Thursday, February 14, 2008
Drama and Desire and Metal Rocks
Two new exhibits are opening on Friday the 15th at the Asian Art Museum, and on Wednesday the institution invited a large contingent of press for a preview presentation.
The museum fed and watered the crowd with a nice spread at 10 in the morning...
...and it was interesting to study the motley crew that showed up, confirming my observation that journalists/writers are a very odd lot indeed.
The highlight was meeting Clyde Steiner, who's been freelancing most of his life, including a stint for a British show business magazine when he was hanging out in Rome with his wife during the "La Dolce Vita" period of the early 1960s, and his stories were very amusing.
Also at our table was Kathy Aoki, who writes for the Nichi Bei Times, which is a national paper published out of San Francisco for the Japanese-American community since 1946.
The emcee was the Asian Art's public relations dude, Tim Hallman, who looks and acts like a slightly butcher version of Tim Gunn on "Project Runway," and that's in every way a compliment.
It wasn't easy herding around the eccentric group through the two exhibits, including the lady above who seemed to not care a whit about the what the tour guides had to say, keeping up loud conversations in an Asian language with various friends throughout the morning as everyone else looked scandalized.
"Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World, 1690-1850" is a show put together by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston which has been touring the world for the last two years. This is the last stop before the treasures are put back into vaults to protect them from overexposure to light.
The show is fascinating, an evocation of Tokyo when it was a new boom city, with the aristocracy on the hills and the merchant section down below along the river, with "urban pleasure quarters of Kabuki theaters and high-class brothels." My favorite pieces in the show are huge theatrical advertisements from various Kabuki productions of the 18th century. They're wild and oddly modern, as is a series of scrolls depicting shape-shifting monsters threatening women in their homes, and there's even a single explicit porno scroll set up in the center of the second room.
The other exhibit was a "site-specific" installation by the Chinese artist Zhan Wang, which is high on concept, including everything from Chinese railroad laborers, the Chinese tradition of "scholar's rocks," and Sierra Nevada boulders recast in shiny metal.
It felt a bit silly while at the same time being visually fascinating.
And if this was too boring, Mr. Wang also offered up a vision of San Francisco made out of silver cooking implements that certainly was shiny.