Strong visual impact was a primary goal for our exhibition Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy. This is not always easy to accomplish in an art form often intended for private viewings by small groups or individuals. An example is Thousand Character Classic by Wen Peng (1498-1573), an album of 85 double leaves. The album is a format that is meant to be viewed page by page, but we asked Marco Centin, our exhibition designer, Shiho Sasaki, our paper conservator, and Vincent Avalos, our mount maker to come up with a way to show all 85 leaves and the cover on a large curved wall. As shown in the photograph here, their solution is ingenious and the result is stunning and magical. It took almost the entire summer for the team to make this happen!
You guys, we have a secret: the Asian Art Museum has a total crush on JVST.
Ok, here’s the story: JVST is this digital design firm who came to visit us a while ago. They took a look around and thought we were cool enough to visit again. In fact, they were so hella intrigued that the next thing is they called us up to ask if they could do projects for the museum! I know, right? We were like, “Yes! Hells yes.”
So then they made our gorgeous Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy page (which is the exhibition that starts next week). (PS The website features Dae Advertising’s handsome image, and we are muy simpatico with Dae, but we digress.)
Anyways the point is that we think JVST is so rad and SO HOT. Whenever we have a meeting with them, we can’t even wait to see the genius new plans they’ve thought up. Ok, we’ll be honest: just thinking about them gives us butterflies, seriously.
But we don’t know if they dig us like that too, is the thing. Except just listen to this: they sent us a CAKE today, you guys! Just because we happened to mention it was our birthday. Which: wha???? And here’s a picture of it (don’t mind our dirty fingernails).
We have two words for you: Salted. Caramel.
K, so now here’s the question: do you think they’re into us? Because we totally hope so!
Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy opens next week, and installation is in full swing. This is always a frantic, stressful, and exciting time for us, especially for the people at the coal face: curators, registrars, conservators and the preparations team.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to walk past one of the galleries while the team was installing. I felt compelled to press my face against the tinted glass doors to try to get a better look. Although unfinished, the display in the galleries is breathtaking. I must confess, I had trouble getting excited about an exhibition of calligraphy at first. But having seen the exhibition take shape over the past few months, I can’t wait for it to open. It’s going to be amazing.
Luckily for you, our photographer has been snapping some images of the installation, so you can have your own sneak peek on Flickr. Out of Character opens on October 5, but we’re kicking off with artist Xu Bing and collector Jerry Yang in conversation with museum director Jay Xu on October 4. See you there.
UPDATE: The event was featured this week in Wired.
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).
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.
It was a Friday night at my house, and to celebrate I was watching hit 1970s British period drama Upstairs Downstairs. Suddenly, a scene unfolded that reminded me of our upcoming Chinese Calligraphy exhibition and my confusion about the whole thing. Let me tell you about it.
I’ll set the stage: we have Mr. Hudson, a servant and strict adherent to the Victorian era’s hierarchical social values. And then there’s one Thomas—young, handsome, iconoclastic and, significantly, a chauffeur of motor-cars. When the two meet, sparks fly!
One day, Mr. Hudson is hunched over at the table, writing inexplicably with ink and quill. Just then, Thomas comes in from an afternoon drive, takes off his motor-car gloves, and peers over Mr. Hudson’s shoulder. “What’s this?” he asks.
“It’s handwriting,” answers Mr. Hudson in an imperious tone, “something of a hobby.”
“Handwriting! That’s very nice,” Thomas says. “What sort of stuff do you write, apart from Christmas cards?”
Mr. Hudson, a little flustered, replies, “What do I write? Well, I copy out passages from newspapers.”
“Copy!” says Thomas. “What’s the point?”
Which is what made me think of our Calligraphy show and my original question about the thing: what’s the point?
But where Thomas was right, I was wrong, as I’ve since discovered. Chinese calligraphy often reproduces poems that already exist, but it’s not a craft as with Mr. Hudson’s handwriting. It’s something abstract and amazing, once you get it: each character is an image in itself, and each style unique to the calligrapher. Seeing Guernica for the first time, you might not know its name, but you’ll know it for a Picasso. (Speaking of which, guess who was mad into Chinese calligraphy? Yes, Picasso.)
A lot of the museum’s materials on Chinese calligraphy emphasize the rigorous discipline of the art. That of course is important and interesting to some, but whatever—just think about making each letter of a poem a masterpiece in itself, so that beautifully written takes on a double meaning. One final thing: you know what else is beautiful to look upon? Thomas of Upstairs Downstairs. Just sayin.
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.
Facilities Manager Erik Cline has a penchant for the grotesque, which I guess is why he chose this Tibetan cabinet.
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!
My morning walk to work is bleary eyed and trance like, and I don’t even like to snap out of it, since it seems like the final few moments of rest and quiet before the day begins. Tuesday, though, I was jolted out of my stupor: a rainbow of of origami butterflies perched on the wall outside the museum. Evidently they materialized overnight, for God knew what reason. Walking closely along the wall, I could see the things were arranged in a pattern, but honestly, I couldn’t—forgive me—I couldn’t read the writing on the wall. It wasn’t until I took a photo and saw the installation from a different angle that I realized it: the butterflies spelled out fly.
Later that morning, all the museum had seen the wall, and people were excited. I emailed my photo to the staff to see what everyone made of it. Jason in Creative Services suggested it might be the work of a French artist named Mademoiselle Maurice. There followed a good deal of speculation. It wasn’t until later in the day that Jenn, our ruling queen of social media, solved the mystery: Des Moines street artists The UpSideUp had graced our wall with their work.
It’s amazing how something so simple but so lovely can add color to an entire day. John, our librarian, said, “Talk about a wonderful East-West example of contemporary art.” The director said he loved it. Tom in Publications said it reminded him of a Wu Mali exhibition from several years ago—one of my favorites.
Jenn met the UpSideUp artists yesterday, and she gave them a message from all of us: however ephemeral their piece might be, it has permanently altered our perception of the museum—our walls are porous. Art shines from the inside out, but contemporary expressions also flow in from the community around us, and the two interact with one another.
Charwei Tsai’s Bamboo Mantra continues to reinvent itself. Last time I wrote about a thumb-sized sprout that had emerged from the soil. Look how big our shoot has become! You have less than a week to see this work as it was created because Phantoms of Asia will close on September 2. Once it is de-installed, it will only exist in photographs and memories.
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.
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.
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.
Our librarian John Stucky goes with one of our outstanding Chinese bronzes:
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.