Looking back at 2012

December 27, 2012

As the year comes to an end, we thought it would be fun to look back at some of the highlights of the year. It’s been a great one! Here are some of the most popular posts of 2012:


Gajin Fujita's "Golden Boy After Kuniyoshi"

Our summer of Japanese exhibitions proved very popular. We explored how woodblock prints are made in Yoshitoshi and Woodblock Printing, and shared the Kintaro tale (one of the many traditional stories featured) in Gajin Fujita and a Ukiyo-e Legend. These exhibitions were a great opportunity to see fascinating connections between the traditional woodblock prints of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and the contemporary work of L.A. artist Gajin Fujita.

Mask of the Depraved Monk

Shamanism in the new Gallery of Korean Art looked at one of the four sections in this newly renovated gallery focuses on indigenous shamanistic practices in Korea shortly after the new space opened. A more recent post focused on the Confucianism section, and details how objects were used and how design reflected those uses, in addition to common practices in Korean society during Confucianism’s heyday.


mandalaWe celebrated the arrival of the Gaden Jangtse monks with a beautiful picture slideshow in The Monks Are Here!, and in an earlier post, we talked about Tibetan Buddhist practices.

Before our big Lunar New Year Festival in January, we looked at traditions in Lunar New Year Around the World. As we get ready for the Year of the Snake in 2013, this post is a great refresher.


Our special workshops also proved popular. Visitors learned about The Art of Korean Lacquer in a day-long workshop that included the history of the art form and the time-consuming technique required. We also welcomed Pakistani artist Malik Abdul Rehman, who over several days demonstrated traditional naqashi art, and gave a lecture and workshop.


HangingIt’s always fun to see what goes on behind the scenes. At the beginning of the Korean Gallery renovations, we talked about what was happening to the objects that previously were on view in Changes Coming to the Galleries. As we planned for our beautiful exhibition of kimono (still on view!), we looked at how our exhibition designer finds the best way to display the objects in Making of an Exhibition: Kimono in the 20th Century. And finally, sometimes objects need more care than we can give them on-site. In those cases, we send them to professional conservators, as we did in The Return of the Roundel.

Thank you for helping make 2012 a wonderful year at Pacific Asia Museum. We look forward to bringing you more in 2013! ~CM


The Art of Continuity: Revering our Elders

December 20, 2012

The Art of Continuity

Last Friday, we opened the final new exhibition of 2012: The Art of Continuity: Revering our Elders. Across Asia and the Pacific Islands, many cultures recognize the role of those who have come before the current generation, and often revere these ancestors through rituals and other practices. Philosophical and religious traditions including Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto and other indigenous systems play a significant role in shaping these practices. Confucianism, for example, instructs individuals how to worship family ancestors, which has generated countless objects for use in rituals and at altars, as we discussed in our last post. These traditions both cement the legacy of the ancestors and preserve their favor on those still living.

Respecting one’s parents and observing rituals for ancestors is of the utmost importance in Confucian thought, serving to stabilize society. Altar tables, despite their use in patrilineal Confucian society, provide space for elders of both genders to be revered. The Art of Continuity features an example of an altar table and an embroidered cloth that would have covered it, as well as a 1743 edition of the Chinese classic Li Ji (Book of Rites) that sets forth guidelines for rituals. Proper ancestor worship requires various prescribed implements such as dress, utensils, tablets bearing the ancestors’ names and altar tables. The altar table holds a portrait of the ancestor, a tablet with his or her name, candles, incense and other offerings including food, flowers and wine.

Ancestor PaintingAncestor portraits allowed the descendants to glorify and venerate their ancestors, fulfilling their filial duties, and were mostly commissioned after the death of the subject to be used in funerary proceedings and placed on an altar for future observances. These rituals ensured the blessings of and guidance from the ancestor. Ancestor portraits were usually hung as a pair: an image of a husband would be to the east of his wife, and when viewed by worshippers the male portrait would be on the right. Although separate portraits depicting one ancestor each were more common, group portraits presenting multiple generations such as this one were also commissioned. When multiple generations were portrayed, the male who was the head of the household was seated above other members of the family. The ancestors always appear in the finest formal clothing with rank badges when applicable, and the background was often left blank or monochrome in order to further emphasize the portrayed relative. Special attention was given to the face in particular, where the features both identified the ancestor and could be exaggerated to associated him or her with desirable traits.

