Archive for 'In the Galleries'

Newly on View: In the Chinese Galleries

This is part of an ongoing series in which our curators introduce artworks that have recently gone on display. The prep crew just finished putting up the last of the pieces for the Fall Chinese rotations.  As usual, the process was a pleasure.  He Li did her usual inspired choice of pieces to be included and in writing the labels.  In gallery 16 on the third floor is an embroidered hanging depicting an immortal paradise.   Bright and colorful, it is likely to have once been part of a set of four. In the Song to Qing gallery (gallery 17) we now have three textiles on view.  Visible as our visitors come off the elevator is an 18th century wrapper for a painting or calligraphy scroll.  The yellow silk and gold dragons are clear evidence this was meant for imperial consumption.  Denise Migdail, our textile conservator, mentions she particularly likes the cord attached to this piece:  “A marvelous tour de force of reversible figured silk.”   With its ivory clip, it would have served to fasten the wrapper around the work of art.  The next piece on view is a bright red woman’s robe with floral designs in tapestry weave.   The third is a dragon robe of very fine gauze weave decorated with gold dragons among clouds.  The collar and the sleeve ends appear to be original to the piece, rare since these parts of a robe receive the most wear and are very often replacements.

Square tray, red.

Square Tray, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) or Yuan dynasty (1272-1368), 1127-1368. Lacquer; red. Asian Art Museum, B77M16.

We were also able to replace four lacquers in the Song to Qing gallery.  Li has chosen two pieces to go in the large case with the Song dynasty tea ceramics.  The large red tray is my personal favorite – it has no surface decoration – just wonderful and very subtle carving of the corners and the feet.  Imagine presenting those marvelous black glazed ceramic tea wares on such a tray!  The other lacquer newly on view in this case is a plate in the shape of a chrysanthemum blossom-with 59 petals, another a tour-de-force.  Two mother-of-pearl inlaid trays are also newly on view in other cases in the gallery.

China Cove, Carmel, California, 1963, by Chao Shao-an (Chinese, 1905-1998). Ink and colors on paper. From the Collection of Master Chao Shao-An, 1992.238.

China Cove, Carmel, California, 1963, by Chao Shao-an (Chinese, 1905-1998). Ink and colors on paper. From the Collection of Master Chao Shao-An, 1992.238.

The works in the Chao Shao-an gallery compliment Joseph’s installation of Qi Baishi.  There are six works by master Chao and a marvelous hanging scroll of a praying mantis on a banana tree by Fang Zhaoling.  Given to the museum by Avery Brundage in 1960, this is an early work by Fang completed when she was Chao Shao-an’s student.

The ups and downs of love

Pair of ear ornaments, app. 1800–1900. Indonesia; Sumatra. Silver. Gift of the James and Elaine Connell Collection.

Pair of ear ornaments, app. 1800–1900. Indonesia; Sumatra. Silver. Gift of the James and Elaine Connell Collection.

How do you make sure your fiancé is serious? On many of the islands of eastern Indonesia, instead of exchanging engagement rings, men traditionally gave earrings to the women they wished to marry. These functioned as both a promise and a down payment on larger gift exchange at the time of the wedding. In much of Indonesia, a groom’s family’s gifts of metal objects (weapons, jewelry) were traditionally counterbalanced with the bride’s family’s gifts of textiles. Examples of jewelry used in these kinds of exchanges are now on view (until November 24, 2013) in the Southeast Asia galleries of the museum.

The shapes of the earrings in island Southeast Asia could often evoke fertility. In one example from the Indonesian island of Flores said to depict the womb of the ancestral mother. The split oval shape of the gold earrings from Tanimbar and Sumba are compared to the shape of female genitalia.

Enormous silver earrings from the island of Sumatra were worn through the upper lobe of a Karo Batak woman’s ear and then anchored to the cloth of her headdress. With a weight of over a pound each, these heavy earrings are worn with one spiral end facing the front of the face and the other facing the rear. Ethnologists report that one local explanation of this style was that they represented ups and downs of married life.

