punch Dagger – Gallery 5

This wicked fang, called a kattari, comes from South Asia. The parallel bars of the unique H-shaped grip could be used to block attacks while the perpendicular handle gives leverage for punching attacks. This weapon was known as “the tooth of Yama”. Yama is the god of death. It was used to make quick stabbing attacks that packed an armor-piercing punch. This weapon was even said to be capable of piercing the skull of an elephant! A chilling name and a reputation for pachydermatic carnage is indeed a striking feature of this weapon.

Consider the names given our modern weapons, such as the Hellfire missile or the Reaper unmanned aircraft.  How might a weapon’s name and reputation come about and what could be some of its effects?

PROTECTION – Dagger – Gallery 10krisblade

This bladed weapon from Southeast Asia is called a kris. The wavy serpentine shaped blade is a distinctive characteristic. The handle which is often shaped like a pistol-grip shows that the kris was designed for stabbing attacks. Kris were often carried for self-defense while traveling. They were seen as possessing an essence or presence, some being good luck and some bringing misfortune. Some blades are said to have the power to turn away flames, control floods, or even to fly to their master’s defense!

Compare the different kris blades in this gallery case. What kinds of animals and figures adorn the weapons? What kinds of protective powers do you imagine these various blades might be thought to possess?

WISDOM – Ritual Dagger – Gallery 12

The blade can also have a religious and symbolic use.  This instrument for subjugating demons is called a phurba. A closer look at this dagger will reveal that the blade itself issues from the jaws of a fearsome reptile and that there are three heads encircling the handle. This triple-bladed ritual dagger symbolically cuts away the bonds of desire, ignorance, and hatred.

How might a blade help people to overcome desire, ignorance, and hatred?  What are ways people might use weapons during rituals?


PRESTIGE – Sword for Red Scarf Officer – Gallery 12

Bestowed only to those who are knighted by the king of Bhutan, the wearer of the raven crown, this sword with its fine silver filigree and animal-shaped buckles is a serious symbol of rank and prestige. Swords have long had this purpose.  Recall that officers of the U.S. Marine Corps also wear sabers as prestigious symbols of rank.

What are some qualities that make an object prestigious?  Why?


PEACE – Dagger and Scabbard – Gallery 12

Covered in Buddhist symbols and intricately detailed designs this dagger from the Himalayan nation of Bhutan is a work of beauty. Yet many Buddhist art objects in this gallery remind us that Buddhism in the Himalayas so often espouses compassion as a supreme virtue.

What might be the relationship between weapons and compassion?  Is there such a thing as a weapon of compassion and peace?


WARFARE - Bronze Sword – Gallery 14

Superior weapon technology is as important as military skill during warfare. During their time these bronze weapons represented cutting-edge technology. The straight sturdy blade and simple unadorned shape tell us that this is a no-nonsense weapon that gets straight to the point! Also check out the dagger-ax (ge) in the same case. This versatile weapon could hook, stab, and slash opponents on foot or horseback.

Think about the relationship between warfare and technology.  How do imagine they affect each other?


BEAUTY – Long sword – Gallery 27

The exquisite lines of the beautiful gleaming blade of this sword is sheathed in a flawless black lacquered scabbard. The long sword, called a katana, is said to be the soul of the samurai. The short sword is called a wakizashi.  Together as a pair they are called daisho, or the “long and short”. The sword is idealized as the perfect expression of an important part of the samurai code: the sublime integration of beauty and power. Today, as in the past, these swords are seen as art objects of great beauty.

Do you think modern weapons of our own time hold an artful beauty?  How so?  For example, would you consider the graceful soaring jets of the U.S. Navy flight exhibition team, the Blue Angels, art, weapons, or something else?


