It was one of those hot mornings when you can tell summer is here. My friend cancelled at the last minute our usual Friday lunch. So I felt I didn’t want to go out and be exposed to the burning sun but I didn’t want to stay at home either. So I thought it was the perfect time to visit a museum. Intermediately I thought about the Asian Art Museum because my daughter used to take acting classes nearby on Sundays afternoons. I never had the chance to visit while waiting as it closes very early on Sunday. Also I needed the time to explore it rather than just visit it! so here I am writing my first post about Museums in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The museum is conveniently located in the San Francisco Civic Center Historic District where one of the BART stations is located. Bay Area Rapid Transit, is a rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area. The heavy-rail public transit and subway system connects San Francisco with cities in the East Bay and suburbs in northern San Mateo County (which is where I currently live). This is how I travel when I come to San Francisco, otherwise I have to bear with heavy traffic and ridiculous parking regulations!
If you are a tourist or a resident in the San Francisco bay Area and you love Art then this place is a must! It is a great peaceful environment to appreciate the exhibits. There are many places for one to sit and stare at the art in a tranquil environment. The museum is made up mostly of adjoining rooms with each room hosting a specific grouping. As you move from room to room, you’ll get a feeling like you are traveling from one country to another, from one century to another, from one world to another.
The museum’s collection is divided into 7 distinct groupings:
- South Asia
- The Persian World and West Asia
- Southeast Asia
- The Himalayas and The Tibetan World
After you come out of the Civic Center Bart Station you will find yourself in the middle of a charming craft market. Take a look at the stones, jewelry and accessories there but also watch your handbag. Beware of pick pockets and tramps lying around there. Oh yeah, some parts of San Francisco can be quite intimidating!
As I was walking towards the main entrance to the Museum, I saw a big poster about the current exhibition . It is called “Gorgeous”. This exhibition shows the artworks from the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, appearing together for the forth time. Gorgeous is about something which can be beautiful or bizarre… Ravishing or repulsive. When it comes to viewing art, it’s all in your eyes, you are the judge! In my opinion it was bizarre but intriguing!
Lion guarding the entrance of the Museum
Gorgeous Exhibition (Through Sept 14)
Entrance of the Exhibition Gorgeous
From gender-bending to cultural mash-ups and theatrically both playful and serious, these works prompt us to decode the language of self-presentation and consider what happens when fantasy and reality gorgeously come together.
By Shiro Kuramata (Japanese, 1954 – 1991). Plastic, artificial flowers and aluminium. In this design plastic looks luxurious. Fake roses appear as delicate as the real thing. The Chair is in fact massively heavy – more than 150 pounds.
China. Lacquered wood. Looks uncomfortable and impractical, but who cares when displaying wealth and power is the goal, right? The chair was made for use in the Chinese imperial court, and its lavish material and intricate carving represent the pinnacle of luxury artisanship in its period.
Phebo, 2004. Acrylic on canvas. This artworks if from a Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes. She is well known for her vibrantly colorful, kaleidoscopic collages, prints, paintings and installations which draw on both Latin American and European traditions
By Kim Eunho (Korean, 1892 – 1979) Is this a courtesan or a young country woman who has unself-consciously exposed her breats as she goes about her everyday activities? Would the artist and patron have thought of this work as a record of daily life? We are faced with questions about what we suppose the artist’s intent to have been, what the open or veiled erotic charges are , and what other artworks an artist may be referring and expecting us to notice.
By Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881 – 1973) This painting is one of fifteen works by Picasso inspired by Eugene Delacroix’ 1854 painting Femmes D’Alger dans leur appartment, depicting Algerian concubines in their private quarters.
By Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946 – 1989). This photgraph is from a series of images of black men in which the artist celebrated the sculptural beauty of the human form. What do we image Bob love the person is experiencing during the photo shoot? All I can guess from him expression is indifference, with a determination not to give away much.
By Sally Mann (American, b. 1951). Sally Mann photographed her three children, “As subjects, grown-ups aren’t as good as kids”, said Mann. “They are too self-conscious… There’s no playfulness. Some viewers see this image as a private moment between mother and daughter, an honest slice of childhood. Other viewers see it as exploitation; a startling violation of the protection a mother owes her younger daughter. Can a five-year-old be considered a willing participant? Can she reclaim in gaze? The power of this image lies in its ability to cnfound boundaries of childhood, femininity and sexuality while capturing the love between mother and her young child.
The gorgeous can communicate through this language of dress up. Yasumasa Morimura’s self portrait in the guise of Manet’s Olympia uses costumes as commentary on historical and social issues.
