Sunday, July 18, 2010

Free Family Day at the Asian

I decided to take my own advice and take advantage of the free day at the museum. I got together with a group of friends who are my "alternate" family here in San Francisco. We didn't get started as early as I would have liked and the line outside the museum made my heart sink. There appeared to be a Spanish-speaking preacher bellowing at painfully high decibels at the other end of the Civic Center Plaza.  However, the guards and museum staff were polite and well organized and the line moved quickly. The atrium was crowded but I noticed that they didn't have much of a line in the cafeteria so we opted to eat lunch first. We didn't follow the adage of "eat desert first" because the food at the Asian is so delicious. Besides, we were going to eat desert later at a pastry shop on Church St. so we really were not denying ourselves.

The Asian has a wonderful cafeteria and I've never been disappointed with anything I've eaten there. I love the way that the space is organized with an eye to the aesthetics of a room as well as its functionality. It was still a bit too windy to eat outside on the patio so we found a table and chowed down. I had the Shanghai dumplings and the eggplant salad - both of which were delicious. I meant to take photos of my friends' dishes but they finished them before I remembered to pull out my camera! I'm still learning to use my new camera and haven't quite gotten used to the idea that I can actually take photos here.

Then upstairs on the escalator, past the dreary view of the Tenderloin and up to the galleries on the 3rd floor. I had to stop and pay my respects to Ganesha and drop a few coins in the slot; it's always a good idea to remember the God of Good Luck. I said a prayer for my family and my sister especially who is dealing with my elderly mother. I said a prayer for Julie. who used to write the blog "TangoBaby" and now writes the blog, "Julie Lives Here." She's trying to make it as a free- lance photographer and I know that it's tough. Then, I said a prayer for all sentient beings, for peace, for wisdom and for stamina to make it through the museum before my energy gave out!

 The exhibit commemorating the first Japanese/American contact is still up and it's fascinating. I loved the "Friendship" dolls. There were a couple of young girls who obviously wanted a couple of those dolls for themselves. If I were a bit younger, I'd covet one of them myself. There will be a lecture on "San Francisco, Japan's First Gateway to America" on Thursday, July 22 (7-8 PM) and I think it will be fascinating. Ken Ikemoto, a member of the museum staff wrote an excellent essay for the Asian's blog:

 I always like to pay my respects to the memory of the old library. I spent many a delightful hour in that old building and I'm glad that parts of it are still integrated with the new facility, i.e. the above photo of the ceiling which fits in beautifully with the Southeast Asian galleries.

 The Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, 1000–1100. Cambodia; former kingdom of Angkor. Metamorphosed volcanic rock. The Avery Brundage Collection, B66S2 and B66S3. (image courtesy of the Asian; my photography skills could not possibly do justice to this.)

At this point, the upper floors of the museum were getting full but the people, most with children in tow, were very well behaved; in fact, I'm always impressed by how well most of the kids at the Asian museum DO behave. I saw little of the out-of-control behavior, running around the priceless exhibits or inattentive parents that I've seen in other museums. Nobody was rude enough to bring a huge baby stroller (which I saw at SFMOMA) and blithely push it around with careless disregard for objects on plinths or stand alone sculpture.

However, I did carefully nudge one young little lady away from the back of one of the free standing statues. She was beginning to climb up on one of the stands. I was terrified that she would pull the whole thing on top of her. Mom was on a cell phone (not allowed but people do it anyway) and wasn't paying attention. The guard saw me carefully urging the toddler away from the piece and came over and spoke to the mother. Mother was not best pleased but the guard was polite but insistent and the cell phone was put away.

