Focusing on “Focus on the Subject”

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New Head Preparator Phillip carefully positions a sake pot on a stand.

Our newest exhibition, Focus on the Subject: The Art of the Harari Collection, opens today (brush up on the history of the collection here). As our curatorial staff put the finishing touches on the exhibition, our new Head Preparator Phillip took a few minutes to explain the process. Phillip joined the Pacific Asia Museum team in February, and since then he’s been hard at work designing the layout of the exhibition and building the various mounts to display the objects.

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“Kyoto Geisha” by Katsushika Hokumei, 1840.

“It’s been very interesting to work on this particular exhibition because we’re pairing the paintings and drawings with objects represented in those works,” Phillip said. “Many of the drawings are done in a loose style, so the details of a comb or hairpin aren’t necessarily clear. Seeing the objects in person really adds to your appreciation of the artwork, and it was great to work with curators Bridget and Yeonsoo, who came up with the image/object pairing concept.” For example, the painting at left, Kyoto Geisha, is paired with an assortment of hair ornaments in the exhibition. The portrayal of stylish urban beauties in fashion of the era was one hallmark of ukiyo-e. As popular public figures in the pleasure quarters, courtesans and geisha were embodiments of physical beauty. Geisha hairstyles were complex and closely linked to status, making use of a variety of hairpins, combs and other ornaments. In this painting, her hairpin is evident but not detailed. The resin ornaments below are examples of the type of ornament the woman in the painting would have worn. The fine detail of these pieces are marks of excellent craftsmanship, and would have denoted sophistication.

Hairpins laid out for installation.

Hairpins laid out for installation.

Phillip’s task is to display the objects in such a way that they tell a story together. “I’m building risers and stands for the objects so it’s easy to see how they relate to the paintings,” he said. “We custom-build the stand for each object so that they’re as unobtrusive as possible. The purpose of exhibit production is to serve the artwork.” Now installed, for example, the hairpins above are set on angled stands so that visitors can see as much detail as possible.

Beauty objects installed in the exhibition.

Beauty objects installed in the exhibition.

You’ll definitely want to see these and other works in Focus on the Subject: The Art of the Harari Collection up close, so make sure to come visit now that it’s open. The exhibition will be on view for a full year, but many pieces will rotate in the fall. The exhibition also is complemented by a number of programs, including Art and Coffee on July 12 and a Curator’s Tour on October 5. ~CM

Images:
Katsushika Hokumei (fl. 1804–30), Kyoto Geisha, Edo period (1603–1868); c. 1840, Ink, color and gofun on paper, mounted on silk, Gift of Herman Blackman and Barbara Lockhart Blackman, 1986.94.8
Hair Pins and Comb, 20th century, Resin, Gift of Mrs. Margaret Webb, 1986.38.1A-E
Hairpin, c.1900, Silver, coral, gilding, Gift of Mr. Keester Sweeney, 1983.27.10
Hair Ornament, c.1900, Silver, coral, gilding, Gift of Mr. Keester Sweeney, 1983.27.9
Mirror, 19th C., Bronze, Gift of June and Montel Montgomery, 1998.9.2

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