The Garden in Asia

November 29, 2012

On November 23, we opened the new exhibition The Garden in Asia. This exhibition looks at how the garden and nature has influenced artists throughout East and South Asia over the centuries, and allows us to put more of our permanent collection on view.

The Garden in Asia is divided into three parts: The Garden Observed, The Garden as Artist’s Laboratory, and The Garden’s Ambiance. This Chinese lacquer tray from the 17th century is a beautifully-made work from the first section, which presents several examples of how gardens were rendered by artists. Using a mother-of-pearl inlay (not too different from the Korean najeon technique we covered in a recent post), the artist(s) have created a finely detailed scene of scholars enjoying a garden by the light of the moon. During periods of political uncertainty, scholar-gentlemen often withdrew from the problems of their world to their gardens, composing paintings and poetry. The scholars shown here are in keeping with that tradition. This was surely a very labor-intensive work; the texture of the plants, architecture and even the robes worn by the scholars has been created with tiny mother-of-pearl slivers. Because the detail is so fine, it’s certainly worth a look in person!

Many of these works emphasize how important a garden was to scholars and artists in Asia. This 1971 woodblock print of the Temple of the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan, built in 1474, shows how this influence even continues today. This temple is an excellent example of how Zen gardens were constructed and used. The stark landscape in the foreground shows the traditional rocks and raked gravel, framed by trees. This minimalist design was intended to enhance focus and eliminate distraction, in contrast to the lush scenes found in Chinese and other Asian gardens. In addition, this kind of garden was designed to be viewed from a single location, or “in-position viewing.” The trees, rocks and architecture have been carefully laid out for an ideal scene. Again, this is in contrast to the Chinese gardens that encourage “in-motion viewing,” as seen in the above tray with scholars roaming throughout the entire garden.

The Garden in Asia also has a unique element– the chance to experience a Chinese garden for yourself! Our courtyard garden is done in a traditional Chinese style, and lends itself to “in-motion viewing.” After taking in the exhibition, see our garden from a new perspective. How does your view change as you walk around? ~CM

Lacquer Tray, China, 17th century, Lacquered wood, mother-of-pearl, Gift of Cynthia L. Mazo in honor of Bernarr Mazo, 1991.75.2
Noriaki Okamoto (dates not known), Ginkakuji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion), Japan, 1971, Woodblock print on paper, Henrietta Hill Swope Collection, 1981.12.188


Giving Back

November 16, 2012

As we’ve written throughout the year, there’s a lot going on at Pacific Asia Museum! From our summer of Japanese exhibitions to a renovated Gallery of Korean Art to a long list of related programs, we’ve been busy. We’ve done all of this with our core mission in mind: to further intercultural understanding through the arts of Asia. Every year, we welcome thousands of visitors to our historic building, many of whom are young students whose first exposure to Asian culture is in our galleries. But we can’t do this without the support of people like you.

This video above shows the impact that Pacific Asia Museum has on the community. We hope it inspires you to help us grow that impact with a small gift– any amount is appreciated. Simply click here to make your contribution, and thank you so much for your support!

Indonesian Bronzes at Art and Coffee

November 9, 2012

Buddhist Kundika and BellToday for Art and Coffee, our curatorial team talked about the wonderful bronzes currently on view in the new exhibition Marking Transitions: Ceremonial Art in Indonesia. These two objects are both from the island of Java and date to the 14th-15th centuries, and were integral to Buddhist rituals.

Buddhism came to Indonesia in the 6th century, and large temples built in the 8th century by Buddhist empires can still be found on Java and Sumatra. Because Buddhism was introduced to the archipelago around the same time as Hinduism (and because both came from India), religious ideas and practices were closely intertwined. Until Islam was introduced in the 13th century, both religions were central to daily life on these islands. Today, Buddhism is one of the six official religions of Indonesia, though less than one percent of the population identifies as such (compared to 87% Muslim and almost 10% Christian/Catholic). The island of Java, the origin of these objects, is the most populated island in the world. This was the site of the Sailendra Dynasty (8th-10th century) that heavily patronized Mahayana Buddhism, and is responsible for the famous 9th century Borobudur temple. A fascinating example of Indian-influenced Indonesian architecture, this UNESCO World Heritage Site wasn’t known to the world until the early 1800s. Today, it is still a pilgramage destination and Indonesia’s top tourist destination.

These two objects, a water vessel and a bell, were used in Buddhist rituals like those that would have taken place at Borobudur and throughout Java. The water vessel, or kundika, would hold the “water of life” for purification. The spout is formed as the mouth of a mythical animal, and the pointed handle on top evokes a stupa. A stupa is a Buddhist architectural motif found mostly in South and Southeast Asia that originated as a structure housing remains or relics. Stupas also evolved into the familiar pagoda structures that are more common to East Asia.

The bell is a wonderful example of of form and motif. The short, wide body is typical of bells used for Buddhist rituals. At the base of the handle, you can see two concentric bands of lotus petals, a common symbol in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. In Buddhism, the lotus symbolizes enlightenment: rooted at the bottom of a murky pond, the lotus blooms rise above the surface of the water. In the same way, a central aspect of Buddhism calls practitioners to rise above attachment and desire to attain enlightenment. Also present on the bell is the Dharmachakra or the Wheel of Life (also seen as Wheel of Dharma) that symbolizes the perfection of Buddha’s teaching of enlightenment.

These bronzes are just two of many fascinating objects in Marking Transitions: Ceremonial Art in Indonesia– the exhibition also includes beautiful textiles, a Balinese crown, a dagger and other ritual objects. The exhibition is on view through March 24, but don’t delay– you’ll want to get a close look at these fascinating objects more than once! ~CM