Archive for 'Programs'

It may be the year of the rabbit…

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Bali Temple Explorer

Bali Temple Explorer is now live, both on our website and in the galleries. This remarkable interactive film by Martin Percy, produced by unit9, lets you explore a complex of three small temples located near the village of Bedulu in Bali. You can travel through the site by clicking on the video images, and a menu at the bottom of the screen offers a map and commentary. The museum is grateful to Martin Percy and unit9 for making this interactive experience available as a complement to our Bali: Art, Ritual, Performance exhibition. Let us know what you think!

UPDATE: Bali Temple Explorer has won the 2011 Webby award in the Travel and Adventure category. Congratulations to all!



In order to read a Chinese newspaper, around 4,000 characters must be committed to memory.  According to one of my favorite professors who spent time in China during the Open Door policy of the late 70s: “Give yourself about a dozen years to get a good grasp of it.”

Chinese, for anyone who has studied it, is a highly complicated language that requires a reader to quickly glean from the root (or radical) some piece of meaning.  Consider that every foreign concept that comes into China requires a new word.  The word for computer, then, is not computer, but closer to “electric brain.”  Try this link for a clearer breakdown of the process.

If this seems like a strangely digressive introduction of artist Xu Bing, who will be speaking at the Museum this Friday, maybe you don’t know Xu’s work.

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Wisdoms of the East & West: A meditation on the murals of Jean Charlot and Affandi


Wisdoms of the East and West is an animated video created in 2010 by artist Ben Wood and puppeteer Michael Schuster to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the East-West Center in Honolulu Hawaii. The video is based on the flagship Charlot and Affandi murals in Imin Center-Jefferson Hall at the East West Center.

In keeping with the East-West Center’s mandate to promote better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the Pacific region, the video shows Semar, the Javanese shadow puppet on a voyage from East to West. The video’s soundtrack is a fusion of Indonesian and western music and was performed by musicians Annie Reynolds and Made Widana.

Ben Wood is a British-born visual artist. A recipient of the California Governors Award for Historic Preservation, his work has been shown Internationally, at the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, the London Jewish Museum, and the East West Center in Hololulu. Since 2004 he has carried out over 5 large scale video projections onto Coit Tower in San Francisco.

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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Babble On . . .

Art-Bab-ble [ahrt-bab-uhl]
noun; verb (used without object) -bled, -bling

1. free flowing conversation, about art, for anyone.
2. a place where everyone is invited to join an open, ongoing discussion – no art degree required.


The Asian Art Museum has now joined the ranks of institutions such as the Guggenheim, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the New York Public Library on ArtBabble.

What is ArtBabble? And how is it relevant to teachers? (You may ask.) Well, ArtBabble was conceived and initiated by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in order to showcase video art content in high quality format from a variety of sources and perspectives. ArtBabble is not blocked by school districts (as is YouTube), and has a great Notes feature, which allows you to delve deeper into video content via related educator resource packets, websites, works of art in museums’ collections, and much more.

Check out our latest video, What does the Asian Art Museum Mean to You? Babble on!

Celebrate India


By Saturday, August 28th, the city’s sweltering summer heat will yield to a more accustomed winter chill, so we recommend warming up with the Asian Art Museum’s Celebration of India.

Get moving with the Chitresh Das Dance Company, flex your mind and body with yoga gallery tours, sample Indian desserts and spices, and create your own works of art.

And since no fewer than five people have asked about it today, yes, Sanjay Patel will be presenting his new book, Ramayana: Divine Loophole.  Check out his, or learn about his influences (he has excellent taste) and read an interview on Pixar’s site.

A huge new shipment of South Asian books just arrived in the Museum Store, so if the docents pique your curiosity, you can take some of the museum home with you.  Namaste!

China in the 21st Century–discussion on KPFA this morning

Jeffrey Wasserstrom gave a really interesting interview on KPFA this morning about China. (He comes on at 34 minutes into the morning show).

The Morning Show – June 1, 2010 at 7:00am

Click to listen (or download)

It made me think anew about the rapid changes China has undergone over the past 40 years. When asked for his predictions for the future of China, Jeffrey said he expects China to keep surprising us since all predictions have been off base for a long time. Jeffrey, who is professor of History at UC Irvine, will be at the Asian introducing some films about contemporary China on September 5 at 11am and 2pm, and at 12pm will be signing copies of his books, including his latest Global Shanghai, 1850–2010.

