All posts in “Luminous: The Art of Asia”

SAMart 50+: The World’s Fair + SAM, part III

Science and technology were the stated focus of the Seattle World’s Fair as a whole, while a subtler, though equally compelling, argument was made for the celebration and understanding of Asian art and culture within the Fine Arts Pavilion. The Art of the Ancient East was one of the Pavilion’s six exhibitions, and it introduced visitors to some of the greatest masterpieces of Asian art. This focused exhibition shone a spotlight on Asian art and artisans, proving this artistic heritage equally as brilliant and varied as Europe’s.

These masterpieces traveled across continents and seas, from one millennium to another. And yet, to arrive at the World’s Fair grounds, they traversed just over one mile: This exhibition was one of two installations at the Fine Arts Pavilion drawn entirely from the Seattle Art Museum’s holdings. The show included representative works from a dozen nations, including (in this photo) Pakistan and India.

What were considered masterpieces 50 years ago remain so today. Last year’s exhibition Luminous: The Art of Asia included nearly every work from Art of the Ancient East. Luminous, however, reflected the changes in the world over the past 50 years. Chief among the differences was the museum’s collaboration with artist Do Ho Suh, who not only guided the interpretation of the SAM Asian collection, but produced a brand-new work of his own in response. This imagining of the “life” of objects is an element that could not—and would not—have been considered 50 years ago.

The Art of the Ancient East, installation view, Fine Arts Pavilion, Seattle World’s Fair, 1962. Photo: © Seattle Art Museum.
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SAMart: Farewell to LUMINOUS

For her final entry, Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, looks at a seemingly fearsome figure.

Although this mask now appears to be a piece of static sculpture, when it was in use the effect was the reverse. The mask originally had a back half, and tied together covered the entire head of the wearer. With the wearer’s costume pulled up high on the neck, the head-concealing mask gave the impression that the sculptures within the temple had descended from their pedestals to stride forth amidst the devotees. Masked processions very literally brought religious belief to life in a thrilling way.

Masked dance was introduced to Japan during the Nara Period (710-794 CE) as part of a massive importation of Korean and Chinese political and religious culture. Initially only used in court rituals, by the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), when this mask was made, masked dance had taken on many different forms. The Dragon King was used in Buddhist gyodo performances, processions of masked figures embodying divine being.

Sagara the Dragon King stylistically blends two characters from different schools of masked performance. In Buddhist gyodo, the character Sagara is one of the Eight Great Dragon Kings, part of the retinue of Amida Buddha. In bugaku, a type of popular non-religious masked drama, the same features are shared by the character of a Dragon King, a prince so handsome that he wore a fearsome mask in battle to frighten his enemies, and so that his beauty would not distract his allies. Over time, the two characters came to share the distinctive green skin, ferociously contorted face, bulging eyes, and the dragon rearing back atop his head. Sagara’s role as a religious guardian, here, is emphasized by his golden lotus crown, a symbol of purity in Buddhism. Sagara’s formidable visage gave the faithful confidence in his ability as a protector.

Gyodo mask of Dragon King, early 13th century, Japanese, Kamakura period (1185-1333), wood with lacquer, polychrome and gilt, 15 9/16 x 8 1/8 x 5 15/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.110. On view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, through Sunday 8 January.
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SAMart: Unfolding the Lotus Sutra

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, trains our eyes on the Lotus Sutra.

From a modern perspective, it is difficult to decipher what exactly is going on in this illustration. A group of figures appear oddly perched atop a spire, while below them tiny figures wander about, oblivious to the precariously balanced deities overhead.  The image only begins to clarify when we begin to look as people would have done in 12th-century Japan.

The Lotus Sutra, depicted here, describes the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni, teaching a gathered multitude how to achieve Buddha-hood. He sits enthroned, backed by a flaming leaf-shaped halo, gesturing that he is teaching the law. Rising behind him is a decorative rendering of the tree under which he taught his first sermon. Surrounding the Buddha are two monks with shaved heads, and four richly clad bodhisattvas—enlightened beings who help others achieve enlightenment.

