Monthly Archives: August 2011

Environmentally-Conscious Concert Comes to NYC!

The Sixth Annual South Asian Festival, Sun to Stars, will be returning to Solar One, New York City’s first solar-powered “Green Energy, Arts, and Education Center” on Saturday, September 10, 2011 from 2pm-10pm (in case of rain, the date will be changed to Sunday, September 11). Curated by Parul and Reena Shah, the Festival will feature a number of performers, South Asian cuisine from local chefs, Indian-style floor seating, and special children’s activities such as traditional kite and lamp making, coloring deity puppets, and a storytelling performance.  South Asian and environmental non-profit groups will also be there to share information about themselves and their activities at the Festival, including the Rubin Museum of Art.  This looks to be a very fun, family-oriented, informative event, and I’m sorry that I will have to miss all the beautiful music due to prior engagements.  Check out the official website for more information, and let me know how it goes if you can make it!

Sun to Stars: The Sixth Annual South Asian Festivalhttp://solar1.org/events/suntostars/

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Openings, Endings, & Updates for September 2011

My apologies, first, for being somewhat absent since my last post, and for the continued quiet that is sure to continue over the next week or so. I am currently moving into a new apartment and this has absorbed most of my time and energy this month. Nevertheless, I thought it would be prudent to begin what I hope will become a monthly feature of this blog – a summary of some of the local openings, endings, and one-time events coming up in the following month. Most of these I have already tweeted (or re-tweeted) at some point or another as they have come up, but here I will provide them for ease of viewing. Without further ado, I shall begin:

Openings

Rubin Museum of Art: The new exhibit on Himalayan narrative traditions called Once Upon Many Times: Legends and Myths in Himalayan Art (September 16, 2011 – January 30, 2012) opens next month and is curated by Elena Pakhoutova.  For an official summary, see http://www.rmanyc.org/nav/exhibitions/view/1223.

Tibet House: Tibetan Contemporary Art: Tantric Vision in Modern Self-Expression (September 14, 2011 – November 15, 2011) opens up in place of the current exhibition next month, aiming to engage the viewer with “a powerful new genre” of Tibetan artistic expression. An Opening Reception will be held September 14, 2011, 6:00 – 8:00 pm. The official announcement can be found here: http://www.tibethouse.us/art-gallery/upcoming-exhibitions.

Closings

Newark Museum: I seem to have made a mistake in the showing dates for the Special Exhibitions at the Newark Museum – while one area of the website says they are running until the end of the year, the individual announcements list different, earlier dates. That being the case, Tsongkhapa: The Life of a Tibetan Visionary ended this past weekend, as I recently tweeted. However, Pots of Silver and Gold, which contains some fine pieces of Tibetan and Mongolian craftsmanship, will continue until October 30, 2011. I apologize for my mistake. See my July entry on the Tibetan Collection Centennial Exhibitions for information on the collections (https://beyondthedisplay.wordpress.com/2011/07/23/celebrating-a-century-part-one/).

Philadelphia Museum of Art: Porcelain for the Emperor: Chinese Ceramics of the Kangxi Reign (1662-1722) opened a year ago and ends this coming September 5, 2011.  For a full description, see: http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/553.html.

Rubin Museum of Art: Both Patterns of Life: The Art of Tibetan Carpets (April 8, 2011 – August 22, 2011) and Quentin Roosevelt’s China: Ancestral Realms of the Naxi (May 13, 2011 – September 19, 2011) are ending soon, the former before the end of the month! Take a look at both before they are gone. For further information, see http://www.rmanyc.org/nav/exhibitions/view/989 and http://www.rmanyc.org/nav/exhibitions/view/955, respectively.

Tibet House: Containing photographs highlighting the life and work of His Holiness, The Dalai Lama and His People, which opened on July 5, 2011, will close on September 7, 2011.  The photos are featured in an upcoming book by Don Farber (http://www.tibethouse.us/art-gallery/current-exhibition).

