Archive for 'Publications'

Wrapped up in History

Wrapping cloth (bojagi) with goose motif, approx. 1900. Korea. Embroidered cotton on silk. Gift of Mrs. Chung Hee Kim, 1993.4.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi) with goose motif, approx. 1900. Korea. Embroidered cotton on silk. Gift of Mrs. Chung Hee Kim, 1993.4.

Imagine the lives of Korean women in the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), a time when strict Confucian society denied women access to education and intellectual pursuits and confined women physically to their own quarters in the household. By day, the housewives carried out their designated tasks: cooking, cleaning, caring for their families. But at night, women gathered the remnants of fabrics to sew and connect with each other, making wrapping cloths known as bojagi. Hyonjeong Kim Han, the Asian Art Museum’s curator of Korean art, describes sewing bojagi as a way for female artisans at the time to “express their pent-up creativity and their deepest desires for their loved ones.”

Bojagi are traditional Korean wrapping cloths, colorful square or rectangular compositions pieced together out of scraps of silk, cotton, hemp or ramie left over from other garments. Bojagi, which are used to cover everything from bedding and tables to food dishes and precious Buddhist sutras, date back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE–668 CE), but the tradition really flourished during the Joseon dynasty. The wrapping cloths were decorative and practical, but they also had religious and symbolic uses: the women who made bojagi at the time infused their hopes and dreams for their families, friends and themselves into the cloth as they sewed.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1950-1960. Korea. Silk with patchwork design. Acquisition made possible by Korean Art and Culture Committee, 2005.73.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1950-1960. Korea. Silk with patchwork design. Acquisition made possible by Korean Art and Culture Committee, 2005.73.

As Youngmin Lee, a contemporary bojagi artist, explains, “The word bo means ‘wrapping happiness or fortune.’” Bojagi helped mothers maintain ties with their daughters, who typically moved in with their husband’s families upon marriage and would rarely see their own families again. “While the women are making bojagi,” Lee says, “they are thinking of their daughters’ happiness, trying to express their love.” Lee is featured in an educational video on bojagi that will be screened at the museum in December.

Daughters often used bojagi until the cloths wore out, and would then make new ones to pass on to their own daughters.

As with so many beautiful functional objects made anonymously by women throughout the ages, bojagi was not recognized as an art form until recently. The Asian Art Museum has played an instrumental role in changing that perception: Dr. Kumja Paik Kim, who preceded Hyonjeong Kim Han at the museum and was the first curator of Korean art in the United States, began acquiring bojagi for the museum’s permanent collection.

“Until 20 years ago, bojagi were not considered an art form because it was purely functional,” Hyonjeong Kim Han says. “Dr. Kumja Paik Kim discovered the beauty of bojagi and regarded it artistically.”

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), 1950-1960. Korea. Patchwork silk. Gift of Mrs. Ann Witter, 1998.57.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), 1950-1960. Korea. Patchwork silk. Gift of Mrs. Ann Witter, 1998.57.

The Asian Art Museum has more than 30 bojagi pieces, the largest collection of any museum in the United States.

Visitors can see two primary types of bojagi on display: gung-bo, made of lavish silks, were created for royal court use and were often luxuriously embroidered, while min-bo, made and used by common people, were generally patched together and look a bit like modern abstract paintings. Bojagi for weddings and other special occasions were elaborately ornamented.

The museum’s exhibition In Grand Style: Celebrations in
Korean Art during the Joseon Dynasty features a wedding bojagi, traditionally used to wrap the customary gift of a wooden goose presented by the groom to the bride’s mother, who would pair the symbolic goose with a complementary wooden goose. “The bojagi wrapped the two geese, symbolizing the unification of bride and groom and the two families,” Hyonjeong Kim Han explains.

Today bojagi are not only collected by museums but have been revived as an expressive art form by contemporary artists within and outside Korea. “It was a dying art form until recently, but now people realize how precious and beautiful this tradition is,” says Lee, who grew up in Korea and lives in the East Bay. “I think it’s amazing that I can feel the artistic sense of ancient Korean women when I make bojagi myself.”

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1900-2000. Korea. Silk. Gift of Chung Hee Kim, 2009.10.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1900-2000. Korea. Silk. Gift of Chung Hee Kim, 2009.10.

The Korean women who created these treasures without recognition at the time are now, many years later, receiving it. The women might not have imagined that their pieced-together wrapping cloths would one day be treasured parts of museum collections, much less inspire artists a century later and far beyond Korea’s shores.

Water Stains on the Wall

Xu Bing in front of his video installation 'Character of Characters' at the Asian Art Museum

Xu Bing in front of his video installation ‘Character of Characters’

Our book on Xu Bing’s fascinating animation The Character of Characters will be arriving in the museum store soon.  Featuring essays by Britta Erickson, a leading expert on Chinese contemporary art, and by the artist, as well as a version of the actual animation, its arrival will be something to keep on your radar.

We have just finished translating Xu Bing’s essay, which makes clear the artist’s intellectual as well as artistic depth.  It follows the order of the animation and makes many aspects much clearer; it is also full of delightful and sometimes challenging references to writings from the past.  An example is the simple sentence: “The stroke’s force should convey the aesthetic sensibility of ‘water stains caused by rain on the wall of a country cottage’.”

