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Do Ho Suh’s “Gate” Leads SAM Visitors Through 5,000 Years of Asian Art

Invited to provide a contemporary response to the historical material, internationally recognized artist Do Ho Suh created a new multimedia installation for the exhibition Luminous: The Art of Asia, on view at SAM Downtown until January 8, 2012.

Born in Korea and presently living in New York and London, Suh is the creator of the Seattle Art Museum’s famed dog-tag sculpture Some/One. Over the past year Suh and SAM have engaged in a dialogue on topics such as eastern philosophy, East Asian painting, the contemporary art scene, and art museum practices.

Suh’s installation, titled Gate, was commissioned exclusively for Luminous and transforms one of the artist’s existing fabric pieces into a screen for projection as well as a space of transition.

“Like the moment of enlightenment in Zen Buddhism, passing through a gate takes only a split second, and then it’s over,” Suh explains. “But so many things happen in such a short period of time. With this work, I wanted to extend that moment of passage, to delay it, if only for an instant, to provide the viewer that moment of insight.”

“Our notion of emptiness is quite different in the East,” Suh explains. “The void is not empty or bleak but charged with meaning.”

Watch the videos below to hear more from Suh, to see Gate in action and to take a behind-the-scenes look at the installation of the piece.

Not Your Ordinary Screen Savers

Apropos the fabulous Golden “Bamboo and Poppies” Kanō school screens, and the other famous and beloved screens currently displayed in Luminous: The Art of Asia, the Seattle Art Museum’s collection of approximately 70 Asian screens, has been recently rehoused in the best state-of-the-art storage cabinets available thanks to a generous federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

SAM’s significant collection of Asian screens includes paintings of singular artistic and cultural importance. The screens range in date from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Together with our collection of hanging scrolls, they convey to visitors an experience of splendid art and vivid impressions of the story of painting in Japan, China and Korea.

Although SAM’s collection has a handful of Chinese wood, lacquered and cinnabar panel screens, the bulk of the collection is comprised of Japanese and Korean painted screens. The Japanese screens at SAM fall into two categories, the byōbu, or folding screens (from two up to eight panels) and the fusuma, or sliding screens, typical partitions used to divide large rooms in temples or castles. Both of these styles are represented in Luminous.

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SAM Art: Golden Screens of the Kanō School

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, returns to SAMart with an entry on the golden screens of the Kanō School.

During the Momoyama Period (1573-1603), drastic change came to Japanese art from an unusual source: Western firearms. As warlords vied for control of the country, Portuguese traders introduced Western guns and cannons to Japan.

For centuries, Japanese palaces had been built as sprawling, single-story complexes, with wooden floors and roofs, and paper walls. Sliding doors allowed rooms to open easily to the surrounding gardens, and even when shut, light permeated the thin paper. With the advent of firearms, by necessity, the Japanese rapidly designed towering fortress palaces. Walls thick enough to withstand cannon fire suddenly plunged the world of the elites into darkness.

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SAM Art: Chinese Landscape

After traveling to China in 1913, Hirai Baisen began to incorporate traditional Chinese subject matter into his modern Japanese painting practice. The white-walled buildings and the boats of the left-hand screen identify this as a Chinese landscape setting. Baisen, more widely known for his rich use of color, explored the expressive possibilities of ink on paper in this dramatic pair of six-panel screens.

This painting was recently installed in the Asian Art gallery at SAM downtown.

Chinese Landscape (detail), ca. 1925, Hirai Baisen, Japanese, 1889-1969, ink on paper, 67 1/4 x 148 1/2 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.52.1-2, Photo: Eduardo Calderon. Currently on view in the Asian Art gallery, third floor, SAM downtown.