All posts in “Pure Amusements”

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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Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: David Nevarrez

Originally from Southern California, David has traveled all over the USA and beyond. He studied theatre arts, psychology, film, video, and photography. He moved to New York City and became involved in the theatre as a director, playwright, actor, and stage manager, even winning several awards for poetry. In 2001, he moved to Seattle and found his favorite day job as a barista. For a year in 2006, David moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, to teach English. Upon returning to Seattle he joined the SAM family since being around art has always been inspirational to him. He started writing for a small British movie digest in 2015 and traveled to take a marionette carving workshop in Prague, Czech Republic. With his experiences in the arts and travel, David enjoys the inspiration he gathers at SAM and continues to dabble in experimental film and photography, writing a novel, and writing poetry.

SAM: Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Late Imperial China is a new addition to the downtown location’s Asian art display. What is your favorite piece in this section?

Nevarrez: The Scholar Rocks, as I had not known of them. Not only are they fascinating, but I learned something new. 

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Film is Dead . . . by Jennifer West—draped rolls of large format film stock, which has been painted on (as was done by such experimental filmmakers as Stan Brakhage), or has abstract images (some resembling digitization) hung up as a curtain (like the old “hippie bead” curtains popular in the ’60s), reaching the floor, and rolling up to 3 large screen TVs showing rolling film images of the abstractions. Is film dead? More and more, movies are shot with digital video because it’s easier to manipulate. While film had twice the light reception of analog video, digital has more than film, though for DV to look cinematic it must be manipulated in post-production. This does not mean some filmmakers don’t still use film; I have seen an announcement at the end of several big budget films that they were shot on actual film stock. Even so, with DVallowing filmmaking to be more accessible, has not the idea of “film,” that is cinema, simply become un-reliant on celluloid and more egalitarian? 

Who is your favorite artist?

As a cineaste, I first think of filmmakers when asked such a question. Over the last couple years have immersed myself in three directors of note: Andrzej Zulawski (who sadly died last February), Abbas Kiarostami (who sadly died last June), and Aleksandr Sokurov. All there are very poetic in their respective styles. Zulawski (best known in the States for Possession from 1981 starring Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill) features intense emotions between characters, especially lovers, in an almost musical style. Kiarostami (best known here for Taste of Cherry from 1997) has more of a cinema verity style, wherein his films seem unscripted and very natural. Sokurov (best known for Russian Ark (2002)) looks at different aspects of power, from the personal to the epic.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

Give yourself time to wander about at first, so as to note some area that especially interests you, then return to the area for a more in-depth exploration.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

After a 9 year hiatus on my novel, I have gotten somewhat back to work on it, partly helped by expanding out to include it within a long saga, concurrently working on other parts. I also work on some films and videos.

Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer

Photo: Natali Wiseman
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