In the foreground, three sections of text are illustrated. The group on the left are followers come either to request or give thanks for predictions of the likelihood of their attaining Buddha-hood. The group on the far right, busily digging, represents a parable in which the Buddha describes one searching for enlightenment like a man digging on high ground (so long as the soil is dry, water is far away; but when it is damp, he knows that he is near his goal). The structure in the center is the upper portion of the Jeweled Pagoda, which wells up from the ground wherever the Lotus Sutra is truly preached.

The confused (from a Western point of view) perspective would not have troubled 12th-century viewers at all. The Buddha and his attendants who loom large are actually sitting amidst the hills of the middle ground. The figures are floating in order to make it easy for us to see them. The lower portion that appears to be below the Buddha is actually placed in front of him.

This image and accompanying text would have been deeply familiar to 12th-century readers. Unfolding the layers of image and meaning within, this Lotus Sutra frontispiece allows us to follow their lead in understanding what we see.

Lotus Sutra: Frontispiece Depicting Chapter Twelve, late 12th century, Japanese, Heian period (794–1185), handscroll; gold and silver on indigo dyed paper, wood with metal fittings, 9 3/16 x 7 3/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.171. Currently on view in LUMINOUS, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.
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Resolve to See More Art in 2012!

Finally a New Year’s resolution that will be fun to try and keep–come experience the art at SAM Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park! Here are our top five picks for what to see and do with SAM in January.

1. Walk through Do Ho Suh’s Gate.
Luminous: The Art of Asia closes January 8, which means there are only five more days to see Do Ho Suh’s magnificent multimedia installation and to take in this gorgeous exhibition representing  5,000 years of Asian art.

2. Take a spin in Theaster Gates: The Listening Room.
Visit the “church of wax” at SAM Downtown and touch, feel and play the records (yes-vinyl records!)  in this installation at SAM Downtown. The Listening Room also extends beyond the walls of the museum to a storefront in Pioneer Square called the Record Store, where you can be part of a listening party.

3. See a unique perspective of 1930s Seattle.
Painting Seattle at the Seattle Asian Art Museum features two painters, Kamekichi Tokita and Kenjiro Nomura, known in 1930s Seattle for their American realist style of landscape painting. They shared the cultural legacy of Japan and the active cultural life of Seattle’s Japantown, while they found a public audience for their work in mainstream art institutions and participated alongside the city’s advanced artists, such as Mark Tobey, Ambrose Patterson and Walter Isaacs.

4. Get ready for Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise.
Seattle Art Museum presents the only United States stop for this landmark show highlighting the complex relationship between Paul Gauguin’s work and the art and culture of Polynesia. The exhibition, on view at SAM Downtown February 9 through April 29, includes about 50 of Gauguin’s brilliantly hued paintings, sculptures and works on paper, which are displayed alongside 60 major examples of Polynesian sculpture that fueled his search for the exotic. Organized by the Art Centre Basel, the show is comprised of works on loan from some of the world’s most prestigious museums and private collections. Buy your advance tickets now!

5. Celebrate the Olympic Sculpture Park’s 5th Birthday Party.
Five years ago Seattle’s waterfront was transformed forever. Come to the Olympic Sculpture Park on January 21 to help us mark this very important milestone with food, art and other activities.

Combine some of your other New Year’s resolutions with art. Trying to exercise more? Take a walk through the Olympic Sculpture Park or ride your bike to the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Looking to save money? Take advantage of First Thursdays or SAM’s suggested admission, which allows you to pay what you can. Art can even help you decrease stress.

SAM is always happy to connect art to your life, and we look forward to seeing you more in 2012!

-Madeline Moy, Digital Media Manager

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SAMart: Five very beautiful women

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, brings us a look at the work of Katsushika Hokusai.

Long before Hokusai published his famous The Great Wave of Kanagawa, he was an emerging artist, independent of any established school and struggling to get by. A popular account tells that one day the widow of Kunisada, a former leading print artist, commissioned a painting from Hokusai. She was so impressed with the results that she paid him far more than he expected. The stunned Hokusai determined to perfect his technique so that he could support his family with painting commissions.

