Archive for 'Indian art'

Becoming Durga

Durga killing the buffalo demon

The Hindu deity Durga killing the buffalo demon, 900-1000. India. Granite. The Avery Brundage Collection.

A recent article in the New York Times about the most publicized of India’s rape victims described women of New Delhi taking to the streets to commemorate and mourn the 23-year-old student who died last week. One participant, a 44-year-old mother of two teenage girls pronounced, “We can only tackle this by becoming Durga.” Durga is a fierce warrior form of the divine mother goddess. She is worshiped in India, the Himalayas and Hindu communities throughout the world. Shown here she holds the weapons given to her by many of the the male Hindu gods. The Devi Mahatmya story describes Durga’s defeat of a buffalo demon that terrorized the world, and whom the male gods could not kill. With news headlines blaring horrifying stories, at times it is hard to get past our own unspeakable sorrow and impotent rage. In dark days it is a small token of hope that we may some day transform our outrage into political action and collectively rise up and become Durga, putting an end to the vicious cycles of violence around us.

A Model Week: 3D Scanning at the Museum


Model of Nandi the Bull printing on a MakerBot 3D printer

Model of Nandi the Bull printing on a MakerBot 3D printer.

UPDATE: The event was featured this week in Wired.

This week we embarked on an exciting new technological journey. Along with friends from Autodesk and the MakerBot community, we hosted a 3D Scanathon at the museum.

What on earth does that mean? Well, because this is the future, it’s possible to take 3D scans of objects using ordinary things lying around your house. Like your phone. Autodesk recently released the iPhone app of 123D catch, a free application that allows you to create digital 3D models using photos. That means you can make a 3D model in minutes; it’s perfect for a museum like ours, because we allow photography in our collection galleries, phones are small and portable, and you can’t use flash photography to create the scans. So on Monday and Tuesday, a group of artists and (let’s face it) geeks came to the museum and photographed obejcts. They then uploaded the images to 123D Catch, which gives you back a nice 3D model (don’t ask me how that bit works).

Now, that’s super fun. But the next bit is really cool. Because if you have a 3D printer, (like one of these) you can print those objects. I mean literally print a physical object. I know, right? The models are made from ABS plastic (what Legos are made from) or other plastic filaments. The printing process can take a while; our larger models were printed overnight, taking about 11 hours. The little Nandi pictured printed in about half an hour on our friend Gian Pablo‘s MakerBot, which he kindly brought in for the second day. Nandi the Bull is featured on MakerBot’s Thingiverse, a place where artists and other enthusiasts can share their models, and use models to create new things (like the iPhone 4 case Christian from Autodesk made for our chief curator).

Christian holding the iPhone case next to Scene from the epic Ramayana: Kumbhakarna battles the monkeys

Christian with the iPhone case next to the original lintel, which depicts a scene from the epic Ramayana: Kumbhakarna battles the monkeys.

So what’s next? We’re hoping that artists will create remixes of our objects, as they did when the Met held a similar event earlier in the year. We want to scan more objects (and heopfeully our visitors will download the app and scan some, too). And after that, who knows? It’s limited only by our imagination. Well, ok, there are a few technical limitations. Still. Next time you see someone wearing one of those “where is my jet-pack?” t-shirts, point them at a 3D printer.


Installing “Deities in Stone” at San Francisco International Airport

Are you going on a fall sojourn through San Francisco International Airport anytime soon? If so, you may encounter some divine visitors from the Asian Art Museum. . Last week, museum staff oversaw the installation of Deities in Stone: Hindu Sculpture from Collections of the Asian Art Museum in the airport’s United Airlines terminal 3.

Parvati arrives curbside at San Francisco International Airport.

The latest in as series of collaborations between the Asian and SFO Museum, this exhibition features 32 Indian sculptures from the Avery Brundage Collection, many on view for the first time.

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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 


Tattoo You

A tattoo by Marcus Kuhn depicting the Hindu goddess Kali.

A tattoo by Marcus Kuhn depicting the Hindu goddess Kali. Image courtesy of Marcus Kuhn.

We’re not new to tattoos. Back in 2008 we had tattoo artists work one of our Matcha evenings (you can see the video here). Taking the connection between Asian art and tattoo culture a step farther, we recently partnered with Marcus Kuhn’s online documentary project Gypsy Gentleman to film the third episode in the series.

Marcus plus tattoo artists Jason Kundell and George Campise spent nearly a full day at the museum. We see them pondering the beauty of the collection and seeking inspiration for tattoo designs, telling the viewer in one scene: “that is just dying to be tattooed.” The show explores their artistic process through to the execution of three original tattoos on eager volunteers, including one brave soul from our Marketing and Communications staff. Check out the episode, and tell us your Asian art related tattoo stories in the comments.

The Maharaja Munchies

I don’t know about you, but food consumes my mind almost every waking moment (pun intended).