One-Time Events

Asia Society: The acclaimed exhibit, The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara, runs until the end of the October, but the Asia Society will be holding a related lecture by Christian Luczanits, a leading scholar of Gandharan art, on Monday, September 12 at 6:30 pm. Seating is limited and tickets are available at a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 6:00 pm (http://sites.asiasociety.org/gandhara/related-events/).

Rubin Museum of Art: The New York Premiere of the new documentary, “In the Shadow of Buddha,” will be held Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are $12.00 for non-members, and a post-screening discussion will be held with the filmmaker, Heather Kessinger, and Prof. Kim Gutschow, author of Being a Buddhist Nun: The Struggle for Enlightenment in the Himalayas. For this and other events, see: http://www.rmanyc.org/events/load/1319.


Personal Nostalgia Meets Historic Past

Driving into Princeton had always brought back a lot of memories for me. I grew up only thirty minutes away amongst the farmlands of central New Jersey, so in my younger years I came to know, for better or worse, children that attended the Princeton Day School, had family members that had gone to Princeton University, or, as I got older, that frequently visited the small local theater in town. I visited the area myself on occasion, and my fondest memories of my paternal grandparents consisted of semi-regular visits to Conte’s Bar for pepperoni and onion pizzas followed by an ice cream afterwards. The University and the town itself were indelibly (and I think understandably) linked in my young brain, so when I think of one today, I automatically think of the other. As the only University I’d personally ever seen, my idealized image of Princeton became what I thought all colleges and their surrounding towns should be like throughout my grade school and high school years. While my thoughts on the subject have certainly matured and become more realistic, in some ways that image of Princeton remains a paragon in my mind today. This makes my most recent memory of the area seem somewhat fortuitous – it was in Princeton that I first met my M.A. advising professor from Florida State University, who was spending a year their working on his own research. I’d already been accepted to the program by that time, but I remember nervously arranging to meet with the person I’d be working closely with for the next several years of my life, far away from my familiar places and friends and family. I remember getting lost looking for parking, and then hoofing it to the Indian restaurant where he suggested we meet for a buffet lunch. I was anxious about making a good impression and saying the right things, but in the end I had little to worry about. To my personal delight, we managed to hold a conversation all through lunch, then continued over drinks at a nearby coffee shop, and then ended with a home-made gelato from The Bent Spoon. After three hours, I imagined I couldn’t have made too much of a fool out of myself if he was willing to talk with me for so long, and I felt fairly confident my soon-to-be professor was a good match for me and what I wanted to do. I certainly wasn’t wrong in this regard, and I am forever grateful for everything I came to learn from him in the ensuing years of class work, translation, and personal research.

And so, while having nothing to do with the trip itself, it was with all of this weighted, fond, and sometimes bittersweet nostalgia that I visited the Princeton University Art Museum on Thursday (August 4, 2011) in order to see what was on display and what new things I could learn so close to my own hometown.

The Princeton University Art Museum

First off, the entrance of the Museum may be a bit difficult to find for anyone planning to visit who is unfamiliar with the layout of Princeton’s campus. Google Maps (and I assume other mapping sites as well) will actually lead you to the back of the building, not the front, but if you make that mistake its easy enough to follow the walking path up and around until you see a pair of banners that mark the entrance. Distance-wise, if walking from the intersection of Witherspoon and Nassau Street, the Museum is about two to three city blocks into Princeton Campus. Parking, depending on when you go, could be difficult as well since there is no parking allocated to the Museum on campus. I was lucky enough to snag a metered place along Nassau Street (two-hour stay maximum), but there are also public parking garages off Palmer’s Square along Chambers, Hulfish, and Spring streets. Admission to the Museum itself is free, so paying a little for parking seems like a fair trade-off to even a poor post-graduate like me. The immediate entrance leads into the gift shop (which is small but nicely appointed), and then the next set of doors leads into the Museum proper and to the docent’s desk, where you can snag yourself a map.  The Museum isn’t huge – its only two floors and shares the building of McCormick Hall with the University’s Department of Art and Archaeology and the Marquand Library – but its maze-like layout of small rooms allows for one to pretend like they are “discovering” something when they come into a room they hadn’t noticed at first, giving the place a much larger feel than how it first appears. This is added to by the fact that, due to its size, the Museum rotates out its pieces in order to showcase different aspects of its larger collection. Knowing how long I take looking at any given exhibit, I took my map and headed downstairs in order to confront the Museum’s current displays of Asian art.

