Archive for 'In the Galleries'

Bye bye Buncheong

Translated Vase, Yee Sookyung, 2007. Courtesy the artist.

Translated Vase, Yee Sookyung, 2007. Courtesy the artist.

This weekend our Korean ceramic exhibition, Poetry in Clay, is leaving us.

If you haven’t had a chance to explore this showcase of buncheong ceramics, you’d better hurry in. Even if you have seen it, I’ve found it’s an exhibition worthy of a second look.

While some people, like our marketing manager Jenn, immediately connect with the beauty of these pieces, for others (myself included) it’s a slower process. My co-worker Amelia came to appreciate the works through the class narrative that forms part of the context of the exhibition. For me, the way in was through the contemporary works, especially the vessels made from soap. That’s right, soap. I’m not giving you a sneak preview; you’ll have to come see them for yourself.

Luckily, some of the contemporary pieces (such as the Translated Vase, pictured) will remain on view in the loggia until April, but the juxtaposition of old and new is central to this show, so to get the full experience you’ll need to join us this weekend – perhaps on our Target First Free Sunday on January 8. Hope to see you there.

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.

Poetry for the Eyes and the Palate

Yesterday we finished an installation in the Japanese galleries of 123 netsuke, all newly on view. Netsuke are miniature sculptural toggles (usually around two inches or less across), which were threaded onto the silk cords of small inro (seal or medicine cases), pouches, or pipes/tobacco accessories. These toggles allowed wearers to keep their accessories fastened safely to their person as they went about their business. (Something like clipping your keys or your badge to your belt loop, but a bit more fashionable.) Wearers would run the cords under their obi sashes so that the netsuke hung out above the obi and the accessory hung below it.

One of the netsuke on view in the new installation is a tiny figure shown with a tobacco pouch and pipe case hung from its obi by a dark colored, round netsuke—perhaps one similar to the kagamibuta (“mirror lid”) netsuke also on view . . .

okame, kagamibuta

LEFT: Netsuke of Okame lifting her kimono hem, approx. 1800–1900. Signed “Mitsu” (or “Ko”). Wood; inlaid ivory, coral, metal, and horn. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y1233.

RIGHT: Kagamibuta-type netsuke of Hachisuka Koroku and Hiyoshimaru (youthful Toyotomi Hideyoshi) meeting on the Yahagi Bridge, approx. 1800–1900. Signed “Soyo.” Mixed metals; buffalo horn. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B70Y285.

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Jeepers Creepers, Where’d You Get Those…

A journalist asked us today about the enamel eyes sported by our Vishnu and Lakshmi sculpture in Sanjay Patel’s Deities, Demons and Dudes with ‘Staches.

Enamel eyes for deity statues

One of our conservators with some ready-made enamel eyes.

This sculpture was originally intended to have eyes like these. There are carved depressions in the stone for them, as you can see from the picture below. We don’t know whether the sculpture never got its eyes, or lost them at some point.  Years ago we made a mold of the eye depressions, and I gave the mold to an artisan in India who makes such eyes. The artisan then created a pair for us from enameled metal, as is traditional.

Sculpture of Vishnu and Lakshmi.

Vishnu and Lakshmi in their former, eyeless state.

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Where did all the Korean art go?

If you’ve been on the museum’s second floor lately to enjoy our new installation of contemporary Korean art, you may have noticed a corresponding sudden lack of traditional Korean art in the adjacent galleries. Where did it all go?

Empty cases line the Korean gallery walls

In preparation for the exhibition Poetry in Clay: Korean Buncheong Ceramics from Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, museum staff have removed all of the permanent collection artwork from the Korean galleries and tucked them away in storage.

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Soap and clay

“When will you be done installing?”

Over the past two days I’ve heard this question from several staff and visitors who have encountered a spread of crates and precariously placed ceramics outside the doors of the Korean galleries.

"Translation Series" by Meekyoung Shin. Soap, pigment, varnish, mirrored steel plate, wooden crate. Lent by the Artist.

"Translation Series" by Meekyoung Shin. Soap, pigment, varnish, mirrored steel plate, wooden crate. Lent by the Artist.

The answer: We’re done!

And a clarification: That’s not clay!

Meekyoung Shin’s Translation Series plays with many things: material, process, place. Those elegant vases are made of humble soap. Perched on their travel crates, they look to me like they have just arrived at the museum— or alternatively are just leaving.

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In the galleries: a few additions

Over the coming months, astute visitors may notice some gallery changes that are not part of our regularly scheduled gallery rotations. This is because with Shanghai is up for an extended period, museum staff have an opportunity to rotate some of our less light sensitive objects, including bronzes, ceramics, and stone sculpture. This week we started by installing three new works in the South Asian and Chinese galleries.

First, newly on view in the South Asian galleries is a recently acquired silver bowl featuring scenes of Zoroastrian rulers. Made in a Burmese silver shop for a well-to-do Parsi family, this impressive bowl measures more than a foot in diameter and was meant for use in an annual ceremony honoring deceased relatives.

Ceremonial bowl with Zoroastrian themes, approx. 1875. Burma. Silver. Acquisition made possible by the Zarthosti Anjuman of Northern California, Rati Forbes, Betty N. Alberts, and members of the board of the Society for Asian Art in honor of Past President Nazneen Spliedt, AAM #2009.25

Ceremonial bowl with Zoroastrian themes, approx. 1875. Burma. Silver. Acquisition made possible by the Zarthosti Anjuman of Northern California, Rati Forbes, Betty N. Alberts, and members of the board of the Society for Asian Art in honor of Past President Nazneen Spliedt, AAM# 2009.25

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Spring rotations

Have you been in the galleries recently? If so, you may have noticed that we are in the midst of rotation season right now. Each week, we remove another group of light sensitive objects from view and replace them with works from storage. Attentive visitors can track these changes by looking for the blue “newly on view” dots in the galleries.


Japanese baskets, newly on view

Most recently we’ve made changes to our Chinese painting display, Japanese basket area, and the second floor Korean gallery. So what might you see on your next visit?

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Avatar at the Asian, part II

Having now seen the movie Avatar, I can’t say there’s much Hindu lore in it beyond the word “avatar” and an approximation of its ancient concept.

It’s true that the hero of Avatar, like the Hindu deity Vishnu, has blue skin and rides a mighty sun bird, but hey, we’re in the realm of myth, and X doesn’t have to be derived from Y.

Here’s a painting from the museum’s collection showing a very blue Vishnu (and his consort) riding through the sky on the great bird Garuda. It’s from the north Indian state of Rajasthan, and dates from around 1760.


If you see the movie and notice other connections with Hindu lore, write in and tell us, OK?

Avatar at the Asian

There you go again, Hollywood, stealing from ancient Hindu lore.

The word “avatar” comes from Sanskrit avatara, literally meaning “descent.” It referred, originally, to the incarnations of the great deity Vishnu. When humankind was threatened with disorder and violence Vishnu would take on an appropriate form and descend to earth to set things right.

There are usually thought to be ten incarnations, and they include animal or part-animal forms such as The Tortoise and The Man-Lion, and human forms such as The Dwarf, Rama, and Krishna.

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