If only Picard had visited the Asian Art Museum

In the third episode of season one of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “Code of Honor,” Captain Picard welcomes the Ligonian leader, Lutan, aboard the Enterprise. In the two screenshots below, we see Picard presenting, as a welcome gift, a clay horse sculpture of ancient China:


Picard identifies the sculpture as a Song-dynasty work of the 14th century (Data corrects him, claiming the 13th century). However, both of them are off the mark. According to my professional eye, this glazed horse should be from the Tang dynasty (618-907)–it is a quintessential Tang horse. Compare it with this one in the collection of the Asian Art Museum:


Notice the similarities in the glazing colors and the robust form of the horse. The horse was a prized animal in China, especially in the Tang dynasty when it represented the power and might of the empire. The Tang empire is considered to be a golden era in China’s history both in culture and in the military. So it makes sense that Picard would gift the noble Tang horse to Lutan, but I blame the writers of this episode for not having done their homework.  They should have visited the Asian Art Museum!

Eating near the Asian Art Museum – Part 3

Continued thoughts on where to eat near the Asian Art Museum (check out Part 1 and Part 2 for more yummy ideas).

My last post talked about selected dining options near the Asian Art Museum. I have to say that the new menu at the Café Asia has some really delicious items. I love the Orange Glazed Duck Salad and the Shanghai Dumplings (in case the Shanghai exhibition makes you hungry for Chinese food), not to mentioned the Furikake french fries (they come with the salmon sandwich or as a side). If you are really hungry for some meat try the new Puxi sweet ribs.

If you want to try dining somewhere outside the Museum here are some more suggestions:

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Gary Snyder speaking and reading from Riprap

Recently poet Gary Snyder celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his groundbreaking book of poetry Riprap. Here Robert Hass introduces him in a reading on the UC Berkeley campus, where he had been a graduate student in the East Asian Studies department. Gary will be speaking at the Asian Art Museum this Thursday on the subject of “West Coast Sensibility and Traditional Chinese Lyrics.” The event is certain to sell out, so be sure to get a ticket before coming to attend.

150 Years of Immigration Issues

Every clear morning I tuck in my right pant leg and pedal my way over to the museum. After setting my silver wheels up on the bike rack in the loading dock, I take the stairs up to the Education offices on the second floor. The dimly lit entry to the Education office space is located behind the tea room in the second floor Japan galleries. Because I pass through these galleries everyday, I always look forward to new rotations of Japanese art.

friendship dollThe latest additions to the Japan galleries include a pair of near-life-sized Japanese dolls in kimono complete with miniature accessories in a striking installation. Their innocent smiling white faces reflect in the gallery cases behind my own reflection. I know my sister would absolutely shudder at that description because she is one of those people that are just irrationally creeped out by dolls but I find them to be quite cherub-like. They are a part of the thematic exhibition Japan’s Early Ambassadors to San Francisco 1860-1927, currently on display.

This exhibition begins with the arrival of the ship Kanrin Maru and the first Japanese embassy in San Francisco, this year being the 150th anniversary of their arrival. It examines the experiences of some of the first Japanese diplomats and cultural emissaries to the United States. The exhibition also includes artwork and objects relating to Japanese artists active in San Francisco in the late 19th and early 20th century.

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Shanghai dioramas

A couple years ago, I traveled to Shanghai for the first time on a solo trip. It was awesome! With the World Expo now underway, it seems timely to honor our sister city’s huge “coming out” party with a personal celebration of the unique metropolis.

I’d like to share my pictures from the Shanghai Municipal History Museum. It’s located in Pudong, on the less “interesting” side of the Huangpu River (more developed, boring), in the basement of the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

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A Curator’s Notes – Women in Shanghai, Part 1

Historically, many battles have been fought over the body of the woman. So we knew that the images of Chinese women presented in the Shanghai exhibition would be a hot topic of discussion. Interestingly, the most passionate reactions expressed by the public have been focused on a group of images that have these two characteristics:

  1. The images were for commercial use, and
  2. The majority of them date to the 1920s and 1930s.

I am curious to understand why that is. So in this multipart series (I don’t even know how many blog postings I will need!), I will attempt to make connections that may have been missed or misread, using the artworks and the available texts in the exhibition, such as object labels, wall panels, and exhibition catalogue. But right off the bat, I must say, I am having fun with this topic and it is an incredible challenge!

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