All posts in “asian art museum”

Ping’s Puzzle: Putting Together a New Narrative for the Asian Art Museum

While the Asian Art Museum is closed in preparation for renovation, our curators are staying busy. Hear from Ping Foong, Foster Foundation Curator of Chinese Art, on what she’s busy with and how it will impact the Asian Art Museum.

SAM: What are you working on while the Asian Art Museum is closed for the next 18 months?

PING: I’m hoping to convene a panel of senior advisors to help us address big-picture questions for the museum: What defines Asian Art? How can we define Asian Art in the 21st century? What are the boundaries of Asia that we want to talk about? What role does contemporary Asian Art play? What role does less represented areas of Asia play? The term Asia doesn’t refer only to East Asia (China, Japan, Korea) or South Asia (India and Pakistan). So one of the big questions is how to balance the stories the collection itself can tell versus the stories we ought to tell. So, basically I’m asking my elders for help.

A motivation for the proposed renovation is to better display South Asian artworks, correct?

Yes, this is not my area, so I found us expert help: a senior curator of South Asian art will join my team as a consultant so that we will have “three pillars” representing our collection—China, Japan, and South Asia. Another important question is what role must Islam play in the display of Asian art. Islamic art is not geographically specific. Right? So, we have on display right now downtown a room full of Islamic art, but then the question is should it also be included in the Asian Art Museum? Where do you draw those lines? That’s an important question to ask. And how do we ask these questions? Well a curator has a very important role in these things, but I like to have feedback. I want this to be part of a conversation.

How do you see this conversation impacting the future of the Asian Art Museum?

The theme that surfaces often is transcultural connections. There are objects that cannot be defined by religion. We want to talk about how artistic styles travel. Other things travel that you may not imagine. For instance, tattoos travel because they’re on the body. I like to think about the ways that color travels. I would love to make a room full of color talking about the way that trade connects Persia and China. Cobalt goes from one end of the world to the other end and gets made into something and comes back. This process of going back and forth can be demonstrated with objects.

In the meanwhile, what sort of Asian art will be on view at Seattle Art Museum?

Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors is on view this summer. People are very excited about that exhibition. Another reason to be excited is Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Late Imperial China. It’s basically a scholar’s objects show with a twist. Certainly, you get to see some very important examples of well-known furniture, lovely Ming dynasty chairs, elegant brush pots, pens—the kinds of objects that a scholar might need for everyday life. But the theme of the show is that these things are not just necessarily belonging to scholars. They belong to people who aspire to join the community scholars, or to participate in scholar culture. These beautifully crafted objects may have been made for somebody who wants a scholar’s object, but is not a member of that class.

Also, it’s a chance to display things we’ve never displayed before. I found a set of very nice ink sticks that belonged to one of the most famous Chinese emperors. He lived in the 18th century and collected like a maniac. He was probably the greatest emperor collector on earth; no one had a bigger collection than him! These ink sticks are little and each of them looks like a tiny musical instrument. With an ink stick, you rub it with a little bit of water against the inside of an ink stone and you create ink you can use in paintings or calligraphy. They’re ephemeral, they disintegrate, but yet these ink sticks are so beautifully crafted.

Sounds like we won’t be missing out on Asian art in the interim. But what will you miss most while the Asian Art Museum is closed for proposed renovation?

Well, I miss a number of things. The offices, for example, those will change. They are historic offices. There’s history in sitting on those seats and that will go away. The plan right now is that where the current offices are will become perhaps the conservation studio and the administrative offices will move. So I will miss my beautiful window. I have a tree outside it. That was my favorite part about working in the park. As objects are concerned, I’ll miss my favorite Buddha.

What are you most excited about maybe in terms of the new space?

We’re planning on two new education spaces. Currently, we’re busting at the seams on Saturdays because we cannot accommodate all the kids who come to the museum. So we’ll have one space in the lower level, an art-making area, and a family area upstairs that is currently a gallery. It’s one of the most important parts of the proposed renovation because we just don’t have room for that currently.

Anything else you want to share about your future plans for the Asian Art Museum?

I think that the conversations we’re having with our advisory panel have to happen now, as I’m formulating ideas. And I do have some crazy ideas. I’m not sure if I can talk about them yet. It’s like this: Permanent collections—we’ve got to bring them a little love. You know? I want to put together a new and exciting narrative that people will love now and in the future.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Photo: Natasha Gillett
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Object of the Week: Crows

The six-panel Crows screen is a monument in SAM’s Asian art collection and also forms an integral part of Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi, where it serves as a reference point for a digital aviary. In what other company have the Crows flown?

