November 2012 – November 2014
The Crow Collection of Asian Art is home to a small but engaging group of objects from places that are somewhat obscured by the collective term “Southeast Asia.” The name came into use at the end of World War II to describe a part of the world that had for several generations appeared on Western maps variously as Tonkin, French Indo-China (later North Vietnam and South Vietnam), Dutch East Indies, and various other names and boundaries that have disappeared with the reemergence of independent states, many of which have chosen names to contrast with the colonial period. Burma is officially Myanmar (although Burma is making an internal comeback), Cambodia is Kampuchea, the former Sultanate of Brunei is Brunei Darussalam, Singapore is independent from Malaya, and Malaya is Malaysia. East Timor—which was a Portuguese and Catholic outpost on the island of Timor, claimed by the Dutch after centuries of trade monopoly, invaded by Japan, handed back to Portugal, and then ceded to Muslim Indonesia—is now independent, with claims to large underwater gas reserves in the maritime (always murky) region that separates it from Australia.
Southeast Asia is a part of the world where boundaries continue to change, and the segments of this complex history portrayed in Peninsulas and Dragon Tails suggest the potential for enriched understanding of the modern world through greater familiarity with the region’s past and current cultural geography.
Lacquered wood sculptures of young monks from the Mandalay period of Burmese history conjure the missing object of their devotion, the historical Buddha, who taught renunciation as a path to bliss, even while British colonials expelled the last king and queen, cooled themselves on sultry porches, and oversaw immense plantations of rubber trees on land where there had recently been only forest. A textile from 20th-century Bali reflects ancient associations between fortune, misfortune, time, and spirits, mixed with advice on preferred market days for various goods, local cults, and Hinduism as imported with people arriving from Java. The Crow Collection’s 7th-century sandstone sculpture of four-armed Vishnu, a rare example of early Khmer culture in Cambodia, takes its place alongside several later sculptures from the period of the Angkor sanctuaries. As always, the sculpture seems to occupy more space than its actual measurements would suggest. The scope of this exhibition touches on only a few times and places within the rich and complex history of Southeast Asia and its diverse cultures—ethnically varied, speaking localized languages, writing with different scripts, wearing different clothes, practicing different faiths, honoring different social structures. The objects shown are grouped by the modern countries with which they are particularly identified—Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The exhibition includes maps with boundaries of the shifting cultural spheres that produced the objects on view. The importance of geography to culture in this region emerges: the Himalayan mountains of the Eurasian continent branch to the southeast in fingers of land and terminate in the islands of the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” where the earth’s mantle shakes, and the land, rivers, and seas mete out judgments that are repeatedly honored.
Jade is a word applied to many different stones–so many that it is useful now and then to re-claim mastery of the differences for understanding and appreciating Chinese “jade.” This exhibition draws on the Museum’s Collection and generous loans of natural worked stones to encourage just that. Works of art to which the term “jade” has been applied and misapplied are grouped by their discernable distinctions as stones, rather than by style, subject, function, or date they were worked. An exercise in training the eye is presented for the pleasure it affords, along with any practical benefits that may accrue for the collector. The value added of skillfull carving, pleasing shape, fine polish,
The exhibition is dominated by natural and worked stones most commonly prized among collectors of Chinese “Jade”: Nephrite and Jadeite—two distinct materials. Other stones that sometimes pass for “Jade” also appear to serve for visual comparison: Serpentine, Chrysoprase, Agate, Soapstone, Malachite, Opaque Dolomite Marble, and others that abound particularly in snuff-bottles for the delight of the discerning eye.
Nephrite and Jadeite are both legally traded as “Jade” in the international marketplace. Both are geologically identified as metamorphic rocks, materials transformed by heat, pressure, and water from igneous magma flowing into the earth’s mantle. Both are chemically classed among minerals as silicates, that is they are rich in silicon, the second most abundant element in the earth’s outer layer, but they are grouped differently because of dissimilar chemical compositions and physical structures. Among minerals, Nephrite is an amphibole, and Jadeite a pyroxene. Nephrite is not even technically a full-blooded mineral; it lacks a developed physical crystalline structure in which atoms bond into regular, repeating, three-dimensional shapes. The conditions of heat and pressure that transformed igneous rock to metamorphic Nephrite were followed by a phase of rapid cooling that inhibited the growth of crystals. It’s structure is described by minerologists as “crypto- or micro-crystalline.” The microscopic crystal structure of Nephrite is an irreglar felt-like bond of matted chains. Jadeite has a clearly defined crystal structure of octa-hedrally co-ordinated aluminum atoms and 8 co-ordinated sodium polyhedra connected by silicate chains running parallel to the C axis of the geometric form. The grainy structure of Jadeite is denser and harder than the fibrous arrangement of Nephrite: Jadeite is the more difficult, for example to scratch. The interwoven structure of Nephrite is more resistant to breakage, and by definition the tougher of the two compounds.
