Asian Art Museum’s “First Look” showcases its own growing collection of contemporary Asian artworks─ through October 11, 2015
Untitled, No. 25 (2008), by the Beijing-based husband and wife team, RongRong and inri, depicts the couple joined as one by their hair, which has braided together into an elegant snaking form. In 2007, they founded the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, in Beijing’s Coachangdi art district, the first private contemporary art space dedicated exclusively to photography in China. The gelatin silver print, gifted by Jack and Susy Wadsworth, is one of 57 artworks on display in “First Look,” at the Asian Art Museum through October 11, 2015. Image: courtesy AAM.
Under director Jay Xu, things have been shifting at the Asian Art Museum (AAM); there’s a heartfelt effort to exhibit and collect more Asian contemporary art and thereby engage with today’s issues. Its current show, First Look, which closes on October 11, emphasizes the museum’s recent acquisitions, some as new as 2015, and presents highlights of its contemporary collection acquired over the past 15 years. I was somewhat surprised to learn that the AAM’s collection includes over 18,000 artworks but only 1,100 (rough estimate) were created within the past 50 years. Organized by curator Allison Harding, who co-curated the smashing 2014 show, Gorgeous, this show presents 57 of those intriguing artworks. It’s a thoughtful response to the questions─“What is Asian contemporary art? “What is its status and relationship to more traditional modes of Asian art?“ How is it understood by native viewers versus those outside the region?” On the heels of its summer show 28 Chinese (June 5–Aug. 16, 2015), which featured some of China’s most exciting artists from its vast contemporary art scene, First Look features works from artists from all over Asia and a bit beyond, like Ahmed Mater from Saudi Arabia. This is a show that grows on you with each successive visit. Allow adequate time: some of First Look’s mesmerizing videos are so seductive, you’ll find that you can’t tear yourself away.
Yang Yongliang’s HD video, “The Night of Perpetual Day” (4 channel 8’30”)” blends traditional Chinese landscape drawing with painstakingly manipulated digital images to transport China’s fabled mountains into a shimmering bustling urban night. Follow closely and you’ll perceive a subtle commentary about China’s unchecked development and that Yongliang, born in Shanghai in 1980, lives in a rich fantasy-land. Purchased in 2013 with funds from Gorretti and Lawrence Lui and Richard Beleson. Image: courtesy AAM
Beijing-born Chen Man’s career in photography and as artist took off with a bang in the early 2000’s when she produced a series of sleek images that were unique amongst Chinese magazine covers, capturing the culture’s fascination with busting out of the Chinese straightjacket and into the brave new world and the various ironies associated with those aspirations. Shooting style, beauty and fashion for magazines like Harper’s Bazar and Vogue, she has created a visual language that heralded a visual revolution. Chen Man “Long Live the Motherland, Shanghai No. 1, 2010. Image: courtesy AAM
Elegant, handbuilt and referencing Confucian ritual vessels from Korea’s Joseon (Choson) period, Korea’s last dynastic period, ceramicist Kim Yik-yung (1935) creates modern forms that explore the boundaries between old and new. Faceted bowl with lid, approx. 1960-2000, porcelain, acquired by AAM in 2010. Image: courtesy AAM.
Taking his inspiration from the process of illumination of religious texts, Saudi artist Ahmed Mater’s diptych, “Illumination Waqf,” (2013) creates two holy pages by combining x-ray images with ancient symbols and manuscript preparation techniques─blending pomegranate juice with tea and applying it to paper to achieve a richly luminous background. X-ray images of man and woman are shown side by side and face to face, an objective expression of the inner self, illuminated for all to see and in defiance of the Qu-ran’s taboo of representation. “Illumination Waqf,” 2013, by Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabian, b. 1979). Gold leaf, tea pomegranate, Chinese ink and offset X ray film print on paper. Purchased 2014. Image: courtesy AAM
Details: First Look closes October 11, 2105. The AAM is located at 200 Larkin Street near Civic Center. Parking is easy at Civic Center Plaza garage which offers a discount with your validated AAM ticket. (Get it stamped upon entry to the museum.) Hours: Tues-Sun: 10-5; Thursdays until 9 (end Oct 8); closed Mondays. Admission: $15 General admission; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $10; 12 & under are free. You can pre-purchase your tickets, with no processing fee, online here.
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