Back in 1936, the exceptional screen featured in a display of Japanese Buddhist Art at the gallery Yamanaka & Co., from which SAM purchased it. In 1953 it mingled with other Japanese painted screens in an exhibition at the Portland Art Museum. Birds, Blossoms, Bees and Bugs—The Nature of Japan (1976) brought the screen to Los Angeles for a look at Japanese art inspired by the environment. Dozens of permanent collection displays at the Seattle Art Museum have flocked around the Crows. A 1994 installation marking the reopening of the Volunteer Park building as the Seattle Asian Art Museum situated the screen among Japanese netsuke, bronze waterdroppers, jewelry, and lacquers. Flights of Fancy (1998-1999) placed it among newer acquisitions of painting and sculpture, while Signs of Fortune, Symbols of Immortality (2000-2001) engaged its spiritual content. A Fuller View of China, Japan, and Korea (2013-2014) considered the Crows among the countless contributions to the museum from co-founders Dr. Richard Fuller and Margaret MacTavish Fuller.

Dr. Fuller in storage with Crows screen

Wherever the words “Asian” and “masterpiece” were used in a show title at SAM, the Crows screen was there. Masterpieces of Japanese Art from the Collection of the Seattle Art Museum (1998-1999) displayed it among some other remarkable Japanese paintings, like the Hell of Shreaking Sounds scroll from the Heian period, and Bokkei Saiyo’s Moonlit Landscape. Care for the Crows took center stage in Five Masterpieces of Asian Art: The Story of their Conservation (2007). Over 2009–2010, they took a rare flight out of Seattle for Luminous Jewels: Masterpieces of Asian Art from the Seattle Art Museum, which traveled to the Suntory Museum, Tokyo; Kobe City Museum; Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art; MOA Museum, Atami; and Fukuoka City Museum, before landing back home.

As truly great artworks do, the Crows have spoken loudly in a range of themed and cultural contexts, amid a variety of fellow works. This restless murder continues to spark new and innovative ideas from its perch at the Asian Art Museum.

–Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections  Coordinator

Image: Crows, early 17th century, Japanese, Edo period (1603-1868), pair of six panel screens; ink and gold on paper, 61 9/16 x 139 5/16 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.21.1. Photo: Paul V. Thomas.

 

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Learn More about Indigo through Resources at the McCaw Foundation Library

Textile artists have been using indigo, a type of dye, for thousands of years, mastering methods of creating beautiful patterns with this deep blue color. A visit to the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition, Mood Indigo: Textiles from Around the World features striking hues and the multitude of ways in which indigo manifests in various materials. If your visit leaves you yearning to learn more about the indigo-dying process, we’ve got what you need!

The McCaw Library at the Seattle Asian Art Museum provides resources to visitors about works in our collection and in special exhibitions. During the run of Mood Indigo, the library features a number of titles about indigo, its processes, and methods of application. Because the McCaw Foundation Library is one of the few libraries in the region to focus specifically on Asian art, many of our resources are not available anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest.

Check out this selection of resources related to indigo and its uses in Asian textiles

Shibori and Chinese Indigo Batik

Arimatsu shibori: a Japanese tradition of Indigo Dyeing by Bonnie F. Abiko
(Rochester, MI: Meadow Brook Art Gallery, Oakland University, 1995).
In the early 17th century, Shokuru Takeda settled in Arimatsu, a small town on the road to the capital city, Kyoto. There he created Arimmatxu shibori, the now-famous stunning indigo designs expressed on fabric using shibori dye-resist techniques. This book, written in English with many color pictures of this special fabric, tells engaging stories of how and where it came into being and influenced the development of Japanese textile design.

Designs of Chinese Indigo Batik by Pu Lu
(New York: Lee Publishers Group; Beijing, China: New World Press, 1981).
Indigo batik has a long history among the common people of China, particularly in the remote southwestern provinces of Guizhou and Yunnan. It has been an integral part of the social customs and folk art of the area. This book, written in English, details the methods, materials, and history of making Chinese indigo batik. It includes many images of designs used in creating these beautiful and socially significant pieces.