Sweetness without a tinge of irony is out of fashion. Distance from sweetness is more often invoked as a measure of difference between high and low taste. Sweetness, however, is central to the work of B. G. (Banwarhlal Giridharlal) Sharma, whether in his designs for commercially produced prints, which dominated the Hindu market in the second half of the 20th century, or in his finely painted works in precious mineral colors on cloth, paper, or ivory. His painted works, catholic in subject matter, were individually signed and sold or presented on behalf of the Indian government to international dignitaries.
When Sharma’s subject is the “Eternally Sweet” Hindu god Krishna, as in the paintings and prints gathered for this exhibition, the full colors of his talent and conviction are on display.
This exhibition proposes that visitors set aside habits of viewing that resist sweetness with labels such as “kitsch,” or dismiss pictures that tug at sentiment as invasive. These are pictures that rest on ethics of long cultivation and refinement and address sense awareness with a sophisticated understanding of human nature. They seduce with friendly but frank eroticism. They demand to be looked at, to be communicated with, and to be indulged by our reason.
Compositions ask for acceptance of an amalgam of conventions, and images make use of “realistic” tools—shading, perspective, light shining from eyes that directly engage ours—to portray figures of mythic dimensions, impossible perfections. We are asked to feel sweetness as real, to perform it through visual acceptance, and to give it in return.
This approach to Sharma’s work is guided in this exhibition through texts that accompany each image and are drawn from the rich literature—puranas, poetry, songs, and prayers—sustaining Krishna worship in many languages. This textual material will touch upon the Krishna story or theater (lila) of his human lifetime, the way of life followed by devotees of Krishna known as Pushti Marg, or “Path of Grace,” and the cults around charismatic poet-saints who established the practice of bhakti, or devotion, to Krishna in the sacred region of Braj, described in many of the pictures on view. On this path, access to Krishna is obtained through mutual auspicious looking (darshan) enacted with votive paintings and sculptures and performed through various relationships with images such as those on view.
With reflection on this context, sweetness reclaims flavors of dimensions where it is embraced. Sharma’s depictions of Krishna’s chaste seductions of the cowherd girls, care and love of cows and kin, deep mutual bond with Radha, and honor to duty offer Krishna not as stolen candy but as sweet milk. It is this first nourishment, the promise of joy, and even as license for dessert, that answers to the fundamental human cravings for friendship, acceptance, mother-child joy, protection, communal bonds, love, and rhythms of satisfaction in patterns of everyday life. They are an art addressed to the divine that is human.
The twenty Sharma paintings included in the exhibition are on loan from collector and philanthropist Henry Flood Schoellkopf, who obtained them from the artist. The prints are drawn from the collections of pioneers in this field, Marc Baron and Elise Boisanté, and the Richard Davis Archive at Bard College.
Sri Sri Radha Kalachandji Mandir Hare Krishna Temple is a community partner of this exhibition.
Due to construction, the Members’ Day of Devotion for Friends of the Crow Collection has been temporarily postponed and will be re-scheduled. Check back for more updates.
In the late 1960s, Mary Baskett was curator of prints at the Cincinnati Museum of Art. A graduate of Wellesley College with a Master’s degree in East Asian art history from the University of Hawaii, Baskett was already well-traveled throughout South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Hong Kong. In pursuit of the work of contemporary printmakers, she began travelling to Japan where she found intriguing avant-garde fashion. She began avidly collecting and wearing these clothes, particularly those of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo, then little-known outside of Japan. In the 1970s and 1980s, Miyake, Yamamoto, and Kawakubo shocked the fashion world with their post-modern “anti-fashion” garments characterized by asymmetry, raw edges, unconventional construction, oversized proportions, and monochromatic palettes. While maintaining many differences, these artists often reference elements of traditional Japanese dress in their designs, merging conventional features with avant-garde concepts.
Issey Miyake (b. 1938), originally a student of graphic design, apprenticed in the ateliers of Guy Laroche and Givenchy in Paris and Geoffrey Beene in New York before founding Miyake Design Studio in Tokyo in 1970. Miyake has been a leader in technological innovation in fashion, and has worked with textile engineers to develop new materials and manufacturing processes however perhaps the most important concept behind Miyake’s work is that each garment allows for customization by the wearer, allowing for a creative dialogue between the designer and consumer.
