Proximities, getting closer

The upcoming exhibition, Proximities, takes place in a single gallery over the next several months, but it’s rooted in a larger dialogue, and metaphorically in various spaces. The show is ostensibly about conceptions of an unwieldy, geographically and culturally vast idea termed “Asia,” but it’s also about engaging different communities and considering the Asian Art Museum’s connection to contemporary art—from Asia and beyond. The series emerged from conversations about institutions and audiences, and how the museum is connected to the large community of artists who live and work in the Bay Area. I’m honored to have been invited to curate this project.

I began by questioning my own relationship to the museum and to the idea of Asian art. In many ways, it’s a specialized field, and one that has aspects of identity embedded—do you have to be schooled or part of the family in order to fully appreciate what is on view in the museum? Sometimes it can seem that way. You could do an informal poll and find similar questions about any number of cultural institutions in San Francisco—the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, Mission Cultural Center— that are there to address an invested constituency. Each, however, is very interested in sharing a specific culture, and the set of concerns and ideas that emerge from their perspectives.

Contemporary art also has its degree of insider-ness, its issues du jour, and its rising stars. But these aspects of art tend to get more complicated when the overlays of globalism appear. I’m certain I’m not the only Westerner who calls Cai Guo Qiang the fireworks guy because I’m never quite sure how to pronounce his name. He’s an artist who emerged during a heyday of contemporary Chinese art, yet currently lives in New York. Does that still make him an “Asian artist”? It’s a fascinating question—where we are we in relation to “home”?– which is just one of the subtexts of Proximities. Perhaps a more salient theme is bridging some boundaries between the museum and artists you might not expect to see in it. “Asia” covers a lot of territory. The intention is to use this blog forum to address ways in which the show enters into various locations and ideas. We’re getting closer. Proximities 1: What Time Is It There? opens on May 24.

—Glen Helfand, Curator

Artists Drawing Club: Between, with Amy M. Ho

Artist Amy M. Ho talks about her Artists Drawing Club:

For the March edition of the Artists Drawing Club, I led a group of museum visitors on a sensory exploration of the space.  I started out explaining my own interest in the subject matter.  Most of my artwork is installation based and deals with our understanding and experience of the spaces and environments we inhabit.  Our relationship to space is key to our emotional and physical experiences but we often take it for granted.   In walking through the museum, I was hoping that the group would learn something new about their own experience of space and see how lighting, architecture and sound work together to choreograph our experiences.

After the introduction and as an icebreaker of sorts, we each mentioned a favorite space or an experience with space that we’ve had.  It was great to hear how experiences of space can shape our memories.

Next, I gave a short tour of the spaces that stood out to me in the South Court area of the museum.  We looked at some of the various shadows cast by the light coming in from above.  We closed our eyes and listened to the sounds echoing though the atrium.  We went to the back of the escalator to a nook that is often ignored.  Finally, we explored the corridor behind the museum store.

After the short tour, each person was assigned to a specific part of the museum and was asked to spend the next twenty minutes there observing the lights, sounds, architecture and anything else that stood out to them.  Each person was asked to sketch, photograph or write about what they saw.  Below are some of the photos and sketches.

Carey Lin

Carey Lin was assigned to the back staircase. Here’s her graph of the sound in the space.

Jamie Emerick

Jamie Emerick was up in the third floor galleries. Here is a sketch she made of an art piece and its shadows.

Dave Lyons

Dave Lyons was assigned to the Chinese Jade Gallery on the third floor. Here’s his image of the underside of the display.

Brandon Drew Holmes

Brandon Drew Holmes stayed downstairs in the South Court. Here is a sketch he made of how the light changed.

Amy Ho

I assigned myself to the escalators and the landing at the top of the escalators. Here is a view of the building across the street through the streaked window.

Owen Lawrence

Owen Lawrence went up to the Loggia. Here is a sketch of the architecture.

Marc Mayer

Marc Mayer stayed in the Contemplative Alcove in the Japan Galleries. Here is his sketch of the floating wall.


 

 

 

 

 

Beyond II, Amy Ho

Beyond II, Amy Ho

On March 28, artist Amy Ho presented the next Artists Drawing Club to investigate the museum’s architecture from its history starting as San Francisco’s public library to its transformation into the Asian Art Museum. The session, titled “Between” looks at the between space in the museum whether it is space between the old and new architecture or between light and dark of collection galleries. Structured as a non-traditional museum tour, participants explored the museum’s architecture looking for shadows, spaces, and sounds and came together to discuss their findings and assemble a collaborative map of the building.