It should come as no surprise then, that when I had a long visit with our Maharaja exhibition (closing April 8), I got a bad hankering for Indian food. I loved this rich art going experience, gallery by gallery, beautiful object by beautiful object.

But you get hunger pangs from museum fatigue, and the craving is fueled when you see a jade wine flask here or a spice box there.

Maharaja's a superb exhibition, but it makes me hungry. Don't those cloth game board pieces look like Rolo chocolate candies?

This silver spice box, though intended for betel leaf stimulant use, prompted me to think about all the spices used in South Asian cooking

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Top 5 for Kids at the Museum

We’ve had a mild winter in San Francisco this year, but this week will bring a colder, wetter spell. Time to find some indoor activities. We asked our museum family for kids’ favorites at the Asian; come in out of the rain and check out our top 5:

1. A perennial favorite is the glass elevator that takes you from the first floor up to the galleries. Nathaniel, aged 3, insists on riding in it every time he comes to the museum.

Vaishravana (Bishamonten), Guardian King of the North

Vaishravana (Bishamonten), Guardian King of the North and kid-pleasing demon-stomper.

2. Bobby, aged 6, is fascinated by the sculpture of Vaishravana stepping on the demon. He and his Dad walked the galleries looking for more images of people stepping on other people, and they found a lot. We’d love to hear about any you can find.

3. Recently a mom approached one of our staff at a conference to share the story of her 7-year-old son’s love of our samurai armor. Not only does he like to visit the armor on view in the galleries, he’s also completed many of our make-at-home art projects. They’re great for a rainy day when you can’t make it in to the museum.

4. Our librarian’s son, Peter, is all grown-up now and an artist himself. His favorite piece has always been the Ganesha that greets you at the top of the escalators. Young Peter was struck by the offerings people left; these made Ganesha seem not only wonderful, but all the more real. His Dad writes:

“He was especially impressed with the offerings of Hershey kisses. “Why kisses?” he once asked me. I said, “Those must be Ganesha’s favorite.” Peter replied: “I think he’s got good taste.”

5. Ishaan, aged 2, is very taken with Sanjay Patel’s depictions of Maharajas. You can enjoy them on the banners outside, but if you come in there’s more kid-friendly fare in Patel’s exhibition on the second floor. Ishaan also recommends the video ‘How to Dress an Elephant’, which can be viewed in the Maharaja exhibition.

This weekend is our monthly Target Free Sunday, so there’s no better time to get your kids out of the rain and into the museum. Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts closes in a little over a month, so Sunday is a great opportunity to see this colorful exhibition for only $5 before it goes away.

Is your child a fan of the museum? Share your favorite pieces in the comments.


The Art of Passion

A story of steamy passion turns out to be behind an Indian painting in the museum’s collection.

Painting from India's Mewar kingdom, approx. 1720, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Hopper Fitch

Painting from India's Mewar kingdom, approx. 1720, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Hopper Fitch.

The subject of the painting, which came to the museum in 1984, had been identified in very general terms before. We knew that it showed the Hindu deity Krishna and his beloved Radha parted and longing for each other.

But the painting’s inscription had never been read. Recently Joan Cummins, a specialist in Indian painting at the Brooklyn Museum, was here to give a lecture. During her preparations she read the inscription and found its source:

What her companion said to him:
Hearing her moan
with the burning pain
of parting
I emptied a whole bottle
of rosewater on her,
but the flames of his separation
vaporized it in mid-air
and not a drop
fell on her!

(From Bihari: The Satasai. Translated from the Hindi and with an introduction by Krishna P. Bahadur. London: Penguin Books, 1992.)

In the upper left a companion of Radha’s, who serves as an intermediary between Radha and Krishna, describes to Krishna Radha’s intense longing for him. The situation the companion describes is shown at the lower left: a bottle of rosewater is poured on Radha to cool “the burning pain of parting” to no avail.

If you want to take steamy passion beyond the art, join us for a multi-sensorial MATCHA on February 16. If you’d rather stick to the art, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts and Sanjay Patel’s Deities, Demons and Dudes with ‘Staches offer different perspectives on Indian culture and spirituality until April 2012.

Making the Connection: from Maharaja to Manjusha

Bay Area jewelry designer Jyotsna Singh is the granddaughter of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, whose extraordinary Cartier necklace is one of the stand-out pieces in our exhibition, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts. We’re thrilled to be able to cement the family connection by offering some of Jyotsna’s Manjusha jewelry line in our store.

Manjusha, which means a treasure chest of jewels, presents collections of unique fusion jewelry that combine the majesty of the old with the intensity of the new.  Inspired by the beauty of royal Jadau designs, Jyotsna’s jewelry is reminiscent of a bygone era of royal palaces and princely extravagance.

Here, Jyotsna talks about her special relationship with jewelry and the experience of seeing her grandfather’s necklace for the first time.