Thursday, July 24, 2014

Column on the new curator at the Asian sparks great discussion - on facebook

One of the upsides - and downsides - of Facebook is that so much of the dialogue happens "over there" instead of "here." So with permission - today's column about Dr. Tianlong Jiao, the new curator at the Asian and the ensuing conversation.

Some objected to this appointment, believing that the Asian should place more focus on current Asian art.

I agree that the Asian focuses on ancient Asian art and I am glad for it. It's the only place in Northern California to see works of antiquity, where there are tons of galleries showing the latest hot-shot trend setter, Asian or not. Where else can you go to see Tang ceramics, 17th century Japanese screens, Korean stoneware ancient beyond counting. There are enough contemporary works in the museum to please all but the most demanding art viewer. All one has to do is look.

  • Nancy Ewart I wonder if that's where the donor money is - always important! The Chinese Cultural Center in Chinatown is the place for cutting edge and contemporary (IMHO)

    Michael Yochum The Chinese Cultural Center does not show really important contemporary Chinese artists. It is not an important venue. I like it, but really major artists would not exhibit there.  The Asian needs to connect with contemporary Chinese art. This appointment, at least academically, seems to focus on ancient Chinese art.

    And, I do not think you have major Chinese donor $$ directing this choice. 
  • Nancy Ewart Dr. Jiao has quite a background; I don't know what he worked with in Hong Kong or Honolulu but he's certainly qualified to bring in more contemporary art if that's what the museum choses. Personally, I like the Asian's mix of ancient and contemporary.

  • Nancy Ewart They also may not have the physical space to mount a show of contemporary Chinese art. Their ground floor galleries aren't that big and I can't see them moving around the upstair galleries in any significant way for large, modern pieces.

    Cindy Shih Maybe an opportunity for San Jose or Oakland... Unfortunately for us.

    Michael Yochum Certainly they are space constrained. And I agree, there is nothing to suggest that Dr. Jiao will not bring contemporary art too. There have been some good exhibitions at the Asian that, critically, drew audience. There have also been some odd choices recently, notably the somewhat bizarre "Phantoms of Asia" and the current "Gorgeous". Why not a straight forward exhibition that introduces us to important artists rather than woo hoo exhibitions that try to manufacturer connections?

  • Nancy Ewart I was talking to a friend of mine who does PR for various museums. She tactfully pointed out that SFMOMA has the power. Possibly some of the less than successful shows put on between SFMOMA and the various museums have been due to big guy on the block over riding other voices and choices. It's SFMOMA's power that pushed through this "woo hoo" exhibit as part of their "On The Road." Lay the blame, if you must, on SFMOMA.

  • Nancy Ewart I think the mentality behind "Gorgeous" - to combine modern/controversial with traditional worked in a couple of cases but in several cases, the modern just did not hold up. Unless you are a dedicated advocate for all modern all the time (ie, our local big name critic), the modern looked shabby, garish and, in some cases, ridiculous. IMHO

    Michael Yochum The Asian could be mounting interesting exhibitions - both modern and historical - without resorting to silly gimmicks. Example: they showed mock ups of Hiroshi Sugimoto's pagodas in "Phantoms" - clearly not his best work. When his photography was showcased, that happened at the DeYoung, not the Asian. Why?

    Me: Why should they? If you look through the museum, there are many contemporary works but maybe not cutting edge enough to suit you.

    Nancy Ewart to Michael Yochum - Maybe SF needs a new museum of contemporary Asian art? I don't think they have ever been big on photography - maybe that goes over better at the de Young? I am sure that when SFMOMA opens, they will have shows of contemporary Asian art. Why take the one resource we have, north of LA, and turn it into a space for art that can be seen in 100 different places?I also think they have had many shows over the last years which combined ancient and modern - the calligraphy show for instance. But it seems like you want the Asian to be what it's not - a focus on contemporary (and transitory) instead of a space for the ancient and timeless.

    I value the quiet contemplation of a masterpiece which is an experience that I have often had at the Asian. I don't want to see louder, more intrusive, noisier art (if indeed you can call some of it art). Leave that to other places. In the final analysis, the Asian will do what it feels is right to build the connection and support the museum. Our chatter is but noise - signifying nothing.

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