When we think of the gorgeous, we often think of fashion: glossy magazines, runaways with models in couture gowns, some of them “drop-dead gorgeous:. But these models don’t simply sell us clothes, they sell an image, a lifestyle, a way to express who you are, or who you want to be.
The Hindu deity Shiva, approx. 1300-1500. India Tamil Nadu. Bronze. Hindu deities such as Shiva are usually envisioned as supremely beautiful. In many Hindu traditions the magnetic attraction of the Divine for the individual soul is seen as similar to the attraction of lover for lover.
The Hindu god Krishna as an infant, accompanied by attendants, approx. 1860. India; Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu state. Krishna is among the highest deities for many Hindus. Like Jesus, he’s sometimes revered as a lovely baby. Here a dash of humor is added by the goggle-eyed creature carved at the head of a musical instrument, but seeming to have come to life.
The Himalayas and the Tibetan World
Enter the Mandala – Cosmic Centers and mental maps of Himalayan Buddhism. This was my next stop in the museum.
From their website:
Mandalas are maps of Buddhist visionary worlds.
Minutely detailed and saturated with philosophical meaning, these works (most often paintings or sculptures) are a feast for the eyes and the mind–nested squares and circles are arrayed to represent the center of the cosmos and the four cardinal directions. For Buddhist practitioners, however, mandalas are not just images to view, but worlds to enter–after recreating the image in their mind’s eye, mediators imaginatively enter its realm.
But is it possible to have this experience without years of meditative discipline?
Enter the Mandala says yes. In this exhibition, 14th-century paintings align a gallery with the cardinal directions, transforming open space into an architectural mandala–a chance to experience the images in three dimensions, to dwell in the midst of the cosmic symbols and be transported to another world. Visitors can literally “enter the mandala,” exploring places in the cosmos–and perhaps themselves–that might otherwise remain invisible.
Enter the Mandala
One of the Buddha’s warriors
Guardian lion, 1200-1333. Japan. According to the Japanese tradition, this lion with his mouth wide open appears to be saying “ah”. Originally this lion was paired with a dog with a horned head whose closed mouth made him seem to be saying “um”. The supernatural power of these creatures was recognized by devotees, and who regarded them as guardians of Buddhist and Shinto shrines.
Standing Brahma (Japanese: Bonten) and Indra (Japanese: Taishakuten) Brahma and Indra were Hindu gods who were incorporated into Buddhist mythology as attendants of the Buddha. They appeared as such in Japanese sculpture in the eight century
Svayambhu Stupa 1700-1800, Nepal Gilded copper. Stupas and Cosmic Centers. Architectural stupas are monuments created to enshrine the sacred remains of enlightened beings like the Buddha or his disciples. The stupa presents a series of nested circles and squares. When approached with the proper ritual procedures, the stupa seals the beneficial presence of an enlightened being inside, making that being’s blessings available forever to worshipers. The pointed summit of the stupa reveals its role as center of the universe.
The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. Sho Kannon is one of the most popular deities in Japanese Buddhist pantheon. He watches over all of humankind and extends his limitless compassion to all sufferers. In his extended right hand, Sho Kannon once held a lotus.
Seated Buddha in the middle. Accompanied by two guardians of the east and south . Buddha Amitabha is the principal deity. The others are warriors wearing armor. Their raised arms once held weapons. Each stands on a demon, a symbol of evil.
Seated Buddha Amitabha. Japan. Amida, lord of the Western Paradise, is dedicated in deep concentration with half-closed eyes and hands closed with a gesture of meditation. This Amida figure is made in a technique called “multiple blocks”, which is described on the nearby panel entitled ” The Making of Buddhist Sculpture”
The Buddhist deity White Tara, aprox. 1400-1500 Nepal. Gilded copper with turquoise, lapis lazuli, other gemstones, and glass. Here the sacred is envisioned as possessing the flawless facial features, voluptuous body, and sumptuous ornaments of a supremely beautiful woman.
Buddha and his disciples. In the Tibetan tradition, the Buddha Shakyamuni is accompanied by a different pair of disciples , Shari-putra and Maudgal-yayana. Although this pair of sculptures was made in the Tibetan style, the artisans followed the Chinese tradition of featuring the disciples Ananda and Kashyapa.
Eleven-headed bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, approx. 1300 Tibet, Gilt Bronze
The elephant-headed god originating from India is shown in three ways in Tibetan Buddhist art
The Hindu deity Naramsimha, 1500-1600 Nepal In the For, of a man-lion, the god Vishnu destroys a proud and tyrannical demon king. As a reward for practicing austerities, the demon king received special protective power from the gods such that he could not be killed either by man or animal, by night or day, indoor or outdoors. To punish the demon king for his insolence, Vishnu outsmarts him by incarnating himself as part man and part lion, emerges from a pillar at the threshold at twilight, and furiously tears the demon apart.