In preparation for the session Amy and I discussed how this project came about, how it relates to her artwork and areas of interest, and how she hopes to engage museum visitors through this event.

-Marc Mayer, Educator for Public Programs

Marc Mayer: I was really excited about your Artists Drawing Club session because of your work and interest in space. The architecture of the Asian Art Museum is something intrigues and perplexes me. I am curious what about space of the museum that drew your interest.

HeadShot-AmyHo-webAmy Ho: Last year, I was able to take an architectural tour of the museum as part of Imin Yeh’s SpaceBi project. Since then, I’ve been attracted to the museum’s transformation from a public library to an Asian art museum. It is interesting to walk through the space and take note of how certain parts of the library have been preserved while other parts have been adapted to accommodate the current use of the building. The combination of the new and the old architecture also creates an interesting backdrop for the exhibition of the artwork. In touring the museum, I keyed in on certain interesting facts about the buildings construction, but I’m also fascinated by the architectural elements of the museum that were supposed to be invisible or ignored. Since the architectural tour, I’ve returned to the museum several times to look at the in between elements of the museum. I’ve been paying attention to the way certain walls or rooms were constructed or ways lighting is controlled. All of these elements choreograph our experience of the museum but we are inclined to ignore them and take them for granted.

MM: What elements of the building intrigue you or stand out in your mind? 

AH:There are a lot of elements of the building that stand out to me every time I visit the museum. In the atrium downstairs, I am amazed by the way sound echoes. You not only hear the sounds of the people talking and moving about, but also the sounds of the building. The sound of the air being pushed through the atrium and other background mechanical noises are all amplified by the space. If you step from the atrium into any of the exhibition spaces downstairs or the museum store, the sound suddenly becomes muffled and muted. All conversations become whispers and the soft sounds of people shuffling through the room become apparent.
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MM: Considering sense perception, what elements help define space for you?

AH: I find that our understanding of space is very much determined by light. We interpret the environment around us through light. A brightly lit room in the daytime and a dimly lit room at night can feel like entirely different places. Light allows us to determine dimensionality and perspective, for example a space can feel claustrophobically small or infinitely huge, but many times that sense is shaped by how it is lit. I am fascinated by how our sensory experiences affect our emotional experiences and how we can assign particular moods to different physical spaces. Our sensory experiences of light and space seem like they should be objective observations, but they are inevitably tinted by our consciousness and psychology.

MM: Your installations seem to demand a certain openness or presence. How do you want your work to impact viewers?

AH: I hope that my work brings attention to the immediate environment around us and to experience itself. In daily life, we often forget to stop and experience the world around us. It has become even easier in contemporary times to ignore the physical environment by withdrawing into the digital world of smartphones and computers. In my work, I distill certain elements and present environments that focus on particular sensory experiences. I hope that by focusing on and exaggerating certain physical aspects, that the viewer will have a bodily and mental experience of the space around them. Certain fields of science and philosophy have focused on trying to explain how concrete elements can combine to create consciousness. Although humanity may be moving toward a better understanding of neurology, I believe that subjectivity and the sanctity of every single person’s experience can never be explained through objective terms. I believe that we can only understand consciousness by examining and embracing it though experience.

MM: What are you planning for the Artists Drawing Club on March 28? What do you hope that participants will get out of the experience?
AH: For this Artists Drawing Club session on March 28th, I aim to engage the participants to create a collective and collaborative “map” of the museum by exploring the “between spaces” of museum that might be defined by sound and light, but more so by each person’s observations and experiences. I am excited to see how others consider, define, and understand space. As group I wonder if this exercise will allow us to look at the museum differently and to appreciate the various elements that contribute to the overall experience visiting the museum.

On a larger scale, I would love to see the heightened perception practiced during the event transferred to life outside of the museum. In our busy daily routines, we often don’t take the effort to experience the physical world around us. If we can dedicate a few moments each day to just feel the spaces around us, I think we can lead more enriched and centered lives.

 

SFUSD Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum

SFUSDArtsFestivalPhoto1

“What’s this?  Student work in a museum?  What a wonderful way to support art in schools!” commented a visitor who’d come to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit and discovered the San Francisco Unified School District’s Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum.  The Asian Art Museum had the extraordinary opportunity this spring to host the 27th annual SFUSD Arts Festival from March 2nd through March 10th.  The Arts Festival is the culmination of a collaborative effort between the SFUSD School District and the Asian Art Museum to fulfill the district’s Arts Education Master Plan “for equality and access in arts education for every student, in every school, every day.”  Public school arts teachers from across the city submitted student work to the Asian Art Museum, resulting in a week of vibrant art installations, poetry readings, screening of student films, and musical performances.