Lower Galleries

I. Far Eastern Gallery

As I have noted previously, my own specialized knowledge and interests lie primarily in Central and South Asian artifacts and history, Tibetan in particular, so I knew going into this visit that I would be a little bit out of depth due to the Museum’s focus on East Asian art. Any political commentary as to whether Tibet is or is not a part of China aside, academically these areas are often considered quite distinct artistically and culturally and are each part of their own separate yet overlapping scholarly traditions. Therefore, my knowledge of Chinese art is not as expansive as I would like, and my knowledge of Japanese and Korean art – also in the Lower Galleries – is even more limited. That being said, there are still a number of things I can mention regarding the exhibits at hand and how they are presented to the general audience.

When Men and Mountains Meet: China as Land and People (March 5 – September 18, 2011) is the first exhibit I wandered into, to the immediate left of the staircase. Admittedly, I wasn’t aware that this was what it was at first – I didn’t see the explanatory placard until the end of my circuit due to its placement in relation to where I entered the gallery. As described on this placard and on the official website, Curator of Asian Art Cary Y. Liu aims to use this exhibit to showcase the relationship between the land and the people of China, and how this relationship has changed from the magic- and demon-filled times of the past to the modernization of the present. One side of the room is filled with traditional images of mountains and landscapes, many filled with animal-like creatures with whom people of the past had to negotiate their lives. The other focuses on photographic images of man-made structures displaying how, twentieth century, the people of China have overcome the elements of nature through technological advancement. I, of course, with my interests in early history, ritual, and spirit deities, was far more drawn to the contents of the former. This includes what I found to be my favorite piece on display, a set of dark lacquered wooden panels which I eventually read to be from the sides of a disassembled coffin dating to the Chinese Liao Dynasty (907-1125 C.E.). Each of its long sides depict two fierce greenish-black creatures in fluid lunching poses that resemble an anthropomorphic mix of a leopard, a dragon, and a lion due to their spots, fangs, and flowing manes and tails. I was struck by the detail of these creatures and wished the accompanying placard provided more information on its associated imagery. I was also drawn to another demon-related piece in a center display, this one a hand scroll dating to the middle of the Chinese Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) entitled “Searching for Demons on Mount Gaunkau (Gaunkou sou shan tu).” The scroll appears to be incredibly well-preserved; an ink drawing on silk depicting several scenes of different demons being hunted or captured on a mountainous landscape. I was intrigued by the intricacy in the image, and once again wished there had been more background provided about the piece, such as its purpose, its origin, or even more information about the mountain and the myths it was meant to portray. Other subdivided rooms in the Chinese Art Gallery featured peaceful images, such as the featured statue of Guanyin in royal-ease pose (rajalilasana) dating to the Song Dynasty (1127-1279), tomb-related artifacts, such as a large display of delicate, militaristic tomb figurines dating from 220-589 C.E. and a selection of brightly painted tomb guardians from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 C.E.), and a selection of pots and other items.  The collection of Japanese and Korean objects are located behind the Chinese gallery as well. (For more information on When Men and Mountains Meet, see: http://artmuseum.princeton.edu/events/WhenMenandMountainsMeet/)

II. Southeast Asian Gallery

Somewhat amidst these subdivided rooms is a small corner containing the Museum’s collection of currently featured Southeast Asian artifacts. The pieces, rather than tied together thematically, seem to be some of the “jewels” of the collection, and aside from three large Indian stone statues there are also a few objects of Nepalese, Cambodian, Javanese, and Thai origin. In the center, there are even some exceptionally beautiful Pakistani pieces of Gandharan Buddhist art in stucco, dating from the first through fifth centuries.