Five Beautiful Women comes from the first half of Hokusai’s career when he was building his reputation as a producer of luxury arts for an elite audience. Here he makes the familiar subject of beautiful women fresh and exciting by arranging them vertically. The drapery of their luxurious raiment flows from one to the next like a tumbling waterfall of silk. His unique arrangement turns an otherwise static subject into an invitingly dynamic composition.

At the time Hokusai was working, Edo’s (now Tokyo) popular culture was dominated by salon gatherings of wealthy merchants, samurai, poets, and artists. At a salon, the host would customarily hang a scroll painting, like Five Beautiful Women, in a display alcove. Elegant works of art both established an atmosphere of cultural sophistication, and provided fodder for witty repartee. Party-goers could have speculated on the classification of the five women, and debated the relative merits of the “types” they represent. They are now usually identified as either five social classes (top to bottom: a noble woman, a wealthy merchant’s daughter, a house servant to the high class, a courtesan, and a shop woman) or the five Confucian feminine virtues (poetry, flower arranging, domesticity, entertainment, and literacy).

More than just a producer of landscapes, through his long career Hokusai touched on most every genre, and mastered all that caught his interest. Five Beautiful Women exemplifies his masterful painting of women, and makes palpable why his work was in such high demand.

Five Beautiful Women, 1804-18, Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760-1849, hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, 71 x 18 1/4 in., Margaret E. Fuller Purchase Fund, 56.246. Currently on view in LUMINOUS, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.
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SAMart: The Wave Paintings of Tsuji Kako

Tsuji Kako (1870-1921) was an artist ahead of his time. Working when artists in Japan were systematically divided into Japanese or Western lineages, Kako was unusual for his claim that individuality is the most important characteristic of an artist, and his refusal to conform to the boundaries of genre.

As part of Japan’s effort to Westernize, an annual exhibition of the Japan Art Academy, called the Bunten, was instituted in 1907. The Bunten enforced strict delineation between Yōga (Western-style painting) and Nihonga (Japanese-style painting), requesting that artists limit themselves to one style in order to participate. Within the context of this system, juries had no context in which to evaluate Kako’s work, which blended the two styles. Lacking support for his work from the Bunten, he abandoned the academy altogether in 1921, and held his first one-man show, an unprecedented event.

Green Waves and Waves and Plovers (both ca. 1910) come from Kako’s decade long fascination with capturing waves in paint. Although painted in the form of traditional Japanese folding screens, using Japanese materials, both express an atmospheric depth and motion absent from the Nihonga style. Green Waves features bright mineral pigments on a gold ground, a style dating back to the sixteenth century. The pigment, however, is layered on with thick, visible brush strokes, that convey the motion of light and shadow across swelling waves; a clear reference to Impressionist painters. Waves and Plovers, employing linear ink brush work on paper screens, draws on a traditional means of depicting the ocean through undulating parallel lines. Here, however, Kako renders his waves with each peak as its own small, individual line. By breaking up the lines, he is able to minutely adjust the tone of the ink and the distances between the waves to subtly create the sense of swelling motion and atmospheric recession.

Waves and Plovers (detail), ca. 1910, Tsuji Kako, Japanese, 1870-1931, ink and light color on paper, 48 1/4 x 103 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.33.1. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

Ultimately, Kako gave up on painting waves, saying that he “did not feel the emotional momentum” anymore, a highly modern sentiment that art ought to express the artist’s emotions. Largely forgotten after his death, Tsuji Kako’s work has received a revival of popularity in the last decade, as popular taste finally matched his expressive style.

Top photo: Green Waves, ca. 1910, Tsuji Kako, Japanese, 1870-1931, ink and gold on silk, 67 7/8 x 109 1/2 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.32. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.
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Ping An – Peace VII by Wang Huaiging, 1944

Luminous Labels: Object 3

Since the opening of Luminous: The Art of Asia at SAM Downtown, we have been asking you to give your perspective on selected objects that are on display in the exhibition.  A few weeks ago, we asked you to write about the Gyodo mask of a bodhisattva.

