Sunday, February 26, 2012

Newly on View at The Asian Art Museum

With exquisitely bad timing last October, the Asian Art Museum opened a touring show from London's Victoria and Albert Museum, Maharajah: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts, just as Occupy Wall Street was in full blaze.

The exhibit features a host of examples of conspicuous consumption, such as the solid silver coach above, by the historical One Percent of Royal India over the last 300 years.

Adding to the exhibit's underlying queasiness, the show also recounts the co-opting of this royal class by their British conquerers, with political roles becoming increasingly ceremonial as their baubles become correspondingly baroque.

So if you can't say something nice, sometimes it's better to say nothing at all, and since the Asian Art Museum is full of beautiful objects such as the ancient Chinese Buddha above, it might be better to focus on those.

There are 1,200-year-old Persian ceramics newly on view on the third floor...

...sitting next to a beautifully illuminated 19th century Quran from the same part of the world.

A room on the second floor has recently been hung with interesting modern Chinese art, such as Which Is Earth? No. 30 from 1969 by Liu Kuo-sung above.

There is an arresting wall-size photograph in the Korean wing from 1990 by Bae Bien-U that reminds me of the photography of Michael Starkman.

Finally, a nineteenth century screen of calligraphy by the Japanese Samurai Yamaoka Tesshu looks like some kind of perfection.


DbV said...

I have to respectfully disagree with your assessment of the Maharaja show at the Asian Art Museum. Isn't nearly everything in the museum (any museum really) a product of conspicuous consumption or of such high value that it becomes precious? The British overtook the Maharaja and the British Raj was opulent in the extreme, but that too is history. If any country could rival America's gap between rich & poor it would be India, today as well as yesterday, but that is no reason to turn away from the cultural output, high as well as low, that comes from such places and times.

Civic Center said...

Dear DbV: You make a very good point about museums in general and this exhibition in particular. My problem was that it was such a bald celebration of royal swag from a time and place where people were starving in the streets as a matter of course.

I am glad you enjoyed the exhibit, though. Some of the pieces are genuinely amazing.