 

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Student Terracotta Warriors.

After a year of planning, the actual installation of the festival brought museum curators, exhibition and preparation staff, education department staff, and museum and SFUSD volunteers together to showcase 500 two-dimensional and three-dimensional student pieces.  Display cases were pulled out of the basement, given a fresh coat of paint, and student work curated for display.  Over 50 student groups performed in Samsung Hall during the festival, showcasing styles from taiko drumming to choral music.  Meanwhile, yellow school buses brought over 4,000 students from city schools to see and participate in the Arts Festival.  “This is what education is all about,” stressed SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza at the festival’s opening ceremony.

 

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Professional Development Work Honoring Legacy. Credit: Marissa Kunz

One of the major themes of the Terracotta Warriors exhibit is legacy, and museum staff applied this theme to the Arts Festival to showcase and preserve the legacy of San Francisco teachers and administrators in art education.   Professional development throughout the week for San Francisco principals, elementary, and secondary school teachers created an opportunity for district and museum staff to dialogue about the connection between arts education and the museum’s collection.   During the awards evening,  Dreamcatcher Awards honored individuals who inspire the educational community with “the power to capture dreams.”  Eight individuals from local schools and arts programs were recognized, including: Melecio Magdaluyo as Artist Partner, Elizabeth Brodersen as Community Arts Partner, Jan Link as Administrator, Eric Guthertz as Principal, Carla Lehmann and Jackey Toor as Credentialed Arts Teachers, and Sandra Berger and Jeff Larson as Arts Coordinators.

 

Redding March By City Hall

Redding March By City Hall

In collaboration with the Arts Festival, Japanese artist Takayuki Yamamoto brought his “Children’s Pride” project to both Rosa Parks Elementary School and Redding Elementary School in San Francisco.  Yamamoto’s artistic process includes working with school children from around the world on co-created art.  Students worked with Yamamoto to identify a personal desire for change to make their world a better place, representing their desire on a placard.  Students then took their placards, advocating everything from “No Guns!” and “Be a Better Reader!” to “Turn into a Fairy!” on a protest march with their classmates to the Asian Art Museum.  “It is okay for them to be different, to want different things, and to advocate for them,” says Yamamoto.  The ability to share their personal perspective through art is something Yamamoto’s students will take with them from their experience of the SFUSD Arts Festival.  And every student who visited the SFUSD Arts Festival at the Asian Art Museum will take home with them the importance of art in public education.  “Just as athletes need to exercise every day, children need to make art every day,” concludes Ruth Asawa, San Francisco arts educator.

Artists Drawing Club is here

Procession

Towards a Creole Procession

On Thursday, February 28 the Asian Art Musesum launched a new contemporary art program series called the Artists Drawing Club. The Artists Drawing Club is a salon of sorts.  Every month a local contemporary artist is invited to use the museum as a project platform, drawing inspiration from the collection, special exhibitions, the building, or the surrounding neighborhood to create an interactive event for the public to engage with museum through the artist’s process.  The inaugural event featured artist Ranu Mukherjee and future session will include artists Amy M Ho, Julie Chang, Weston Teruya, Binh Danh, Lordy Rodriguez, Toyin Odutola, and Ala Ebtekar over the next eight months. I spoke with Ranu just before the first event about the project and the process of working at the museum.

Marc Mayer: The Artists Drawing Club grew out of conversations I had with Imin Yeh and other local artists while working on the event at the museum, Taking Up Space which was part of Yeh’s larger project SpaceBi. Knowing the development of this series, what interested you about this opportunity?

Ranu-HeadshotRanu Mukherjee: I was excited about the idea of doing a site specific project in the museum that would respond to the objects and their positioning as historical and cultural artifacts. This opportunity seemed like it would challenge me. It is outside of my comfort zone, yet it also connects with some very core elements of my work. I was sold on it by your enthusiasm and vision, as well as the fact that it felt like such a perfect way to engage the class of graduate students I am teaching at California College of Art (CCA) this semester. It seemed to be a really nice scale of event. Rather than a bigger spectacular kind of proposition, I really liked the sense that the event might be a place to actually experiment with ideas in a public yet intimate format.

MM: What are some of those “core elements” of your work that have a connection to the museum?

RM: I’ve been working with Indian mythological images from the 19th Century for a few years now. I am interested in the way that these images are so familiar and accessible and have become part of popular culture, yet were not addressed in the my art school education, which was based in Euro-American art historical framework. I like to think about and question patterns of cultural influence and how objects embody those patterns.

