Monday, July 20, 2009
Favorite items at the Asian Museum
There is a fun discussion going on at the Asian Art Museum blog as to what their favorite items in the collection are. I love playing this game but there are way too many gorgeous objects for me to settle on "just one. " However, I can never resist bringing up one of my favorite, almost contemporary Chinese painters, Chao Shan-An. His brilliant colors, sensitive brushwork and loving images of birds and flowers just make his pieces sing. So often, current traditional Asian ink painting looks stale and bland; his pieces are anything but.
Then, Tom (of Right Reading and 7 Junipers Fame) brought up one of the subtler and understated pieces, one that is easy to over look. The Betty Bogart Contemplative Alcove is located on the second floor near the walkway leading from Samsung Hall to the Japanese art galleries on the south wing. It features a basin (2000) by Masatoshi Izumi, which is made from a single massive basalt stone. The exterior is an oxidized brown color with a rough surface but the top is a dark gray, polished smooth. (The artist polished the surface by hand with a whetstone and water over many months.) Water flows so slowly from the center that it can go unnoticed by visitors who are hurrying by. I remember when I first saw the piece. I didn't quite believe my eyes and had to touch the top (very carefully) to verify that the shining surface was indeed water and not only polished stone.
According to Nico (Nicole Harvey), someone
once mistook the fountain for a seat, creating a completely unexpected result of mindfulness, for where one should and should not sit.
I confess to a mischievous moment when I tried to encourage a teenager to sit on it. He and his friends were text messaging their way through the galleries, not paying much attention to anything but their cell phones. Of course, I stopped him before he could do so. I didn't want him to damage this beautiful object but I did want his friends to stop and look. They all laughed at their clueless friend but they did take their noses out of the current text message of the moment to marvel. It was one small step for mindfulness. Maybe someday, they will be discussing their favorite pieces at the Asian and remember the moment when they almost sat on a piece of shinning stone.