Genshi tennen no nuno = 原始・天然の布 by Okamura Kichiemon
(Osaka, Japan: Sansai, 1981).
This elegant two-volume set includes a wide variety of fabric samples, many of them using indigo dye. The captions are written in Japanese. This book will fascinate both artists and scholars.

Kasuri no michi: fujimoto hitoshi korekushon by Hitoshi Fujimoto
(Tokyo : Mainichi Shinbunsha, 1984).
Kasuri is the Japanese term for ikat weaving. Yarn threads are tied before they are dyed. Tying “masks” the part of the thread that is knotted, and so it will resist the dye. The pattern used when tying the knots creates the finished patterns which will be woven into the cloth. Sometimes only the weft yarn is tied; when both the weft and warp yarns are tied, it is called double kasuri–a technique which can yield designs that range from simplistic to marvelously complex and pictorial. This book, written in Japanese, contains descriptions and images detailing the creation of these textiles, and color images of finished pieces.

indigo-books4

Jidai Resshu Kasuri = 時代裂集 絣
Peruse a wide selection of ikat textile samples, most of them using indigo dye. The stunning variety of designs is captivating: some are intricate and representational, while others are simple yet graceful. Japanese captions often are paired with English translations. This is a must-see!

The McCaw Foundation Library is open to the public, Thursdays and Fridays, 2–5 pm and Saturdays, 10 am–2 pm (through September 3). Beginning September 10, our Saturday hours are extended from 10 am–5 pm.

Kate Nack, Library Volunteer, McCaw Foundation Library for Asian Art

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Object of the Week: Guanyin

Have you ever purchased something at full price, feeling slightly guilty about it, only to find a sale item that suits you even better? Something similar happened to Dr. Fuller in the early 1930s, as he was seeking to expand his Chinese art collection in new directions.

[Fuller] acquired . . . a large Guanyin in pale glaze with ivory tone from Yamanaka in 1931 for $2,500. With a dated inscription of 1615, the Guanyin is among the few extant figures commissioned by patrons of the Kaiyuan Temple in Zhanzhou (in modern-day Fujian province). Seven months after that acquisition, Fuller encountered a whiter blanc de chine Guanyin of similar size. It was allegedly bought from Spain after the revolution and was priced at $900 by Roland Moore. Fuller bought it at once. The price gap between the two Guanyin probably bothered Fuller, especially because the latter work is whiter and hence more attractive, with a more elaborately carved base positioning the Guanyin on an auspicious beast emerging from or riding on water. Commenting on the Yamanaka Guanyin from Zhangzhou, Fuller noted that ‘years of incense smoke discolored its crackled glaze.’ He proposed exchanging the Guanyin for a Tianlongshan sculpture in 1934 . . . and Yamanaka graciously accepted. Luckily, the Guanyin remained in Seattle. Yamanaka resold the work to Fuller for $750. He made the right decision to keep the Yamanaka Guanyin because it matches the Moore Guanyin beautifully.1

The best decision, as we all know, is to walk away with both! Not only do the two Guanyin complement each other in form, as former SAM Chinese art curator Josh Yiu notes, but the message carried by the Guanyin bodhisattva is one that resonates deeply today, and Dr. Fuller’s choice to buy back his original porcelain Guanyin doubly enhances its life-giving presence at SAM. Known as Lord of Mercy, Guanyin represents boundless love and compassion. In the Mahayana doctrine, extending love to all people figures as an important step on the path to enlightenment.

Guanyin

The second, whiter Guanyin purchased by Dr. Fuller will graciously greet you on your next visit to the Chinese art galleries at the Asian Art Museum.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Josh Yiu, A Fuller View of China, Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2014; 56-63.
Image: Guanyin (detail), 17th18th century, Chinese, Qing dynasty (1644-1912), Dehua ware: porcelain, 33 1/2 x 9 x 9 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.38, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Guanyin, 1615, Chinese, Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Dehua ware: porcelain, 34 x 10 x 9 1/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.39, Photos: Natali Wiseman. Guanyin (detail).

 

 

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Japanese bell with five-pronged handle

Object of the Week: Bell with five-pronged handle

SAM’s Bell with five-pronged handle, one of the works you can visit now at the Asian Art Museum, looks an angry and forbidding object. Pointed prongs wend upward from the bell’s handle, emanating from the mouths of snarling lions, curving like the teeth of a predator. A band of decoration on the handle features a circle of human faces, each one with its brow angrily furrowed. Come hither and ring me! it does not bid you. It looks like something that could just as easily be found here.