I think that many of the artifacts in the museum’s collection possess the power of being immediately accessible, even if the specific stories attached to them are not. I am intrigued by the consistent presence of the archaic or ancient in the contemporary moment and the difficulty to imagine a future without these influences. While my reasons for being interested in the idea of Asia have a personal origin, they also engage with current narratives about the ‘rise of Asia’ and how those stories might manifest at the intersection of culture, matter and economics.

Orange-Chimera

Ranu Mukherjee, Orange Chimera, Narottam Narayan,2012. 19 x 19inches. Ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist.

MM: Can you tell me more about the class you are teaching at CCA?

RM: The class is a studio lab comprised of 6 MFA students, and part of CCAs Engage program.

It is called ‘Towards a Creole Procession’ and looks at ways that mixed cultural heritage can appear in aesthetics as well as how artists think and work with the idea of ancestry, whether in line with dominant cultural heritage or in contrast. I was excited to work with students to explore the idea of ancestry in relation to contemporary art, because these can seem incommensurable. Framing an artwork as a cultural or historical artifact positions it as a vessel for understanding a larger society and conditions wherein it was produced, while framing work as contemporary art brings the subject of the artist to the forefront. I think good work is always both, yet it matters how the work is contextualized. How does one balance this delicate act, merging the historic/cultural with the contemporary? The class allows us to focus on some of these questions.

The second half of the class will continue a conversation we have started with Leah Gordon, a London based artist, filmmaker and curator. She has been curating the Ghetto Biennale in Haiti with Andre Eugene of the Grand Rue sculptors group, Atis Rezistans. The class will be held at the Luggage Store Annex/ Tenderloin National Forest for the rest of the semester and will culminate in a workshop with Leah and Eugene about the ever presence of ancestors in Haitian culture,  tactics used by artists like Atis Rezistans, and ways these artists’ work is received outside of Haiti.

MM: What are you planning for the Artists Drawing Club at the Asian Art Museum this Thursday?

RM: I, along with the six MFA students in the class (Dimeng Brehmer, Jamie Emerick, Maral Hashemi, Laura Arminda Kingsey, Opesanwo Omoifa and Tali Weinberg) will conduct a procession that travels through the permanent collection galleries on the third floor and concludes in Samsung Hall. Each artist is devising a piece that responds to a specific object in the collection. Some performances will be ongoing throughout the procession and others will halt the group to let an artwork unfold. It is an attempt to re-animate some of the objects or images we see in the vitrines or on the walls in the museum. All of us are engaging with distortions of history, personal associations, interpretations and translations to intervene and reimagine these works as artifacts for the future.

MM: What interested you about the concept of a procession?

RM: Originally I had thought of the procession as being a fiction around which we could make artifacts. I wanted to take the format of the procession as the starting point for our studio lab. The procession embodies and honors mixes of culture and heritage. I think the format, especially considering our project at the museum, allows each person participating to work with what is meaningful for them, while tackling some of the complexity around cultural representation in the context of cultural heritage. I also liked the idea that a procession physically maps out a place while also blurring boundaries. The procession can blur the role of audience from spectators to participants. At a most basic level, if you walk with us, you become part of the procession.

MM: What has the process of working on this project been like for you and your students?

RM: We have been working at the museum for the last month. During our first class we explored the collection galleries. Each of us chose a few objects that spoke to us in some way. We narrowed it down further selecting objects that might be more dynamic in the context of audience engagement. During the next class we had the opportunity to research these object in the museum’s library.  We also met with multidisciplinary artist Dohee Lee who discussed her performance-based work. As visual artists, we are not as well verse in performance yet it is a skill we need to employ for this project. Dohee’s perspective and insights gave us strategies to help animate the procession.

The process has made me realize that making an ephemeral work in the context of a museum, with all its limitations is going to contribute a lot to the content of the project. It has been really exciting to start the class right in the middle of this amazing collection-outside of a classroom- because we are immediately steeped in the ideas that the course was designed to consider. It has been remarkable to witness the way that these objects affect us in the present, through watching the students’ responses unfold.

For more information about Ranu’s work you can visit her web site.

Mukherjee’s studio research lab is part of ENGAGE at CCA, an initiative merging project-based learning with community engagement. center.cca.edu/engage.

The ups and downs of love

Pair of ear ornaments, app. 1800–1900. Indonesia; Sumatra. Silver. Gift of the James and Elaine Connell Collection.