Every other week we will be unveiling a new object on display in Luminous and we want YOU to write a label for it. The labels featured in Luminous are peppered with ideas, facts and perspectives from curator Catherine Roche and Gate installation artist Do Ho Suh. The interpretations that you give in your entries are just as important as those hanging on the wall in the gallery and we want to hear them!

We encourage you to create a label that answers the questions:  how do these images make you feel? What kind journey do you think the piece took in order to get to SAM? How can you put this painting into some context? We want to know! Please send your labels to luminous@seattleartmuseum.org by 5pm on Monday, November 21.  Once we have received all of the label entries for this object, we will post the ones we like best on our Blog. Natasha Lewandrowski, SAM’s Curatorial coordinator, will give her input on why the posted labels were chosen and why they would work well in a gallery.  Just remember that the labels must be 60 words or less. Other than that, have fun and be creative

This 3rd installment is this oil on canvas painting by Wang Huaiging, 1944, titled Ping An – Peace VII:

We want to know your interpretations of the journey Ping An- Peace VII took to get to SAM. Please send your labels of 60 words or less to luminous@seattleartmuseum.org by 5pm Monday, November 21 to be considered for this week’s contest.

Lindsay Baldwin, Public Relations Intern

Ping An – Peace VII by Wang Huaiqing © Wang Huaiqing Photo: Nathaniel Willson
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SAMart: Oribe Ware

Writing SAMart this week is Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern for Japanese Art. This is her second entry in a series focusing on LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia.

Employing vivid colors and energetic, abstract designs, Oribe ware is the most dynamic type of Japanese tea ware. The style takes its name from Furuta Oribe, 1591-1615, the great tea master of his age. Designed for use in the meal accompanying the tea ceremony, a square dish like this would be used to serve fish, slowly revealing the image beneath as the meal was eaten. Oribe ware, as this tray excellently represents, broke with a tradition of elegant restraint to embrace an unprecedented level of vivacity.

This tray is meant to depict water, earth, and sky. We read it from bottom to top:

  • Starting in the lower left corner, the tray was dipped into a green glaze which visibly pooled during the firing process, evoking water.
  • Moving upward, a pink-tan band provides a bed for two semi-circles with radiating patterns. This common decorative motif represents ox cart wheels soaking in water—wooden  cart wheels needed to be soaked regularly to prevent warping. Between the two wheels, the pattern of squares and dots could represent a piece of dyed fabric. These are colors, images and activities associated with the earth.
  • The upper-most, tan portion encompasses a single large star, surrounded by three circles with trailing tails, likely comets. In the upper right corner, three arcing stripes abstractly render the long trailing clouds popular in Japanese painting. This band depicts the sky.

The ebullience that makes Oribe ware stand out amid tea ceramics reflects both the power and dynamism of the Momoyama Era (1573-1615), and, amidst political and social upheaval, a move to rebel against previous aesthetic rules, and the power structures they represented.

Square serving dish, early 17th century, Japanese, Momoyama (1573–1615)–Edo (1615–1868) period, Mino ware, Oribe style; glazed stoneware, 1 7/8 x 7 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 56.130. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.
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SAMart: Rescued Treasure

Sometime in the 16th century, a ship was carefully loaded with tens of thousands of Vietnamese ceramics and set sail across the South China Sea. It never reached its destination—off Cham Island, near the port of Hoi An, the ship and its cargo sank. This plate was salvaged from the wreck in the course of an open-water excavation in 1997-99. The excavation yielded wares as varied as celadons, polychrome enamels, and blue and white. All of the artifacts from the shipwreck date to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, when Vietnamese ceramic production and export had reached its peak in terms of numbers and aesthetic appeal. The formal beauty and sophisticated ornamentation of the so-called “Hoi An hoard” reveals the high level of artistic achievement reached by Vietnamese potters at that time.

Plate with floral spray, late 15th-early 16th century, Vietnamese, blue and white ceramic, 9 in. diameter, Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles, 2000.133. Currently on view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, special exhibition galleries, fourth floor, SAM downtown.

This is one of the five Hoi An works included in the museum’s current special exhibition, LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia.

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