Bowl from Eastern Iran/Mishapur: geometric horse. Three-footed dish with horse and cheetah. 800-1000 (photo mine which is not hard to guess because the quality is mediocre)

I have always been impressed by the guards at the Asian.  Unlike the guards at some other museums, they do not present a grim and hostile face to the public. They will stop inappropriate behavior before it becomes a problem and will answer questions respectfully. In fact, all the staff at the Asian - from the front desk to the volunteers are a joy to watch. One lady was telling the story of the Monkey King and had engaged a group of kids, from toddlers to seven and eight year old's. Her joy was so contagious and her enthusiasm so infectious that the whole motley crew, including the parents, were enthralled and cooperative.

Try taking notes at SFMOMA with a pen, however tiny. The guards immediately take it away from you and force you to use a soft tiny pencil which smears so badly that you can't read what you've written. Yet, they seem to ignore kids running around unattended, climbing on pedestals or even being too close to the art works. I never dared to ask any one of them a question; their hostile manner is completely off putting.

I am always enraptured by the elegant grace of this statue; in fact,  I would say that this gallery is full of my favorite pieces but then, I'd be lying because there is SO much beauty in the museum that I could not possibly chose piece or era one over another.

Buddha Amitayus. China. Quin Dynasty (1736-1795). He is the Buddha of infinite life, grants longevity, and facilitates attainment of perfect wisdom.

The Shanghai Lounge on the Second floor was full with everybody happily taking part in all the activities. The interns were helpful and everybody, both parents and kids, appeared to be having a great time. One wall displayed some great woodcuts, made by Artspeak interns which emphasized the role that wood cuts have played in promoting social change. The art work was donated to the Asian Museum and to Shanghai #2 Girls School. Later, the wood cuts will be shown at a free speech art space on Valencia Street.

 I always enjoy looking for new additions to the collection and I am particularly impressed by modern Korean painting. The best of them combine an ancient sensitivity with a knowledge of modern art to create works that are dynamic, fresh and appealing.

Below: Egg Woman II. SoHyun Bae (Korean). 2003. Mixed media on canvas. gift of the artist. Image courtesy Asian Museum.

SoHyun Bae splashed and dripped pigments on overlapping layers of Korean rice paper to create this image of a Korean woman wearing her country’s traditional dress (hanbok) and carrying a basket of eggs on her head. Bae, who studied religious philosophies while a graduate student in theology at Harvard University, says that the series was inspired in part by themes from Jewish mysticism, and that it also derives from her personal experience as a child in Korea. Bae remembers the frail and tiny “egg woman” coming to her home with an enormous basket of eggs balanced on her head. To her, the egg woman seemed to symbolize the plight of women on their walks through life. Egg Woman II is part of Bae’s Wrapped Shards series. Her works often draw on the theme of women and Korean handicrafts. Here, she portrays the multiple images of the woman’s head and body as if they are broken into shards, but the careful arrangement of the Korean rice paper poetically wraps the shards. The idea of wrapping refers to the patchwork (bojagi) craft tradition, an integral part of daily life of Korean women throughout the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910).

I thoroughly enjoyed my "family" day at the museum and wanted to stay for the afternoon lectures but my energy and that of my friends were beginning to lag. We left the museum to the sound of Korean drumming upstairs and exited into a noisy Civic Center Plaza where the preacher was still berating his followers. I stopped to take a few photos of the Three-Headed, Six-Armed Buddha who is showing a few signs of wear and tear. One arm is missing and I hope it's being repaired (*see SF Mike's note in the comments section about this). I wasn't that impressed with him when it was first installed but he's grown on me. (I still think he looks like a figure out of a Harry Harryhausen movie, ready to launch mayhem at City Hall. Or maybe that's just wistful thinking on my part). We caught the F Line, got off at Church St. and ate our pastries while reminiscing about the day - a perfect Sunday in San Francisco.

Mike, who writes the blog, Civic Center, visited the museum and wrote up a lovely post about the basket collection and another on the exhibit around the uneasy relationship in the 19th century between Japan and the United States.


sfmike said...

Dear Nancy:

Actually, that one arm on the Giant Buddha has always been truncated.

namastenancy said...

Well, DUH! You are right and I never noticed. Obviously I need to look more carefully!