Staff Picks: Violent Offerings

In this occasional series museum staff introduce you to their favorite object in our collection. We rotate our galleries every six months, so we’ll have fresh picks when new objects go on view.

Cabinet for storing offerings, 1700-1800. Tibet. Painted wood. Museum purchase, 1997.17.a-.c.

Cabinet for storing offerings, 1700-1800. Tibet. Painted wood. Museum purchase, 1997.17.a-.c.

Facilities Manager Erik Cline has a penchant for the grotesque, which I guess is why he chose this Tibetan cabinet.

Erik Cline

Why do I like this object? Nothing too high-minded or intellectual here; just your average offerings cabinet decorated with flaming skulls,
intestines, flayed skin, severed limbs, eyeballs, and an ocean of freakin’ blood!

Staff Picks: Ritual Wine Vessel

In this occasional series museum staff introduce their favorite works from our collection. We rotate our galleries every six months, so we’ll have fresh picks as new objects go on display.

Ritual wine vessel (the so-called Yayi jia), approx. 1300-1050 BCE. China, Henan province. Bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B61B11+.

Ritual wine vessel (the so-called Yayi jia), approx. 1300-1050 BCE. China, Henan province. Bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B61B11+.

Our librarian John Stucky goes with one of our outstanding Chinese bronzes: John Stucky, librarian

This huge object is so overwhelmingly powerful it awes me every time I walk by it. It’s a tour de force of the ancient Chinese bronze caster’s skill. Few things in human history have been created that have as much potency as these ancient bronzes.

Staff Picks: Achala Vidyaraja

In this occasional series, museum staff introduce their favorite pieces from the collection. We rotate works in our galleries every six months, so we’ll have a fresh batch of picks when new objects go on display.

The Buddhist deity Achala Vidyaraja (Fudo Myoo), 1100-1185. Japan. Colors on wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S146+.

The Buddhist deity Achala Vidyaraja (Fudo Myoo), 1100-1185. Japan. Colors on wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S146+.

Anita DeLucio of Facilities tells a great story about this depiction of the Buddhist deity Achala Vidyaraja (Fudo Myoo in Japanese).

Anita

During an event at the museum, I saw a young man dressed all in black, his bare arms covered in tattoos, standing in front of this sculpture. He glanced at the deity and then at his arms, noticing similarities in design between a sculpture that was more than nine hundred years old and the ink that had been painfully etched onto his skin. His arms had flames similar to those behind the deity. This moment in which centuries, cultures, and design collided is one of my favorite memories since I’ve worked here at the Asian.

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.

Staff Picks: Friendly Duck

In this occasional series, museum staff introduce their favorite works from the collection. Objects in our galleries are rotated every six months, so we’ll have a fresh set of picks when new things go on view.

Vessel in the shape of a duck (detail), approx. 200-300.  Korea; ancient region of Gaya. Earthenware. The Avery Brundage Collection, B63P13+.

Vessel in the shape of a duck (detail), approx. 200-300. Korea; ancient region of Gaya. Earthenware. The Avery Brundage Collection, B63P13+.

Larry Oliver

Larry Oliver from admissions chose this darling duck from our Korea galleries.

This charming piece shows how a seemingly simple object can convey the friendly nature of a living creature.

 

 

 

 

 

Staff Picks: The Mughal Cup

In this occasional series, members of staff introduce you to their favorite pieces in the museum. We rotate the works in our galleries every six months, so we’ll have a fresh set of picks each time new objects go on display.

Cup with nineteenth-century French fittings, 1650-1750. Northern India or Pakistan. Nephrite, enamel, gilding, silver, and garnets. The Avery Brundage Collection

Cup with nineteenth-century French fittings, 1650-1750. Northern India or Pakistan. Nephrite, enamel, gilding, silver, and garnets. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60J961.

Idit Agam from our store chose this Mughal cup:

Idit, museum store

My first reaction coming upon this piece was to laugh at the audacity of whoever decided this delicate little cup, with its meticulous raised floral design, needed the “improvement” of gilded silver fittings and a few garnets here and there, but I love it as a tangible reminder that the histories of the empires of Europe and Asia are not easily teased apart.

 

 

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