Yohji Yamamoto (b. 1943) is known for his Zen-like focus on materials and processes, resulting in unconventional garments that reference historical styles but incorporate deconstructed elements and reject the idea of the perfect fit. His garments are simple, unembellished, and often monochromatic. His primary inspiration, however, is the fabric itself. “I often tell my patternmakers, ‘Just listen to the material. What is it going to say? Just wait. Probably the material will teach you something…’”
Rei Kawakubo (b. 1942) states that she has always been “on a mission to challenge conformity.” She founded her company, Comme des Garçons, in Tokyo in 1973, and debuted her collection in Paris in 1981. Without even a basic knowledge of sewing, Kawakubo fell into designing clothing while working as a stylist for a Japanese advertising agency. Her commitment has always been to form over function and her work echoes the abstractions of visual artists and the spatial concepts of architects. Kawakubo’s designs reflect her philosophy, “What is beautiful doesn’t have to be pretty.”
This permanent exhibition devoted to the art and culture of the Japanese samurai showcases one of the Crow Collection’s most recent and spectacular acquisitions—a complete set of samurai armor, one of the finest examples of its kind anywhere in the world. The suit of armor was originally created for Abe Masayoshi (1700–1769), the daimyo (a powerful landholding ruler) of Bingo province from 1715 until his death. In addition to components crafted by the best metalsmiths of the day, the armor includes a hoshi kabuto, or traditional Japanese helmet, made by the renowned armorer Neo Masanobu.
This exquisitely crafted and perfectly preserved suit of armor would have been worn by Abe Masayoshi during his time at the capital, where formal ceremonial attire was often required. The exceptional quality and attention to detail applied to every aspect of the armor’s creation made this suit stand out as a garment of sophisticated refinement, and distinguished its wearer as a man of fine taste, setting him apart from other provincial daimyo. Like other daimyo families during the Edo period (1603–1868), the Abe clan had two residences; all daimyo were required to participate in sankin kōtai, or the “alternate attendance” system, residing in their home domains and at the shogun’s court in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in alternating years. The Abe family’s administrative center was therefore located at Fukuyama Castle in Bingo Province (Hiroshima district today), and Abe traveled between the home domain and Edo. All the while, the wives and heirs remained in Edo, essentially as hostages.
Following centuries of political turmoil and years of warfare, the Edo period was a time of peace. Daimyo such as Abe Masayoshi were vassals of the Tokugawa shogunate. Representing the higher echelons of society, the shogunate and daimyo espoused the dual samurai virtues of bu (military arts) and bun (literary arts). During the Pax Tokugawa years, however, with essentially no wars to be fought, the culture of bun became more prominent as samurai functioned as bureaucrats, engaging in scholarly and cultural pursuits to maintain their status as the cultural elite. In this changing political environment, the suit of armor became a powerful and important symbol, embodying samurai existence of centuries past while continuing to emphasize their significance.
The exhibition also includes a 17th-century pair of Kasen-zu byōbu, or battle screens, which depict the important historical battle of Yashima from the Genpei War (1180–1185), which was fought between the Minamoto and Taira families. Specific battles from this epic war, which led to the transition from the Heian period (794–1185) to the Kamakura regime, became popular as subjects for screens and paintings centuries later. These screens graphically depict the horrors of war during medieval Japan, with over 450 warriors in action, either on horses, in boats, running, or in the water, wielding their long swords and shooting arrows. In the lower right of the first screen is a palace ablaze, the one built for the child emperor Antoku, who eventually met a tragic death, being thrust into the ocean with his attendant rather than live through the dishonor of captivity.
Tai Chi in the Galleries Saturdays | 9 – 10:30 AM | Free
Simplify your Saturday and discover your inner chi with instructor Eng Khoo. All levels of experience welcome. Space is limited; no reservations required.
We’ve partnered with The Aga Khan Council for Central United States for a special Adventure Asia to showcase the story book: Two Crafty Jackals: The Animal Fable of Kalilah and Dimnah published by the Aga Khan Museum. The stories in Two Crafty Jackals began their lives in India more than 2,000 years ago and have been travelling ever since. Already a thousand years old when they were translated into Arabic, they were then translated into Persian and continued their journey. Eventually they went back to India, followed by Afghanistan, Georgia, and Turkey. Finally they arrived in Europe and were translated into Spanish, Italian, German, French, English and many other languages. The book will be brought to life by choir and theatrical performances by the Ismaili Muslim Youth Choir, Booker T Washington HSPVA, and Ismaili Muslim Cultural Group.
Saturdays at Klyde Warren Park | 10:00 – 10:45 AM
First Saturdays at the Crow Collection | 11:00 – 11:45 AM
Children as young as two years old and their favorite adult can join certified yoga instructors for engaging parent and child yoga sessions in the galleries and at Klyde Warren Park every Saturday.
Tours of the Collection
Saturdays | 1 PM | FREE
Join Crow Collection docents for enlightened conversations in the galleries each week. No reservations required.