If you’ve seen Out of Character already, that quotation may sound familiar. Included in the exhibition is a video of contemporary dance work Water Stains on the Wall, by Cloud Gate Dance Theater from Taiwan.

The title of Cloud Gate’s work and Xu Bing’s reference both derive from a legendary conversation between two of the most respected Chinese calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907):

“Where do you get inspirations for your calligraphic style?” asked Yan Zhenqing, whose signature style of standard script brought Chinese calligraphy to a new height. “I observe summer clouds that resemble mountains with spectacular peaks,” replied Huaisu, the young monk who later became the most renowned master of wild cursive style. “The most exciting parts remind one of birds flying out of woods and snakes slithering into bushes. . .” “How about water stains on the wall?” asked Yan Zhenqing. “Right on! You old devil!” exclaimed Huaisu.

Water stains on a wall are the result of a long process of natural, organic, and fluid evolution. The legend of the conversation established “water stains on the wall” as a popular metaphor that represents the highest aesthetics of Chinese calligraphy. Inspired by this metaphor, choreographer Lin Hwai-min and the Cloud Gate dancers create an abstract work of spellbinding beauty and breathtaking technique that stands sublimely on its own.

We’re thrilled that in Out of Character you can experience both of these contemporary works in the context of the artform that inspired them. And be looking for the publication on Xu Bing’s The Character of Characters at the museum store soon.

Forthcoming staff publications

Left to right: Illustration from A History of Chinese Civilization (Ritual vessel ding, approx. 1050–1000 BCE. China, early Western Zhou dynasty. Bronze. Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B60B2+; photo by Kaz Tsuruta) and covers of Modern China Studies; 1616: The World in Motion; and Along the Yangzi River: Regional Culture of the Bronze Age from Hunan. (See below for larger images.)


Asian Art Museum staff have been busy on the publication front beyond our own upcoming exhibition-related publications such as Phantoms of Asia by assistant curator of contemporary art Allison Harding (with Mami Kataoka of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo) and Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy by senior curator of Chinese art Michael Knight.


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Striving for number one

emerald cities at bangkok international airport

The number two best seller at Asia Books in Bangkok’s international airport is the Asian Art Museum’s Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma 1775-1950. We’ll keep working to get the top spot!

Contributing to Treasures

Would you like to write for the museum’s magazine, Treasures? We are currently soliciting contributions for our summer issue. Following are details:

What’s going on?

We are interested in hearing about visitor reactions to Shanghai. We will publish the results in the July issue of our members magazine, Treasures.

What kind of commentaries are acceptable?

There are no restrictions on content, except that the Shanghai exhibition must be the subject, and we cannot publish material that is plagiarized, offensive, or libelous. What we would like are thoughtful commentaries that relate to the art on view and visitors’ responses to it. Personal connections to the topic are especially welcome.


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Shanghai: Art of the City
the catalogue cover

shanghai catalogue cover

When I showed pages from our upcoming Shanghai catalogue previously I was not ready to show a cover. It looks now like this cover will probably be it. The image is a detail from a poster from the deco period. The image below shows the front cover together with the spine and back  cover.

shanghai-full-cover

What do you think? What qualities does this convey to you?

Sneak peek: Shanghai, the catalogue

Readers of this blog are among a select group who can see the catalogue for our upcoming Shanghai exhibition (opening February 2010) in its early stages.

Even as we are proofing color on Emerald Cities, we’re editing and designing Shanghai. As part of this process we created stylized characters for the word Shanghai. The image at right shows them on the half title page (p. i) of the book.

I don’t feel ready to show the cover, and all of this is still tentative and subject to change, but I feel good about the direction the design of this book is going. So I am going to show a few spreads in the hopes you might find them of interest. They also offer some of the first views we have made public of the art that will be included in this exhibition.
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Proofing color

This image shows chief curator Forrest McGill and Wilsted & Taylor principal Christine Taylor proofing color for our upcoming catalogue of art objects from Burma and Thailand in conjunction with the Emerald Cities exhibition.
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Emerald Cities: The Catalogue

Some of the Asian Art Museum’s books are designed by our very small in-house staff, while others are outsourced. This one was designed by Tag Savage of Wilsted & Taylor, and it is a delight.

One of the issues we regularly encounter with the museum’s publications is that most American designers are strongly influenced by a Japanese aesthetic, while they are likely to know little about the design aesthetics of other Asian cultures. Even within the East Asian area, for example, we must often correct an initial Japanese orientation in designs of books on Chinese or Korean subjects.

So when it comes to nineteenth-century art from Burma and Siam, most designers come at the project from a starting point that is very foreign to the topic.
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Gilt-y pleasures

Even as the museum is gearing up for the opening of Lords of the Samurai in a few weeks, many of us are working on upcoming shows. Here Katie Holbrow, head of conservation at the museum, is working on a gilded object for Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma, which will be on display from October 23, 2009 through January 10, 2010, in our Lee, Hambrecht, and Osher Galleries on the main floor. This exhibition, which is drawn from the museum’s own collections (about 70 percent of the works were the result of a recent donation from the Doris Duke foundation) has involved the most extensive conservation work that I can remember. Many of these objects are decorated with gold, silver, gems, or glass, and, thanks to the work of the conservators, they really sparkle (wear shades)
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