“All art was once contemporary,” says Asian Art Museum’s director Jay Xu during the opening ceremony of its current special exhibition, Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past. Each artist works according to their own lifetime and zeitgeist, while also building upon the traditions and the artwork from his or her predecessors. It is with this in mind Asian Art Museum’s assistant curator of contemporary art, Allison Harding and guest curator, Mami Kataoka, chief curator from the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo organized an impressive exhibition comprised of more than 60 works by 31 contemporary Asian artists from 15 countries around the world that both illustrate and pose further questions concerning the convoluted relationships between contemporary art and past visual culture.
As the first large scale exhibition of contemporary art by the Asian Art Museum, Phantoms of Asia is an impressive foray into this new genre for the museum. The exhibition is both in the main special exhibition spaces: the Lee, Hambrecht, and Osher galleries on the first floor while also scattered around the museum, contemporary work juxtaposed with around 90 items from the museum’s permanent collections. While it can be difficult to find the Phantom artworks at times, the structure of the show does align well with the intent to show how visual culture and greater cultural traditions are passed to and implemented by a new generation of artists.
Highlights of the exhibition include Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s installation Five-Elements series: a set of seven crystal pagodas, created from the geometric symbols from thirteenth-century Buddhism, each encases one of Sugimoto’s iconic Seascape series, illustrating how the elements of life, the sea and the air, are seen through Buddhist beliefs, or prism. Pakistani artist Adeela Suleman‘s Untitled 1 (Peacock with Missiles), stainless steel reliefs of natural elements like birds, flowers, and trees interrupted with images of death like the suicide vests and missiles powerfully convey the ephemerality and fleeting nature of life by both contemporary political imagery and traditional imagery. Dohatsu Shoern, translated “The anger that makes one’s hair stand on end and even reach up to the sky” by Korean artist Hyon Gyon, is a fascinating circle satin artwork inspired from the Records of the Grand Historian from 109 to 91 BCE. The colors and expression in Gyon’s pieces, and the implementation of natural mythical elements alongside McDonald’s burgers and fries in his larger satin work, Hello! Another Me beside this one blur the lines between old and new mediums, and contemporary and traditional subject matter.
Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past is at the Asian Art Museum through September 2, 2012