Yet the bell has a striking form, and looking more closely reveals the thoughtfulness of the work’s form and decoration. To dig into the concepts present in the work we have to think about vajra. A Sanskrit term, vajra means both “diamond” and “thunderbolt,” carrying the connotations of strength and power that those things embody—an indestructible jewel, a boom and flash of energy. More than a concept, the vajra is also a visual form. Looking back at the bell, the five prongs at the top make up a vajra. A vajra can feature different numbers of prongs, and elsewhere on the bell one will find single and three-prong vajras in decorative motifs, as well as the torture-y five-prong vajra at its top. The form of the vajra has specific meaning in the Buddhist visual language, in which it signifies the vow of a Buddha or bodhisattva. Everything on the bell has meaning: Lotus blossoms, enflamed jewels, and more vajras on the body of the bell signify the presence of the Buddha, his law, and his priesthood.

Detail of the base of the Bell

Situated in GOLD: Japanese Art from the Collection, the Bell with five-pronged handle joins other fine art and functional objects, including portable shrines, hanging scroll paintings, a sword stand, a fan, ceremonial kimono, netsuke, sake cups, and a folding screen. One of my other favorite works in the show lies somewhere between functional and purely formal: a Hooded Cape meant to be worn by the wife of a Japanese feudal lord on the specific occasion of a fire. I have to think the absurdity of that purpose essentially makes it a decorative object.

The bell and its company in GOLD reveal a culture that has infused religious and philosophical symbolism into its functional objects. “Used” or not in their first lives, they all now have a second existence as museum artworks, as examples of exceptional craftsmanship and markers of cultural stories. Gilt bronze amid other works in gold leaf, gold lacquer, gold thread, and pure gold, the bell shows, on the part of its maker, an appreciation for eye-catching aesthetics, complemented by a desire for stimulating thought.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGE: Bell with five-pronged handle, 12th-13th century, Japanese, Late Heian period (794-1185)-early Kamakura period (1185-1333), gilt bronze, 9 1/4 x 4 1/4 x 1/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 49.237, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Object of the Week: Buddha

Celebrations of spring are happening all around us. It’s opening week for baseball and Masters Tournament time in golf. Here in Seattle, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and all of a sudden it’s like we live in a populous city. You never have a sense for how many people live (and vacation) here until the sun comes out!

Flowers outside of the Asian Art Museum

Flowers bloomin’ outside of the Asian Art Museum

As wonderful and anticipated as these developments are, today we’re focused on another springtime celebration: It’s Buddha’s birthday!

To be precise, it’s Buddha’s birthday in the Japanese tradition; the same event is remembered on various dates in spring across the world. Many Asian countries commemorate Buddha’s birth on the first full moon of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar (which falls in May). Japan adopted the Gregorian, or Western, calendar in the 19th century and moved its celebration of Buddha’s birthday up to April 8, about a month earlier.

Thankfully for both our regular visitors and out-of-towners, we have a bevy of fine Buddhist art at the Asian Art Museum to help everyone celebrate appropriately. The new installation Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia highlights some of the finest representations of Buddha in the museum’s collection, including this stunning wood sculpture coated with gold lacquer. Called an Amida Buddha for its symbolic form, the figure was crafted during the late Heian period (794-1185) in Japan. Its maker used the yosegi-tsukuri technique, carving wood blocks, hollowing them out, and then assembling them together. The Buddha strikes a meditative pose that exudes total peace.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

In Japanese Buddhist traditions special connections exist between Buddha and the flower that make celebrating him in the springtime especially appropriate. Hana-Matsuri, the Floral Festival, is a memorial service performed at temples throughout Japan on Buddha’s birthday. Those who make pilgrimages to the temples bring offerings of fresh spring flowers and libations of tea. For its original installation in a Kyoto temple, this Buddha sculpture would have been seated on a lotus pedestal.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

The company he keeps in Awakened Ones, where he is surrounded by sculptures and paintings from China, India, Korea, Nepal, and Pakistan, leaves one with a sense for the wide reach of Buddhist teachings and the many ways Buddha is pictured and remembered.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Buddha, ca. 1130, Japanese, wood with gold lacquer, 37 1/4 x 27 x 17 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Monsen Family, 2011.39, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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The Inimitable Dottie Malone

Dorothy C. Malone—“Dottie” to everyone here at SAM—is fondly remembered as one of the most important figures in the museum’s history. No one has worked here longer and very few have left such great legacies.

Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum

The likeness of Dottie Malone in her natural habitat: the Asian Art Museum.

Born in Everett, Dottie attended high school in Seattle and took one year of university classes at the University of Washington. She met and married Coe Malone at UW. The depression made life difficult for them, and Dottie was looking for a job. A friend of theirs, Evelyn Foster, was working at the Art Institute of Seattle (a predecessor to SAM), where they were in need of someone to answer phones. Evelyn connected Dottie with Dr. Fuller, who hired her before the museum’s opening in June of 1933. She was one of the first three employees of the museum, along with her friend Evelyn and the artist Kenneth Callahan.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

A young Dottie tidying up the galleries.

Dottie’s administrative role and her importance to the museum grew over the next half-century. Dr. Fuller trusted Dottie enough that he would leave her in charge of the museum’s operations during weeklong geology expeditions. She’s remembered as very tidy and organized. She also had an exceptional memory and served as the institutional historian. Dottie knew almost everything there was to know about the museum, and she also made a point to know everyone who worked there. Though she finally retired in 1988, she still kept a desk at the Volunteer Park building and continued to volunteer as long as she was able to do it. She really loved SAM. Dottie passed away in January of 1997.

We love you, Dottie!

We love you, Dottie!

Today, the administrative offices at the Asian Art Museum bear her name, and every spring, at SAM’s Volunteer Soiree, the museum presents the Dorothy C. Malone Volunteer Award to “an outstanding volunteer who reflects the highest standards of museum dedication and commitment as exemplified by Dottie Malone.”

Images: Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: SAM Archive. Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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Object of the Week: Camel

Of the nearly 24,000 objects in SAM’s collection, two sculptures have probably had the broadest impact on visitors’ experience of the museum since it opened in 1933. They have proven a popular attraction for visitors of all ages, newcomers and regulars alike. For a long time, though, they weren’t even physically in the museum. They’re the greeters, the guardians. They are: the camels.

Writing in 1968—35 years after the arrival of our Chinese camels and the opening of our doors—SAM founding director Dr. Richard Fuller proclaimed the camels “unquestionably the most popular items” in the museum’s collection. No doubt this was partly because he enthusiastically encouraged kids to have a go at riding them.

Riding the Camel

Kids on the Camel

Standing on the Camel

Chosen specifically by Dr. Fuller and his mother, SAM co-founder Margaret MacTavish Fuller, to be the symbolic guardians of the museum, they were installed on either side of the front entrance. Former SAM curator and historian Josh Yiu reflected on their significance: “They were the first works of art that children and adults alike experienced at the Seattle Art Museum. The camels achieved an iconic status because they introduced art, the museum, and China to the general public.”1

Asian Art Museum Exterior in 1933

Dr. Fuller also clearly saw in the pair of marble bactrians an impressive aesthetic achievement, one that complemented the striking Art Deco design of SAM’s original building in Volunteer Park and echoed the cultural focus of its artworks. In his personal correspondence from 1933, Fuller wrote the following justification:

“Granting that the sculptor had made no attempt to achieve lifelike forms, I think that there is no question but that his results are great works of art…Viewed purely from the view-point of artistry, I personally think that it would be almost impossible to have modern sculpture designed that could have coincided more perfectly with the spirit that we endeavored to attain in the design of the building, and it seems especially fortunate that they should, at the same time, emphasize our interest in Oriental art.”

Camel

In 1986 conservation concerns won out, and the camel-riding tradition came to a sad, but necessary end (hundreds-of-years-old marble sculptures, folks). We no longer sanction it, at least! The Chinese camels journeyed downtown for the inaugural installation here in 1991, and today replicas flank the front doors to the Asian Art Museum.

