“First Look” at the Asian Art Museum reveals a strategy of expansion

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum unveils growing contemporary art collection.

As the Asian Art Museum launches its second summer exhibition of works from its recent contemporary art collection, Art Radar looks into the Museum’s strategy of ‘renewal’ and the highlights of “First Look”.

The front facade of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum.

The front facade of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum.

On 4 September 2015, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco will launch “First Look: Collecting Contemporary at the Asian”, an exhibition featuring highlights and recent acquisitions in the Museum’s expanding contemporary art collection. Running until 11 October, the show marks the second time in 2015 that the Asian Art Museum is mounting a major display of contemporary art from its collection.

Ushio Shinohara (Japanese, b. 1932), 'Boxing Painting, Feb. 16th, 2009-A', 2009, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Collette and Peter Rothschild, 2013.49. © Ushio Shinohara. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Ushio Shinohara, ‘Boxing Painting, Feb. 16th, 2009-A’, 2009, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Collette and Peter Rothschild, 2013.49. © Ushio Shinohara. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

A strategy of ‘renewal’

The Asian Art Museum is renowned for its collection of Asian antiquities. The museum boasts a 180,000 strong collection, 1,100 of which are Asian contemporary artworks acquired in the past 15 years. This effort is comparable to LACMA, also known for its historical art collection, which has recently begun to collect contemporary art for its Islamic Collection in “Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East”.

Manuel Ocampo (Filipino, b. 1965), 'An Object at the Limits of Language - Necromantic Kippian Emancipator: No. 2', 2000, oil on linen. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Malou Babilonia, 2007.78. © Manuel Ocampo. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Manuel Ocampo, ‘An Object at the Limits of Language – Necromantic Kippian Emancipator: No. 2’, 2000, oil on linen. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Malou Babilonia, 2007.78. © Manuel Ocampo. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Allison Harding is Guest Curator at the Asian Art Museum and the force who has organised “First Look”. As she explains in the press release (PDF download), understanding contemporary art is linked to a knowledge of its past context and traditions:

To truly understand the contemporary, you must understand the tradition from which it emerged. “First Look” embodies how tradition can inspire new works in the present and continue to impact contemporary life.

Koo Bohnchang (Korean, b. 1953), 'AM 010', 2011, archival pigment print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Frank S. Bayley, 2013.4. © Koo Bohnchang. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Koo Bohnchang, ‘AM 010’, 2011, archival pigment print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Frank S. Bayley, 2013.4. © Koo Bohnchang. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The Asian Art Museum is not new to contemporary art exhibitions. The Museum has already held “28 Chinese” this summer, presenting 48 works by 28 Chinese artists organised by Miami’s Rubell Collection. As Dr Karin Oen, the Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, tells Art Radar:

Now, in the 21st century, the museum acknowledges that the artistic activities of the past century need to come to the forefront of the museum’s arts and programmes. Over the past 15 years, the Asian Art Museum has made a concentrated effort to include contemporary art in its exhibition programmes and acquisition pursuits. We’ve organised two major contemporary art exhibitions – “Phantoms of Asia” (2012) and “Gorgeous” (2014) and number of exhibitions and installations including “Proximities” (2014), “Tetsuya Ishida: Saving the World with a Brushstroke” (2014-2015) and “Sanaz Mazinani: Threshold” (2015). In 2015 we are presenting our “Summer of Contemporary Art” with “28 Chinese” and “First Look”. Expect to see more contemporary art from the museum.

C. C. Wang (Chinese, 1907–2003), 'Brush Symphony', 1998, ink on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2005.58. © Estate of C. C. Wang. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

C. C. Wang, ‘Brush Symphony’, 1998, ink on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2005.58. © Estate of C. C. Wang. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Taking up a challenge

The roots for this change began in 1998, when the Asian Art Museum held a seminar involving a number of influential professionals in the field of Asian contemporary art. As Oen explains to Art Radar, this group:

discussed the complexities of dealing with contemporary art when coming from a foundation of traditional art, and they called upon the Asian Art Museum to take up the challenge.

Oen, who was recently appointed in her current role supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for two years, is planning to step up the Museum’s contemporary programming. She reveals to Art Radar:

After getting more familiar with the collection, I will develop a strategy for expanding our contemporary holdings, as well as updating our approach to presenting contemporary art in general. You’ll likely see the early fruits of this thinking next spring.