Guanyin Seated in Royal-Ease Pose, Princeton University Art Museum (photo: Bruce M. White)

Upper Galleries

While not pertaining to Asian Art, I would be remiss if I did not mention at least two of the current special exhibitions on display through the Fall in the Upper Galleries: Cartographies of Time (June 25 – September 18, 2011) and The Life and Death of Buildings (July 23 – November 6, 2011).  The first looks at how time is graphically represented throughout European and American history, focusing on rare books, manuscripts, and other printed media drawn mostly from the University’s own Department of  Rare Books. As to second, I found it to be especially poignant and thought-provoking. This rather large, special exhibit features images of buildings at various states of their “life-spans”, and looks at the history of civilization though built environments. All and all, both are incredibly fascinating if you have interests in representations of time or in architecture, respectively.

For more information on the Museum’s current exhibitions, see: http://artmuseum.princeton.edu/exhibitions/

Conclusions

As someone unfamiliar with many of the East Asian artifacts and their cultural contexts, I was personally dying for more information on many of the beautiful and interesting pieces within the gallery. Due to the minimalist approach to signage in the Asian art exhibits in particular, I also found it hard to understand why certain pieces were grouped together, and the galleries themselves often seemed to bleed into each other with no clear demarcation. This could be linked to the nature of the galleries, which are rotated on a regular basis to highlight different aspects of the collection, but from an educational standpoint it seemed to pale in comparison to some of the other exhibits featured throughout the Museum in terms of presentation and explanatory information. Ultimately, however, I truly appreciated the beautiful selection of pieces on display at the Museum, and I look forward to future exhibits as they rotate in. I had a pleasant time on my visit, adding a new memory of Princeton to the growing compendium I seem to be collecting, and I ended my day like I have on my previous trips to Princeton – with a crazy-sounding gelato from The Bent Spoon (lavender mascarpone and lemon basil) and a visit to Conte’s for a slice of pizza. If you are able to make it out to the Princeton University Art Museum, I recommend that you do the same and start building up your own memories of this historic and exciting little town.


Art and Avatars in Brooklyn

I just found out that the Brooklyn Museum is hosting a one-day workshop called “Mehindi, the Art of Henna” on Saturday, August 13, 2011 from 2-5 pm with practitioner Sandy Patangay. A materials fee and registration are required for participation, so if you can make it, check out the official calender of events for more information: http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/calendar/event/4404 

Even if you are not able to make the workshop (like me), be sure to check out the Museum’s current exhibition of South Asian art, “Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior,” which started this summer and will end on October 2, 2011. The exhibit proposes to examine Vishnu in three sections: 1) in his primary form; 2) as his numerous avatars, or manifestations, and; 3) as an object of worship and ritual practice. While I haven’t had a chance to make it out there just yet, the official website boasts a presentation of one-hundred-and-seventy Indian paintings, sculptures, and ritual objects from within the Vaishnava tradition ranging from the fourth through twentieth centuries, and those pictured on the website are quite beautiful. This definitely looks like a must-see for anyone fascinated by South Asian art and religion, and I’ll be interested in seeing how this highly popular deity is presented by the staff of the Brooklyn Museum!

For further information, see the exhibit’s official description on the Brooklyn Museum’s website (http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/vishnu/) and the related blog entry by the Brooklyn Museum’s Lisa and Bernard Selz Curator of Asian Art, Joan Cummins (http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/community/blogosphere/2011/08/02/the-original-avatars-an-introduction-to-vishnu%e2%80%99s-earthly-manifestations/).