memoriesThis exhibition not only examines the veneration of blood relatives, but also those of elders connected through monastic or community ties. We’ll explore those ideas and traditions in later blog posts, so keep checking back. Better yet, come see the exhibition for yourself! You can learn about the various traditions throughout Asia and the Pacific Islands, and also contribute your own thoughts and memories– at the end of the exhibition, take a moment to recall your own ancestors and how you remember them today at the recording station. ~CM

Image: Portrait of a Man with His Mother and WifeChina, Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), 19th century, Ink, color and gold on silk, Gift of Miss Ruth P. Eames, with conservation funds provided by Anna Bresnahan in 2007, 1981.21.2

Confucianism in the Gallery of Korean Art

December 6, 2012


Our new Gallery of Korean Art has been a wonderful new resource for our visitors, and gives you an idea of what’s to come as we renovate many other permanent galleries for a similar thematic feel. We’ve written previously about the Shamanism section in this new gallery, and in anticipation of the upcoming exhibition The Art of Continuity: Revering our Elderstoday we’re looking at the Confucianism section.

It is unclear when Confucianism, or yugyo [유교], was first introduced to the Korean peninsula, but there is consensus that it probably arrived with the transmission of the Chinese writing system around the second century BCE, and subsequently became a model for governance and education. Though King Gwangjong (r. 925-975 CE) of the Goryeo period formed the imperial examination system based on the Chinese model to select the best candidates for the nation’s bureaucracy, it wasn’t until the Joseon dynasty that Confucian ideals were firmly established as the guiding principles of personal conduct and social order as well as governmental and educational systems. The Joseon monarch enforced this complete shift of national ideology to Confucianism in order to contain the primarily Buddhist ruling class of the Goryeo dynasty.

Rank BadgeThe upper class literati (or yangban), who were educated through Confucian philosophies, constituted the bureaucracy of Joseon government and became new patrons of the arts. Their social status would be indicated on a rank badge, which were embroidered separately and worn on the front and back of court robes after the Korean court adopted the Chinese model in 1454. On this rank badge, a crane gracefully soars through clouds, symbolizing the pure spirit of the yangban. Birds denoted civil officials on rank badges, while animals like tigers and haetae, a mythical beast, were reserved for military officials.

statueOne of the core values in Confucian teaching was filial piety, and this idea extends to the afterlife. Observing proper rituals that venerated one’s ancestors was a significant part of Joseon society. Sparing no expense, tombs were often marked with large earthen mounds with tombstones describing the achievements of the deceased and funerary statues such as this one to guard the tomb. This granite figure represents a civil servant, and would be paired with a statue of a military official leading up to the tomb of a king or other important person. The civil servant is shown here in a typical civil official’s attire with a box-hat, long sleeves and ceremonial apron, holding a breath deflector in his hands.


A school of Confucianism that prospered in Joseon society was Neo-Confucianism, known as seongrihak in Korean. Its ideas were mainly compiled by the Chinese philosopher Zhu Xi (known as Joo Hui in Korea, 1130–1200 CE) who attempted to provide a more systematic philosophy explaining the origins of the universe through metaphysics. This use of metaphysics would soon give a religious dimension to the ethical system of ConfucianismIn his writings, Zhu provided strict rules on how to conduct ceremonies including weddings, funerals and ancestor worship that in particular detailed appropriate dress and use of objects. These new ideas resulted in plain white porcelain that reflected the pure aesthetics and pragmatism associated with Neo-Confucianism, in contrast to the luxurious celadons with elaborate decoration that had been produced in the previous era. To meet this new demand, Bunwon, a group of official kilns in Gwangju near Seoul, produced white porcelains for ancestral rituals. Gwangju is still the epicenter of Korean ceramic production, and this long-standing tradition continues to shape and influence contemporary Korean art. This is clearly reflected in another section of the gallery which includes a faceted square bowl, made in 2000 by the Korean artist Kim Yik Yung, that features this same austere aesthetic.

Once The Art of Continuity: Revering Our Elders opens on December 14, make sure you visit this section of the Gallery of Korean Art for an even deeper experience of Confucian tradition and art. ~CM

Badge 운학흉배, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910 CE), mid-19th century, Silk embroidery, Pacific Asia Museum, Gift of Mr. Harvey W. House, 1976.35.90

Guardian Statue 문인석, Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910 CE), 18th–19th century, Granite, Gift of Johnson and Johnson Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals Co., 1993.24.1

Cup with Stand 백자제기, Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910 CE), 19th century, Porcelain with clear glaze, Gift of Dr. Don W. Lee in loving memory of his parents Lee Beom-Soon & Min Young-Eui, 2009.16.2AB