Yang Yongliang (Chinese, b. 1980), 'The Night of Perpetual Day', 2013, HD video, four-channel with soundtrack, edition 3 of 7. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Gorretti and Lawrence Lui, with additional funding from Richard Beleson, 2014.14. © Yang Yongliang.

Yang Yongliang, ‘The Night of Perpetual Day’, 2013, HD video, four-channel with soundtrack, edition 3 of 7. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Gorretti and Lawrence Lui, with additional funding from Richard Beleson, 2014.14. © Yang Yongliang.

A first look at the Asian’s contemporary collection

“First Look” features more than 40 works of Asian contemporary art, many of which are on show for the first time. The artworks, as written in the press release, “connect us to Asia’s histories and traditions with the immediacy of contemporary ideas”.

Guest curator Allison Harding, who was also responsible for the presentation of “28 Chinese”, tells Art Radar what the exhibition sets out to demonstrate:

We wanted to show strengths of the growing contemporary art collection as well as its breadth and diversity. In First Look, you’ll see a variety of mediums from photography, animation and video to contemporary ceramics, ink paintings, sculptural baskets, and drawings. You’ll also see works from artists from across Asia, including Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the United States.

Lu Shoukun (Chinese, 1919–1979), 'Chan', 1974, ink and colours on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2011.53. © Estate of Lu Shoukun. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Lu Shoukun, ‘Chan’, 1974, ink and colours on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2011.53. © Estate of Lu Shoukun. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The exhibition includes artworks that engage with the tradition of landscape painting and represent a deeper spiritual connection with nature, such as Zhu Jinshi’s painting The Third Time Going to the Yellow Mountain (2011) and Okura Jiro’s wooden sculpture Chair for the Breeze (1973).

“First Look” also features some key contemporary ink art, a genre that occupies a large part of the Museum’s contemporary collection with more than 70 works by leading artists. The exhibition includes traditional paintings by Lu Shoukun, the pioneer of the New Ink Movement in Hong Kong, with his work Chan (1974) and C. C. Wang’s Brush Symphony (1998).

by Xu Bing (Chinese, b. 1955), 'The Character of Characters', 2012, animated five-channel video installation. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, 2013.20.1-.2. © Xu Bing.

Xu Bing, ‘The Character of Characters’, 2012, animated five-channel video installation. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, 2013.20.1-.2. © Xu Bing.

Other highlights are represented by artists who have pushed the boundaries of the medium and transported it beyond the paper support, such as the videos The Character of Characters (2012) by Xu Bing and Yang Yongliang’s The Night of Perpetual Day (2013).

RongRong (Chinese, b. 1968) & inri (Japanese, b. 1973), 'Untitled, No. 25', 2008, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Jack and Susy Wadsworth, 2013.15. © RongRong & inri. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

RongRong & Inri, ‘Untitled, No. 25’, 2008, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Jack and Susy Wadsworth, 2013.15. © RongRong & Inri. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Artworks debuting in “First Look” include Japanese technologists teamLab’s animated new media pieces, as well as an iconic image by Chinese-Japanese husband and wife photographers duo Rong Rong and Inri, Untitled, No. 25 (2008), in which the couple are joined together by their braided hair.

Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabian, b. 1979), 'llumination Waqf', 2013, gold leaf, tea pomegranate, Chinese ink and offset X ray film print on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Museum purchase, 2014.15.a-.b. © Ahmed Mater.

Ahmed Mater, ‘llumination Waqf’, 2013, gold leaf, tea pomegranate, Chinese ink and offset X ray film print on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Museum purchase, 2014.15.a-.b. © Ahmed Mater.

Premiering in the show is also Saudi artist Ahmed Mater’s Illumination Waqf (2013), a diptych print recalling a decorated Islamic manuscript showing X-rays of two human figures facing each other. Another major highlight of “First Look” is Filipino Manuel Ocampo’s An Object at the Limits of Language – Necromantic Kippan Emancipator: No. 2 (2000), a painting that incorporates all the defining characteristics of Ocampo’s irreverent, cartoonish style that challenges the taboos of the art world, society and religion. The artist will also be talking about his work on opening night, 3 September 2015, in conversation with Chinese artist Chen Man.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Asian artists, museum exhibitions, curatorial practice, events in San Francisco

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