Friday, April 14, 2006

Liu Xiaodong Party at the Asian Art Museum

Currently at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum are three concurrent touring shows that are installed a bit claustrophobically into the three separate rooms on the ground floor reserved for these kinds of exhibitions.

One of the shows, "The Elegant Gathering: The Yeh Family Collection" has even been divided into Parts 1 and Parts 2 as it rotates between the spring and the summer. Of the three different shows, this is the only one that strikes me as outrageously boring, though I'm sure the fault is entirely mine. If you are not interested in calligraphy and can't read Chinese, though, the chances are you won't be all that amused.

The second show is of contemporary Korean ceramics, and it has lots of great, fun, interesting pieces.

Unfortunately, the exhibit is all crammed together.

I wish the exhibitors had stored away the upstairs Korean permanent collection for a few months, with its thousand-year-old ceramics (above)...

...and allowed the contemporary ceramics some room to breathe.

The third show is a set of huge paintings by a famous 43-year-old Beijing painter named Liu Xiaodong about the land and the people impacted by the Three Gorges Dam project on the Yangtze River in China, which is currently displacing something on the order of two million people.

The paintings are absolutely wonderful and that's all I will say about them other than that you really should go and see them in person.

On Thursday the 13th there was a public reception for the artist (pictured above on the left with his wife), and anybody was invited for the price of museum admission.

There had been a "Monsoon" society party earlier in the week, with food and entertainment, but that cost $150 rather than Thursday evening's $5 admission, so this was definitely more of a people's affair.

Liu Xiadong (in the orange) was part of a group called the "Cynical Realists" in the 1980s but looking at his recent paintings there seems to be no cynicism to his work at all. His wife, Yu Hong (pictured with him above) is also an artist, and quite a good one too (click here for a website with examples of her work).

The soul of the party seemed to be yet another famous Chinese artist, Hong Liu, pictured above, who now teaches at Mills College in Oakland. Click here to get to her website to see her work and to read her bio, which snakes from country to Beijing to forced labor in the country during the Cultural Revolution and finally to UC San Diego in the 1980s.

That's where she met her second husband, Jeff Kelley (above), in art school. Mr. Kelley also curated this Three Gorges Dam show, and gave a wonderful speech saying essentially that ethnicity and social consciousness were some of the least interesting things about Liu Xiadong's work. "Above all, they're just some of the greatest paintings as paintings in the world right now."

To continue the family connection, Hong Liu's son, Ling Chen Kelley, played translator for the artist when he came to the podium for a short, sweet thank you.

In fact, the speechifying from everyone, including Museum Deputy Director Chris Hest, was brief and charming.

Plus, the beer was cheap and it wasn't too crowded, making for a delightful time.

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