Pair of ear ornaments, app. 1800–1900. Indonesia; Sumatra. Silver. Gift of the James and Elaine Connell Collection.

How do you make sure your fiancé is serious? On many of the islands of eastern Indonesia, instead of exchanging engagement rings, men traditionally gave earrings to the women they wished to marry. These functioned as both a promise and a down payment on larger gift exchange at the time of the wedding. In much of Indonesia, a groom’s family’s gifts of metal objects (weapons, jewelry) were traditionally counterbalanced with the bride’s family’s gifts of textiles. Examples of jewelry used in these kinds of exchanges are now on view (until November 24, 2013) in the Southeast Asia galleries of the museum.

The shapes of the earrings in island Southeast Asia could often evoke fertility. In one example from the Indonesian island of Flores said to depict the womb of the ancestral mother. The split oval shape of the gold earrings from Tanimbar and Sumba are compared to the shape of female genitalia.

Enormous silver earrings from the island of Sumatra were worn through the upper lobe of a Karo Batak woman’s ear and then anchored to the cloth of her headdress. With a weight of over a pound each, these heavy earrings are worn with one spiral end facing the front of the face and the other facing the rear. Ethnologists report that one local explanation of this style was that they represented ups and downs of married life.

After a Night Rain

Chen Xianzhang, After a Night Rain.

After a Night Rain by Chen Xianzhang, 1428–1500. China. Ink on paper. Museum purchase, B68D6.

Our librarian John recently translated a poem from a work in our collection. Below is the original Chinese text and his beautiful English translation; above is the calligraphy. We hope you enjoy it.

陳獻章  : (雨夜後詩)

蒼山收雨鵓鳩靈

曉雨松花對曉晴

風日醉花花醉鳥

竹門啼過两三聲

 

After a Night Rain

—-Chen Xianzhang

When it rains in these blue-green hills

The pigeons become ghosts:

(unseen,

unheard).

Yet,

When sparkling-dry daybreak comes

& the pines and flowers,

alike,

Greet the brilliant dawn,

Then

The birds, like the flowers, flutter

Drunkenly

In the brilliant breeze,

Even now,

I hear their cries penetrate the

Bamboo gate.

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.

The staff of the Asian Art Museum are saddened to hear of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, this morning. Our thoughts are with all those who are suffering today.

Sho Kannon is one of the most popular deities in the Japanese Buddhist pantheon. As an agent of the Buddha Amida, he watches over all of humankind and extends his limitless compassion to all sufferers.

Sho Kannon

Standing bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Sho Kannon), approx. 794-1185. Japan. Wood with traces of lacquer and gilding. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60S420.

Your Handy Dandy Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re still working on your holiday shopping, make our museum store the ultimate destination. Our wonderful wares are as diverse as their price tags, so you’re bound to find the perfect gift for the special people in your life. Here are some ideas for your gift giving needs:

Get Cozy

Who doesn’t like a warm pot of tea?  Brew a single serving with inlaid celadon (delicate, pale green ceramic) teacups from Korea. Got company? Share with Chinese Yixing (clay) or Japanese iron teapots. Get the most out of your brew with books detailing the history and highly codified ritual that surround the noble camellia sinensis, or just learn exactly how long you should be steeping your oolong.

Books on tea shown, $16.99-$32.50
Tea vessels, $30+
Tea whisk, $18.00

Practice, Practice, Practice


Begin your Chinese instruction one stroke at a time: Buddha Boards and Chinese Character a Day get you just a little closer to your goal of mastering the art.  If you’ve practiced calligraphy, you’ll know your mistakes can add up.  With the Buddha Board, all you need is water—your less-than-perfect work will evaporate, leaving you with a clean slate.  Chinese Character a Day offers 365 days of education: the journey begins when you want to begin.

Buddha Boards, $12.95-$34.95
Chinese Character a Day, $16.95

Make Your Own Adventure


Stir up storytelling time with robots.  Build Your Own Paper Robots comes with a CD that allows you to print 2D paper into 3D mecha fun.  Great for older kids or anyone with engineering acumen.  For fans of readymade cubic construction, Monster Village Sets include over 90 blocks that can make mobile monsters (includes manga storybook/instructions, not for children under age 3).

Build Your Own Paper Robots, $9.98
Monster Village, $27.50

Shine and Sparkle


Dim days and long nights call for a little added brightness.  Calligraphic-inspired jewelry in rhodium-plated silver glows white-hot.  Next to platinum, rhodium is the hardest of metals, ensuring that these one-of-a-kind pieces won’t tarnish or corrode.

$45-$475