Camel replica being installed

You can still see (not ride) the originals in our grand stairway.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

1 Josh Yiu, A Fuller View of China, Seattle, Wash.: Seattle Art Museum, 2014; 46.

IMAGES: Camel, Chinese, late 14th-mid-17th century, marble, each 101 1/2 x 56 x 36 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.814.1, 33.814.2, Photo: Jasmine Boothroyd. Photos: SAM Archive.
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Object of the Week: Colored Vases

“An artist can only raise new questions and offer insight into social change after reflecting on the feelings of the time. I don’t see art as a highly aesthetic practice…Rather than thinking of my projects as art, they attempt to introduce a new condition, a new means of expression, or a new method of communicating. If these possibilities didn’t exist, I wouldn’t feel the need to be an artist.” –Ai Weiwei1

“At different times I’ve worked in different mediums. For me, the variation is not an artistic judgment, but a necessary choice. It’s just as normal to eat with chopsticks, as it is to eat with forks or hands. Different circumstances call for different tools. I try to express ideas with the most appropriate available materials and forms.” –Ai Weiwei2

“Making choices is how the artist comes to understand himself. These choices are correlated to one’s spiritual predicament, and the goal is a return to the self, the pursuit of spiritual values, and the summoning of spirits. These choices are inherently philosophical.” –Ai Weiwei3

Ai Weiwei is super active in the world of contemporary art, posting to his Instagram, posing as a drowned Syrian refugeedecorating Berlin’s Konzerthaus with 14,000 life jackets. Not all of the commentary about him is positive, and I’m sure that’s as he would like it. He’s stated in the past that he desires uneasiness; that he deliberately moves away from the self-indulgent comfort of creating things to use his skills or to get praise. He wants to think critically and to act on his convictions. He wants to unsettle and to motivate. Definitely from his own perspective, he is a conceptual artist, a political activist, and an advocate for self-discovery.

Ai’s art still depends—in a really essential way—on its visual impact. The striking visuals he’s able to concoct are the rhetoric he uses to promote his provocative agenda. He may not think of art as a “highly aesthetic practice,” but the work speaks for itself. Just think of his Sunflower Seeds. The work is less than compelling as a printed phrase: “One hundred million hand-sculpted, hand-painted porcelain beads, made to look like sunflower seeds.” As a realized artwork, it captivated people.

Ai thinks about the forms as a means to an end—his end is pointing others to self-consciousness, sparking in us a challenge to accepted systems of belief, provoking critical responses and inspiring action—but they’re still necessary means. They are his way of communicating. He can’t even be sure that his art will communicate what he wants it to do. All he can be sure of is that viewers will experience the physical artwork. Many of us who look at his works will come away with different conclusions; such is the open-endedness of art, politically-driven or otherwise. All we have is the thing, so I say, let’s look closely at it.

SAM’s one work by Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases, is on view at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. It delivers what it promises. Nine ceramic vases are arranged in a pattern much like a bowling pin setup—there are three rows, with four vases in the back row, three in the middle row, and two in the front row—only the headpin is missing. The artist has applied a base coat of industrial paint in a bold hue—such as yellow, pink, lime green, or plum—to each vase. A second color in high contrast to the base layer covers the lips and shoulder of the vase, then drips down the body. Some vases have long drips like the tendrils of a plant, while others are shorter, like polychrome stalactites. The paint drips are irregular, and they seem natural.

Contrast is especially important to this work: there’s contrast between the traditional form of the ceramic vases and the bright and contemporary paint colors applied to them; contrast between the two colors on one vase, and contrast in the range of colors among the whole group; contrast between the normally grainy texture of a ceramic pot and the flatness of industrial paint. There’s probably contrast, too, between what Ai Weiwei thought of and what you take away.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Sources:

“Reconsidering Reality: An Interview with Ai Weiwei.” In Ai Weiwei: According to What? Edited by Deborah E. Horowitz. Prestel Verlag: Munich, London and New York, 2012. Published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name, organized by the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in association with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and displayed at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., October 7, 2012-February 24, 2013; the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, Indiana, April 5-July 28, 2013; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Ontario, August 31-October 27, 2013; Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, Florida, November 28, 2013-March 16, 2014; and Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, April 18-August 10, 2014.

“Making Choices.” Translated by Philip Tinari, from The Grey Book, November, 1997. Reproduced in Ai Weiwei. Phaidon Press: New York, 2009.


i. According to What, 38
ii. According to What, 39
iii. Ai Weiwei, “Making Choices,” 128

Image: Colored Vases, 2010, Ai Weiwei (Chinese, born 1957), ceramic with industrial paint, approx. 17 x 22 in. each. Seattle Art Museum, Purchased with funds from the Estate of Robert M. Shields, 2013.33, Photo: Nathaniel Willson.
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