Shanghai Film Series: Chinese Cinema Legend Ruan Lingyu

This Sunday the Asian Art Museum will be screening two films in a tribute to Ruan Lingyu, the legendary Shanghai film star. Although Ruan was not the most popular star of her day (that honor went to Butterfly Wu, who was elected “Empress of Film” by the city’s fervent moviegoers), her suicide on March 8, 1935 at the age of 25 bestowed Ruan with an immortality that has made her the undisputed icon of Chinese silent cinema. Since her life is well documented elsewhere, and also the subject of Sunday’s second feature, I won’t repeat it here. But I will encourage you to check out the biography written by Richard J. Meyer, Ruan Ling-Yu: The Goddess of Shanghai, which comes packaged with a DVD of The Goddess (1935), her best and most famous film. You can order it from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

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Shanghai Film Series: High Times to Revolution

Celestial beauty Gong Li in Shanghai Triad

This coming Sunday, the Asian Art Museum will be screening a double feature — Shanghai Triad and Two Stage Sisters — that provides a glimpse, both on and off the screen, of the violence and social injustice that lay behind the glamorous facade of “High Times” Shanghai and the heroic mask of Revolutionary China.

Shanghai Triad (1995) depicts the power struggles of the city’s criminal underworld through the innocent eyes of a young country bumpkin employed to serve the mistress of Shanghai’s top gangster. While sometimes considered one of Zhang Yimou’s lesser works, the film is quite compelling when seen in the cultural and historical context afforded by the current exhibition.

The film’s gang boss is based on Du Yuesheng, a native son who rose through the ranks of the notorious Green Gang to become the most powerful man in pre-Communist Shanghai. Don’t miss the hanging-scroll portrait of “Big-Eared Du” and fellow gangster “Pockmarked Huang” on display in the exhibit. It provides an amusingly self-reverential counterpoint to the film’s brutal portrayal. As for Gong Li, who plays the gang lord’s glorified sing-song girl, she looks just like one of those radiant “celestial” beauties depicted in Shanghai’s popular calendar art, several fine examples of which can also be seen in the show.

Shanghai Triad: portrait of a tortured artist

For me, the most fascinating character is the silent, but ever watchful, country boy whose dream of finding a better life in Shanghai becomes a cruel nightmare. I can’t help but see him as a surrogate for director Zhang Yimou. During the film’s production, not only was Zhang under intense government scrutiny because of his previous film, To Live (1994), but he was also on the verge of a breakup with his muse and lover Gong Li.

Seen in this light, the final scene of Shanghai Triad is a haunting metaphor for the intense powerlessness Zhang must have felt at that time.

Sunday’s second feature is an inspired choice to follow Shanghai Triad. While Zhang Yimou was censured for his portrayal of the Cultural Revolution in To Live, Xie Jin and his film Two Stage Sisters (1964) were actual victims of that mad era. Now regarded as one of the best Chinese films of all time, Two Stage Sisters was initially branded a “poisonous weed” and — except for select screenings to criticize the film — it remained unseen by the general public until 1979. For the crime of advocating the reconciliation of social classes, Xie Jin was denounced at a mass rally of more than 100,000 people. Although Xie himself survived the Cultural Revolution, his parents were not so lucky. His mother and father both committed suicide.

Two Stage Sisters: sisterhood is powerful

A revolutionary melodrama, Two Stage Sisters follows the personal trials and tribulations of two opera performers against the backdrop of China’s struggle for liberation. United during hard times, the women choose different paths once they achieve fame and fortune in Shanghai. One retires and marries a man she doesn’t love for the promise of a life of comfort, while the other awakens to the injustice around her and organizes the city’s female opera workers. Thanks to Xie Jin’s abiding humanism and emotional sensitivity, the film never succumbs to mindless didacticism or cardboard characterization. While certain scenes, such as the final conversation between the two women, are evidence of outside interference, the heart of the film remains intact: a personal love strong enough to weather the storms of life.

“Green water goes through numerous mountains”
[from the film's opening song]

Let me end by calling attention to the brief but incredibly moving performance by Shangguan Yunzhu as the film’s fading opera star. Shangguan Yunzhu was a popular actress during 1940s. (Look for her on the video monitor in the exhibit’s “High Times” section in a scene from the 1949 film Crows and Sparrows). It’s rumored that she had a brief affair with Mao Tse-tung which led to her persecution during the Cultural Revolution by Mao’s wife — and former film actress — Jiang Qing. In 1968, four years after her final role in Two Stage Sisters, Shangguan Yunzhu jumped from the window of her apartment building, the Normandie. Some say that her ghost, and those of the many others who also leaped to their death, still haunts the historic French Concession building.

Veteran actress Shangguan Yunzhu’s last goodbye

— Contributed by Dave Wells, who writes for Soft Film: Vintage Chinese Cinema.