Shrine of the sun god Surya, 1800-1900 Nepal. Gilt copper with precious stones.
The Persian World and West Asia
Iran has a rich history stretching back to about 8000 BCE, when settlements appeal in western Iran and around the Caspian Sea. The first great pre-Islamic power was founded by Cyrus the Great (approx. 330 BCE). The name of his homeland, Parsua was rendered by the Greeks as Persis. The name Persia – which is the word Alexander The Great used for the region when he conquered it around 330 BCE – is derived from this. The country was known as Persia internationally until 1935, when its government asked other nations to use its Persian name, Iran. Arab invasions from the West and the arrival of Islam after 640 brought Persia into contact with the larger Islamic world.
This gallery includes some of the museums’s oldest objects, as well as works spanning many centuries of the Islamic period. The objects on display here come not only from the area that is now Iran, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, Turmekistan, Uzbekistan, and other lands that were in contact with Persia or under its influence.
Bowl with figures, 1100 – 1300 Iran In this scene, two courtiers are seated on either side of a slender tree while an attendant approaches from the left. Like the object to the left, this bowl works as a frame, containing a scene that would be just as at home on the page of a book.
Bowl with birds, approx. 800-1000 Eastern Iran; probably Nishapur.
Vessel in the shape of a stag, probably 1200-800 BCE Northwestern Iran; probably Tepe Marlik Burnished earthenware.
Vessel in the shape of a bull, probably 1000-650 BCE Northen Iran; probably Amlash Earhenware.
Long-spouted jar, probably 900-600 BCE Iran Silver This long-spouted silver jar was probably a ceremonial object and may have been produced as a burial offering. It was made using sophisticated metalworking techniques. The spherical knobs on the front of the jar, while decorative, are also functional; they are rivets. The spout is attached to a metal pouch, which was then riveted to the body of the jar.
So-called Kubachi ware, fritware with underglaze polychrome decoration. This turban-clad youth depicted on this bowl is probably a Persian prince. The origins of the turban have been discovered in Central asia. Usually shown on men of high rank, turbans were sometimes embellished with features or jewels. Variations in fabric and style were used to identify wearers as members of particular political or military groups groups.
Large pitcher, 1200 – 1300 Western Iran; probably Kashan Fritware with overglaze metallic oxide decorations
Footed bowl, probably Tepe SialkThis bowl is one of the oldest objects in the museum’s collection. Tepe Sialk lies on the western edge of Iran’s great central desert.
Bowl with horse and rider, approx. 1000 Eastern Iranb; probably Nishapur Earthenware with underglaze slip decoration. He c ould be the descendant of the royal hunter depicted on metal bowls of the Pre Islamic Sasanian empire (224-651). Or he could be a mythical hero of Iranian floklore, or an Arab invader. Possibly he is a member of the hunting-and polo-loving nobility of Nishapur.
Mirror back, 1800-1900 Northern India or Pakistan Jadeite, gold and colored. Mughal jades were frequently carved to receive inlaid gems, crystals , and gold wire. After imperial patronage collapsed at the end of the Mughal dynasty in 1858, small objects such as this decorative back for a mirror began to be made in greater numbers for various other segments of society.
Window frame, approx. 1650-1750 Northen India or Pakistan Sandstone, iron, and wood. Several stone blocks make up this window frame, which is equipped with wooden shutters and an overhanging eave for the runoff or rainwater.
South East Asia
Burial urns, approx. 600 The Philippines; Mindanao Limestone This limestone jar probably once contained human bones. They were discovered in a cave in Cotabato province, Mindanao. The small size of the jars indicates that the bodies of the deceased had decomposed before the bones were placed in them. A tradition of jar burials existed in the Philippines from the early Neolithic period, and continue in the same parts of Southeast Asia to the present day.
Scene from the epic Ramayana Kumbhakarna battles the monkeys, 1100 – 1200 Cambodia or northeastern Thailand; former kingdom of Angkor Sandstone.
Rod puppets (wayang golek) of Java, Indonesia. Indonesian Puppet Traditions
Dagger, approx. 1850-1950
Steel, iron, silver, gold and jewels.
Amazing Objects made semiprecious stones
Buffalo, aprox. 1800-1900 Qing dynasty (1644-1911) Rock crystal
Semi precious stone
Seated Buddha, approx. 1500-1600
China; shanxi or Henan province. Ming Dynasty
This large ensemble is the product of a ceramics industry in northern China that began producing sculpture more than a thousand years ago. By the time this piece was produced, about five or six hundred years later, the technology was sufficiently developed that artisans could produce large and complex works.